How Game of Thrones’ Visual Effects Draw Us In

How Game of Thrones’ Visual Effects Draw Us In


There’s nothing on television that showcases
the incredible power of visual effects quite like Game of Thrones. The goal of VFX in any context
is to aim for realism. [The best compliment
that we can receive in visual effects
is to be invisible]. And invisibility is all the more important
in Game of Thrones because the show prides itself
on feeling more grounded in reality, more quasi-historical
than your average epic fantasy story. One of the show’s superpowers
is the way it blends fantasy and realism so artfully
that we kind of feel this all could be real history. So let’s look at how Game of Thrones
uses visual effects to build a lifelike world
we can believe in. [They can live in my new world
or they can die in their old one] Before we go on,
we want to tell you a little bit about this video’s sponsor, Frame.io. Frame.io is an amazing collaboration tool
for video creators that makes it easy to give and receive feedback
on cuts of your videos. In fact, pretty much every ScreenPrism video
gets made in Frame. There’s a great deal on right now
if you sign up for Frame.io using our link in the description below. You get 3 months of their pro plan for free. When the show began,
it had the challenge of bringing to life a world that
was naturally going to be far more believable in a reader’s imagination [Of course everyone who’s a fan of the book
has in their mind’s eye what Dragonstone looks like
and what Pyke looks like and what Harrenhal looks like.] And when you think of a TV show about dragons,
you probably expect it to look cheesy and silly. But because the VFX is so detailed
and thoughtfully created, the dragons in Game of Thrones
flow believably out of the story without making us question what we’re seeing. It can even be jarring
to watch behind-the-scenes shots of Emilia Clarke filming those dragon scenes [It’s one thing to act in a room with somebody
and to draw on your considerable resources as an actor. It’s another thing to have a situation
that’s supposed to incorporate the same level of emotion
but you’re in the most artificial environment you can possibly imagine. It’s the opposite of walking in costume
through Iceland]. The secret to the show’s believability
is that it combines those over-the-top parts with realistic elements. [The visual effects industry
has become very computer reliant and technological. But one of the things we like to rely on
is shooting organic elements]. So that means doing things
like showing real horses but drastically changing their appearances. [The white walker is sitting on a horse. We had a perfectly alive, healthy horse
and we put some tracking markers on the horse so that we can add CG wounds to the horse.] The dragons’ anatomy is largely
based on real flying animals, like eagles and bats. [We don’t make up hardly anything,
you know. We always draw from the real world. We do a lot of reference
by looking at how birds of prey behave and how certain lizards and reptiles behave.] Sven Martin at VFX studio Pixomondo
has said that the reference point changes as the dragons grow up. In season two the dragon babies
partly took after chickens and does. Then as they grew,
the VFX team was basing them more on dogs and wolves. And by season seven, the reference point
wasn’t even an animal anymore, but a massive Boeing 747. Martin also said he had his animators
experiment with frozen chicken wings to get a feel for how
the dragons’ wings should move and how the muscles work. And even if the dragons aren’t real,
often the fire they’re breathing is. [Whenever the dragons need to breathe fire
we have a flamethrower mounted on a robotically controlled camera
that blasts fire. And how the air behaves,
and the smoke that moves through the air, all of that goes a long way
to helping to sell the other parts of the frame that may not be captured by real photography.] Using real-world elements
as a springboard for VFX is key for other creatures, too. Like the shadow creature
Melisandre gives birth to in season two. [For the way it should move
or the material it was made of, we would use ink in water as a reference. The way that ink spreads in water.] We all know what ink looks like in water. So even if we’re not consciously thinking
of that when we watch this scene, the visual is playing on something
familiar to us. The direwolves on the show
are real wolves, but the actors aren’t actually
acting alongside them. The wight skeletons in season four
were played by real stunt men. So the VFX kept that lifelike movement
But added a skeletal form. The VFX team doesn’t have to do too much
with the white walkers. But they do give them those ice blue eyes
to make us think, of course, of winter. So whenever effects create a creature
we’ve never seen before, they’re subtly calling on associations
with things we know and recognize. And that familiar reference point
makes us believe. Much of Game of Thrones
is shot on location [If it was all VFX we would be
in Studio City right now. We’re on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Because we need this,
we need it in our skin, we need the sun and ancient castles
that the Moors built. This is Spanish dirt underneath my fingernails. You can’t get that in the studio.] So VFX often isn’t creating places from scratch,
but transforming them from impressive into truly out-of-this-world. If the team is working with
a smaller location or a smaller set, CG set extensions allow them
to build something epic in scale from that starting point. [We’ll call them set extensions,
and the term really applies to whether we’re extending a practical built
set, or a location — a building or a city
or some part of a city, if we’re extending it
into a much larger city, or a landscape]. Loads of locations on Game of Thrones
have been expanded and embellished like this The courtyard of Winterfell
is a larger version of Castle Ward in northern Ireland. The visuals of Pyke started from
Northern Irish rock formations. In The Watchers on the Wall,
the green screen wall was up against a forest near Belfast. And the Fist of the First Men
builds on a real setting in Iceland. So all these examples
came out of practically built sets or existing locations
with beautiful starting textures. And the VFX team expanded and grew
what was already in front of the camera. The same holds for adding people to a scene. VFX is used to duplicate real extras,
creating huge crowds while still maintaining the feeling
that there are actual people in the scene, because there are. We see this in the Battle of Winterfell. The Battle of the Bastards. Or in the scene where the wights
fall through the ice in Beyond the Wall. Then again,
sometimes VFX is creating something that’s not there. And they pull that off
through attention to detail. In Season 7, winter had finally come. [Winter is here.] But episodes were shot in many locations
that weren’t in the middle of winter. So the VFX team had to do matte paintings
over naturally green landscapes. Crucially, Game of Thrones
uses visual effects more sparingly than you might think. Most often the really awe-inspiring VFX
is saved for pivotal moments, at the end of episodes,
or towards the ends of seasons. The build-up before those moments
Lets the VFX in these memorable episodes Really pay off. [Where the Wall meets the sea
There’s a castle there.] In The Watchers on the Wall,
the VFX team built the whole episode around a green screen. Which at the time
was the biggest green screen in Europe. [We didn’t have a space
that was nearly big enough or nearly enough people
to execute this episode long sequence. We needed a green screen
that was bigger than anything that had ever been built. 30 feet high and 400 feet long.] This was the second to last episode
in season four, so the season built up to
the huge display of VFX. And as we’ve seen,
the penultimate episode of a season does tend to give us a climax
in both the narrative and VFX. An episode like Watchers on the Wall
feels especially believable because the show generally avoids overusing
CGI. So we don’t get in the habit of questioning
what’s before our eyes. The next season in The Dance of Dragons,
Drogon arrives in the fighting pit and breathes fire
on the Sons of the Harpy. This was the moment
that showcased the dragon’s strength in a way we hadn’t seen before. It was also the first time
we saw Dany ride a dragon an event that could have
very easily felt off if not done right. So the wait for this moment,
plus the over-the-top power when the dragons’ strength is finally expressed,
led to an intense dramatic pay-off. In the climactic penultimate episode of season
6, Battle of the Bastards, The VFX became crucial
to convey the frenzy and horror of battle [There’s a shot in the Battle of the Bastards
that we affectionately call the oner, where Jon Snow is left in the middle
of this battle looking like a guy who just got dropped in the middle
of the highway dodging cars. When they actually hit each other
and go flying and impale horses,
which obviously you can’t do, and so we relied on CG up close and personal
in a way that I beforehand didn’t think we could pull off.] In modern times we find it hard to envision
the gritty, hands-on, face-to-face battles of history. So the horrifying, in-your-face visuals
communicate just how intimate and personal fighting used to be,
and is in the Game of Thrones world. In season seven episode four, The Spoils of
War, again a lot of set-up before the battle which happens later in the episode, [Yes, I’m sure Queen Cersei’s reign
will be quiet and peaceful.] [Stranger things have happened.] [Like what?] gives us a phenomenal emotional effect. It’s the first time we see Drogon
actually take down a well-trained army in battle. So we get to understand what the dragons can
do as weapons of war. And this spectacle is combined
with interpersonal drama. We’re strongly pulling for characters
on both sides. So the mass destruction of the dragons
is all the more persuasive because the narrative reminds us
these aren’t faceless casualties. Real people we like could die. In the second to last episode of season seven,
Beyond the Wall, perhaps the biggest loss of the season comes
when Viserion dies and becomes a wight dragon. Visual effects producer Steve Kullback
has said that the scene was a rare moment where the whole emotional content of the scene
concentrated on VFX. It’s a shocking moment because
the dragons have seemed almost infallible up to this point, and the mother-child relationship
between Dany and her dragons has made us invest in these creatures. In that frightening shot
when Viserion opens his eye, the VFX tells the story
with narrative efficiency. That image of the piercing blue eye
tells us how much worse the situation has suddenly become. Game of Thrones’ visual effects
have gotten much bigger and more sophisticated since the show started. [To give an idea, in season six,
which was our biggest season up to that point, we had 11 shots that featured
Emilia riding the dragon. In the Loot Train we have over 80.] But even as the effects get more
and more daring and elaborate, their power comes from
adhering to the same guidelines, playing on what we know, waiting for key moments to maximize
the intensity of important scenes, and featuring an impressive amount of detail
that makes everything feel so convincing you can almost touch it. Hi guys,
this is Susannah. A lot of you ask us in the comments
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  2. IMO, the locations and sets on GoT are what put it over-the-top among the best TV ever. If you’re doing a re-watch, take a second to notice all of the beautiful establishing wide shots when they transition to another story line.

    Great addition to the Screenprism/GoT collection!

  3. I already knew this about the show, but the way this channel breaks it down is so entertaining and professional

  4. Interesting video. Although with the drop in quality of writing last season I was starting to look and actively mistrust the visuals. Especially that shot where Jon touches the dragon, it's really obvious there's no contact there

  5. I know the video is going to be good, but after seeing the "video essays are dumb" video i can't take the title serious, just cause it starts with "how".

  6. This is such a great video, I feel like there’s honestly no show that has visually stunning as Game of Thrones…great job guys! Keep it up!!!

  7. I just submitted an essay on how the GoT title sequence draws us in, and for a brief second I thought this video was on the same fopic and I was freaking out!!!

  8. Game of thrones is like a combination of William Shakespeare's Richard the third, Macbeth, mixed with the War of the Roses, and Lord of The Rings.

  9. Am I the only person that thinks the latest season of GOT stopped being “grounded” and real and more magical. If that makes sense.

  10. One of my favourite scenes in S7 was Danny first setting foot in Westeros. The acting, the music, the effects of the dragons, the approach to, as well as Dragonstone itself gave the scene both an emotional weight and grandeur to it… I personally thought it was a great way in showing fans what they've been waiting to see for seasons on end

  11. Thank you Susanna for the wonderful video , screenprism is one of my favorite channels on YouTube now. May the old gods and the new be with you all

  12. Please, do a video on Avatar the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. (focus on ATLA). You guys are awesome in everything you do

  13. I must admit, the cinematography of GoT including the usage of cgi etc is some of the best on TV right now. However, it shouldn’t be the main criteria rating the show since HBO’s budget for it is enormous (same goes for Westworld). Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it is good. That said, I hope S08 will bring back the well crafted and well paced series we had with Seasons 1 to 3

  14. see this is why i hate people downplay Emilias acting, she ALWAYS acts in that damn green room not to mention she also had to learn 2 made up languages. shes one of the best actresses on the show, fight w your momma. i hate hipsterbros who discredit her. yes Lena is amazing but she doesnt have the difficulty of what emilia has to do. and this is emilias first gig and i think shes done a phenomenal job playing Dany

  15. I love your videos but I think it's important to point that that the VFX in Game of Thrones haven't always been great. There are some noticeable bad jobs like for eg S05-E09 when Daenerys flies on her dragon for the for the first time. Or in S07-E07 when the Night King rides Viscerion. I thought that looked really bad.

  16. Offseason thrones content…. You just know we will eat this up. Thanks

  17. Yeah, bewbs visual Lol Overrated and didn't have to be so drawn out but at least better than Walking Dead and knows when to stop…

  18. No love for GRRM? It's because of his writing that the Dragons look the way they do. He said in interview that he made sure to only give the dragons two legs because no real animal has four legs AND wings.

  19. What started a series of deconstructing characters and break classic fantasy trophies. In years later by now, we end up to following them now.

  20. has anyone suggested you doing Game of Thrones Symbolism the pattern of 3? three-eyed raven, dany's three dragons, cersei's three children, etc… and if the author has a specific fascination with this number?

  21. Honestly, beeing a Model Builder and Tabletop Guys since my Childhood days these guys are the unsung heroes of those shows for ME

  22. No wonder Emilia’s co-actors, directors, producers and staff crew think she’s one of the most hard working cast eveeeeer. I mean, vfx aside, let’s all give her credit in making us all believe she’s really interacting and riding with REAL LIFE DRAGONS and realizing that Oh yeah, they are not real and she’s just acting. She’s brilliant.

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