The ending of Game of Thrones ignited a firestorm of controversy among fans. But whatever you thought about the story, it’s fair to say the final season of HBO‘s smash hit fantasy series was pretty spectacular.
We took a look at how the unforgettable final scenes were conjured through the artistry of cutting-edge computer-generated imagery.
Caution: spoilers ahead!
In the aftermath of one of the bloodiest battles ever seen in the show, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) faced her lover Jon Snow (Kit Harington) — who in turn found himself facing Drogon, a very angry dragon.
In a new Game of Thrones season 8 VFX breakdown reel from effects company Pixomondo, fans can see how CGI brought these gutwrenching moments to life. You can watch the video below, while to find out more, we talked exclusively to the company’s award-winning visual effects supervisor Sven Martin.
More than 300 artists worked on various CGI aspects of the show, including ships, castles and huge bloodthirsty battles. The dragon team alone consisted of almost 40 artists, including creature designer Dan Katcher, who conceived the dragons’ scaly style.
This last season of Game of Thrones had a lot of close-ups of Daenerys’ dragon Drogon. Martin and the team worked hard to make sure Drogon showed emotion through facial expressions during so many moving moments, especially the shocking climactic death.
“It was important to not over-animate the dragon or to humanize him too much,” Martin told me. “Drogon should always be a lizard, still stay the animal. Our guideline was how we see our own pets — we can read their emotions even though they can’t talk and have a different physiognomy. We had to tread a fine line.”
Having worked on Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hunger Games, Martin has won two Emmys for his work on Thrones. As well as designing dragons and building the Iron Throne itself, his team were also responsible for building a mighty armada of menacing ships.
“As VFX artists, we love to start with something real like a filmed background plate, which we will enhance or augment or build on top of,” Martin said. “In this case the establishing shot was full CGI, but needed to match the set ship we see in the following shots. To avoid any guessing, we started by collecting as many real references as possible. We selected photos with a similar light situation, sails and rigging, as well as a similar framing and references for ocean and white water.”
The hull of each ship was animated by digital artists, while the sails and water were created by special simulation software using algorithms to mimic the movement of real surfaces. “The sails and rigging react to the ship’s movement in relationship to the wind blowing,” Martin added. “The ocean is a fluid simulation with waves and white water created by the hull slicing through.”
Since this was the finale of Game of Thrones, Martin hopes fans paid close attention to Daenerys’ reaction upon finally seeing the Iron Throne. Pixomondo worked on Daenerys’ dream sequence in season 2, which foreshadowed her entering the throne room as snow fell around her. “So now, several years later, we could do the actual moment happening with lots of recognizable shots,” said Martin.
Eagle-eyed viewers may spot a few differences between seasons 2 and 8, however. “The ceiling structure has changed a lot,” said Martin, “as the throne room got redesigned for the best visual impact on the sequence.”
Needless to say, working on the powerful ending to Game of Thrones gave Martin quite a few memorable moments. VFX vendors like Pixomondo generally work in their offices rather than on set, but the show’s overall VFX producer Steve Kullback and VFX supervisor Joe Bauer invited Martin to the set for the end sequence. “That was special,” Martin said. “Having spent so much time upfront with this scene, seeing it all come together on the soundstage was a very rewarding moment. After eight years of raising the dragons and having had all these adventures with them and Dany, we could finally help to finish her journey.”