Since the get-go, Game of Thrones has been about battles, some unforgettably epic and some more personal. Fighting for family and honour and sometimes for the hell of it has underpinned the fantasy series.
In The Long Night – Game of Thrones’ 80-minute season eight episode hinged around the Battle of Winterfell – fans were given the longest battle ever filmed.
Next up for the clans and power players of Westeros will be the final fight to decide who will claim the Iron Throne.
While the battles past, and still to come, have taken place in a faraway fictional land, many were created closer to home.
Melbourne visual effects house Method Studios – formerly Iloura – won a 2016 Emmy Award for its work on season six’s seminal episode The Battle of the Bastards.
Its creative staff gave The New Daily access to its high-security facility to explain how the famous scenes were brought to life.
Visitors to the offices fill out an extensive contact sheet and have a photo taken before being met at a security door by an escort. Once inside and accompanied at all times, TND was told all employees’ computers are configured so outsiders can’t gain direct access to the internet or use USB or external drives to smuggle out any files.
This season, an intense workload meant Method sat out the latest Game of Thrones fights, which hasn’t been all bad.
“It’s sad to hand it over, but in some ways I’m happy to be surprised by it again,” said VFX supervisor Josh Simmonds (Mad Max: Fury Road, Aquaman.)
Fellow VFX supervisor Glenn Melenhorst (Christopher Robin, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) agreed: “We only had access to certain scenes, so you could still watch it and fanboy like everyone else, but at a certain point all you’re seeing is your homework.”
Creating the Battle of the Bastards
Scenes were filmed in Northern Ireland over 25 days, with 80 horses and riders, 65 stunt actors and 500 extras. Method turned that footage into the bone-crushing, 20-minute clash between 3000-strong armies for the Battle of the Bastards.
It took 140 employees about eight months to complete. Along with anti-spoiler security, one of the most difficult aspects was – wait for it – killing horses.
“It had to feel as brutal as possible, so we watched a lot of YouTube videos of steeplechase accidents,” Mr Melenhorst said.
“You need to put what’s happening out of your mind and just study the physics of it.”
Subsets of extras were then stitched together in randomised movements, with special attention paid to making sure the same faces didn’t show up next to each other.
“The Wildling army was factional, made up of all the different tribes, then we had the Starks, the Bolton army and the Knights of the Vale, all with different armour and banners at various stages of damage, muddy and bloody,” Mr Melenhorst added.
Watch and see how it unfolded:
The problem with the Dothraki
Method also handled Daenerys’ dragon-plus-Dothraki assault on the Lannister army in season seven’s The Spoils of War.
That meant creating life-like replicas of leading characters including Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to throw them in harm’s way.
Lighting was a major factor in getting Spoils right, Mr Simmonds said.
A similar-sized team to that used for Bastards again took about eight months to make the magic happen.
“Over the course of the 12-minute sequence, you go from clear, blue skies to the fires of hell with smoke blacking out the sun,” he said.
They handled Drogon’s knight-melting breath, but Image Engine in Vancouver worked on the dragon itself, painstakingly matching each element.
Drone footage shot for Daenerys’ aerial view wasn’t dynamic enough, so Method recreated the battlefield from above.
The biggest headache was a shot of the Dothraki force charging down a hill.
“There was a gap in front of the camera they wanted us to fill, so suddenly we have a CG [computer-generated] character in the foreground that’s super-inspectable,” Mr Simmonds said.
“It’s one of those things where you shake your head at how much time and effort goes into something they could have achieved much more easily with a real rider.”
Turns out, Dothraki aren’t easy to fake. Their signature pelts and feathers are some of the most complicated textures to achieve digitally.
“There was a lot of grooming of swinging ponytails too,” Mr Melenhorst said.