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Making of the dragons for the Game of Thrones series

Published on July 30, 2015, by in Animation, Gaming, VFX.

The Game of Thrones series is in its fifth season, and continues to have audience glued to the television screens. Besides the storyline & the characters, one of the major attractions of the series are the dragons. From Daenerys Targaryen’s pets to all the dragons in the series, they are a large part of the popularity of the series. But in reality those gigantic, fire breathing creatures are nothing more than tennis balls; until the visual effects  team steps in.

It is one thing to create something computer generated & looks completely real when you have a lot of references. It is quite another thing to create a believable character when there is literally no reference available, except in other fictional accounts. In this post we tell you how Pixomondo, the visual effects company that worked on the Games of Thrones series, made the dragons come alive.

Pixomondo, a Germany-based visual effects studio, was tasked with producing some realistic flying adolescent dragons. The teams set out to produce something that was not only fictional but physically plausible. Concept designs were developed that accounted for the adolescent proportions of the dragons. The biggest challenge was to make the dragons fly in a believable manner.

Clearly a fire breathing reptile doesn’t exist on earth that the team could reference. So they had to work out the lift-to-wing ratios with digital wind tunnel simulations. They also had to do water simulations to study the variety of reference material. In fact, they ended up with a mix of an eagle and a bat. The eagle was used more for soaring & gliding motion of the dragons, while the bat’s reference was used for when the dragons were taking off. The team also had to come to terms with the fact that the dragons were not fully grown so the latter had to have a kind of young, energetic motion & appearance.

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Source: Pixomondo

According to Sven Martin, visual effects supervisor at Pixomondo, the most complicated part was the animation. The hovering action of the dragons was always tricky because it couldn’t look too stable. So the wing flaps had to be big enough to keep the body in position & find the right amount of speed. The final result was something that was both a fan favourite & sat well with the immersive world of Game of Thrones.

Of course, animation only partly solved the problem. For the perfect result they had to get accurate lighting & interesting interactions between the actors & the digital characters. The team opted for a traditional approach. The actors had real puppet creatures standing in front of them to get an idea of how it would look in the end. Shots were filmed with tennis balls on a stick that served as stand-ins for the digital creatures, just mimicking what the dragon might do.

The final solution delivered was not only realistic & matched the quality of feature film visual effects, but was also inside the constraints & timescales of episodic television.

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