WiC Exclusive: Weta Digital’s Martin Hill walks us through the SFX of season 8


Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Martin Hill has been part of the Weta team since 2004, when he worked on the look of the titular character in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Before that, Weta had made a name for itself as the studio most responsible for bringing Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies to life. Ever since, they’ve been special effects royalty.

Since then, Hill has worked on big budget films like Avatar, The Wolverine and Prometheus, where he met Game of Thrones actor Ian Whyte (the Mountain, Dongo the Doomed, Wun Wun and Crum, the undead giant who killed Lyanna Mormont).

Eventually, he and his team would work on Thrones itself, developing several of the stunning visual effects sequences from the final season. Earlier this week, Hill was kind enough to talk about them with us over the phone.

WIC: The director for “The Long Night,” Miguel Sapochnik, watched the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to prepare for filming the episode. Since your team is from Weta, did you provide any insight on the pacing of the episode?

HILL: “It’s really interesting because our crowd animation department, who did the Battle of Helm’s Deep also did ‘The Long Night.’ What’s really fascinating is the progression of the technology and how it’s evolved since Helm’s Deep and what we can do with crowd simulations and battles now.

“[For ‘The Long Night,’ Weta used a ‘tricked out’ version of Massive, software they used for Battle of Helm’s Deep. That helped create the writhing mounds of wights that attacked Winterfell, as well as the Dothraki horde and their flaming swords.] The way the wights are all piling up against the walls of Winterfell, that’s all done essentially with an updated version of the same tech that was done with Helm’s Deep, and with some of the same artists as well.”

WIC: One of the more memorable deaths from “The Long Night was when Crum the undead giant broke through the Winterfell gate and crushed Lyanna Mormont to death, but not before she delivered him a killing blow with her dragonglass dagger. Can you walk us through that moment?

HILL: “Crum is like 14 foot tall, so [that scene] needed to be shot with a ‘forced perspective’ technique to give the different scales. So, Crum with a prosthetic hand is shot on a green screen, and [actor Bella Ramsey] was shot with a harness rig that lifts her up with the same kind of motion that Crum is lifting.

“There were a couple of things that we found when we put it together that we found could increase the drama, because Bella was essentially wearing the harness under her armor and she was a little wider than she would normally be. And Ian had a prosthetic hand as well, which doesn’t have the same tension and motivation, even though he was squeezing a green screen stand-in for Lyanna. So what we ended up doing is, we kept hold of Crum’s body and Bella’s head and we replaced her body and Crum’s hand, and this gave us a couple of options.

“So he really moves his thumb and presses in and basically crushes her armor kind of like a Coke can. And that was kind of nice because it was really this Game of Thrones moment that she was crushed in this way. Then we were able to posit it in and time it with the crush with all this blood coming out of her mouth which sprays everywhere. It was gruesome but it was important for me as a fan of the show to be involved with such an important character’s death. We managed to kill off quite a few characters in that episode but that was one of the highlights.”


WIC: There were some visually stunning shots in “The Long Night” featuring the dragons soaring above, then hovering over the Night King’s storm. They ended up being some of the most beautiful scenes of not just the episode, but the series. How did your team bring them about?

HILL: “We had our concept art department create those initial images of the ‘above the clouds’ scene which has the big vortex of the Night King’s storm, and the scale of the storm is created by how small the dragons are in the image to show the vastness of what’s going on beneath them. The concept image was then given to Joe [Bauer, special effects supervisor for Game of Thrones] and [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss], and they like it and approved it.”

Although the Weta Digital didn’t have a hand in Viserion’s death scene in season 7, it was important for Hill to show just how decomposed Viserion had become even before his aerial battle with Drogon and Rhaegal. Like any wight, Viserion had begun to rot away. When Rhaegal took a chunk out of his jaw, it crippled his ability to do focused damage, which explained why he was able to take the Wall down in season 7 yet unable to blow through the structure protecting Jon during the Battle of Winterfell.

WIC: One of the most shocking deaths this season — because it literally came out of nowhere — was the death of Daenerys’ dragon Rhaegal. Walk us through that scene.

HILL: “So, it’s a really attractive scene because you know Rhaegal and Drogon are having this playful fly around Dragonstone. The music is buoyant and soaring, and then suddenly out of nowhere and completely unexpected they fly past the head of the cliff on the side of Dragonstone and suddenly they’re in the line of sight of the ships and this bolt comes out of nowhere and hits him. It’s a really shocking moment, so making the animation really punchy and really tight was really important.”

Hill and his team needed to make the attack on Rhaegal look vastly different than the one on Drogon during the Loot Train Battle in season 7. In that scene, Bronn fires a bolt that hits Drogon in the wing but it’s obviously not fatal. For Rhaegal, it needed to be immediately clear there was no coming back from this attack.

“Originally, there were going to be three or four shots of him [Rhaegal] being hit by the other arrows — so the next one clips his wing and the next one goes through his neck. But what we did was, we combined those shots into this one sweeping graceful camera move that sort of starts where the camera would be for that kind of flight and wraps around to where Dany’s point of view is so she can see Rhaegal really fold up and go limp and crash into the ocean.”

Hill wanted to make sure Rhaegal’s death was impactful. “We had this really nice angle of Rhaegal’s face, so we really made sure we could see the impact of the arrow into the neck, and just have this exit would that was really graphic and enormous. And then, as we move past his face we thought wouldn’t it be great if his last gasp, his last breath just be this coughing up, and you can see this ripple come up his neck just gorging blood into the camera.”

“It was one of those moments when the team went, ‘Do you think we have enough blood here?’ and I went ‘No no, we really want more.’ We had a real Game of Thrones moment, just three times as much blood. Dan and David really enjoyed the shots and it ended up being one of their favorites in the series.”

Hill’s team was also responsible for Daenerys and Drogon’s attack on the Iron Fleet in “The Bells.” They used cutting edge technology to combine “fire and water simulation and rendering for both CGI and plate element dragon fire with ocean water and explosions.” And they’re the ones who collapsed the dragon skull room on top of Jaime and Cersei.

Finally, I asked Hill what he would be working on next. “I’m just starting up on a show which unfortunately I can’t talk about right now, but it’s pretty exciting and we’ll see in a year or so when it’s out.”


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Could that mean he and his team are working on the Game of Thrones prequel? Or perhaps Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show? Whatever it is, we wish Hill and his team all the best. Thanks for talking with us!

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