HBO debuted two new mega-hit genre series over the past year: zombie drama The Last of Us and the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. One of the things both of those shows had in common is their fantastic visual effects. Prosthetics designer Barrie Gower and his company BGFX worked on both series, creating King Viserys Targaryen’s decaying face, the gruesome scar marking young Aemond Targaryen after he had his eye cut out, and the enormous variety of infected clickers on The Last of Us.
BGFX also worked on Game of Thrones, and helped create the terrifying villain Vecna on Stranger Things. After winning three Emmys for his work on Thrones and another for Stranger Things, Gower has been nominated for two more at this year’s Emmys for his work on The Last of Us and House of the Dragon.
The prosthetics designer recently talked about his journey in a far-ranging interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m one of those annoying people who knew very early on what I wanted to do for a career, in my early teens, really,” he said.
Gower traces this love of film and prosthetics back to his childhood, when his father managed a cinema in northern England. “He’d take me to press screenings and showings of films … I got to meet [animator] Ray Harryhausen when I was 4 or 5 years old. I was a big fan of the Sinbad movies, the visible stop-motion characters.”
After Game of Thrones, there was “no looking back” for prosthetics designer Barrie Gower
After getting out of school, Gower worked at the BBC where he met Nick Dudman, the creature effects supervisor on the Harry Potter movies. After 10 years of working on Potter and other projects, Bower and his wife Sarah, also a prosthetics designer with an established career, started their own special effects firm, BGFX.
BGFX’s big break came when HBO asked them to work on their new fantasy series Game of Thrones. “We got the call and got Game of Thrones. That was it, really, no looking back. That was just over 10 years ago. It’s gone from show to show since then,” said Bower.
The prosthetics behind King Viserys Targaryen’s decay on House of the Dragon
That brings us to the current era of HBO shows. The Gowers’ work on House of the Dragon was primarily concentrated on King Viserys’ degenerative disease, which we see slowly take over his body throughout the course of the show’s first season.
"He had developed this flesh-eating disease, and he starts decomposing over the years. It’s very different [from] Game of Thrones — the storytelling was told over several decades in this first season. I think Viserys’ illness was a really good tool to show that lapse of time. We also did a full-body makeup on a double of the character who was very slender, and we highlighted all his bone structures, and he had all these ulcerated wounds all over him. We shot Paddy’s performance, and we shot the double’s performance, and effects were able to replace Paddy’s head on the double’s body."
At the same time as the company was working on House of the Dragon, HBO also contracted them to design the creatures for their other big genre show in the pipeline: The Last of Us. Gower calls The Last of Us “the biggest thing we’ve ever done.”
The Last of Us prosthetics aspired to live up to the games
The work the Gowers did on The Last of Us was far more involved than House of the Dragon. Barrie Gower describes it in detail, singling out such memorable infected as the Bloater who appeared at the end of Episode 5 as particularly challenging achievements:
"We had about five different stages of Infected makeups, starting from very thin little raised veins, going up to really significant mushrooms and silicone and foam latex prosthetics for body makeups; to silicone appliances [for] our Clickers with these huge floral fungal headpieces; to our Bloater. A British stunt performer, Adam Basil, played [it] in a complete practical suit — it was the equivalent of Adam wearing a sofa."
According to Gower, The Last of Us video games provided such a deep well to draw from that the prosthetics team never wanted to put their own spin on things like clickers or bloaters. The goal was always to live up to what Naughty Dog did with their iconic video games, but in live-action TV.
“The IP was so strong that we were never really going to better the beautiful designs from the game,” Gower said. Considering how stunningly terrifying the clickers are on the TV show, it seems safe to say that BGFX pulled it off.
House of the Dragon and The Last of Us are both streaming on Max.
To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.