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July 2017

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Page 25 of 43 24 POST JULY 2017 GAME OF THRONES VFX needs change season to season as deter- mined by the storyline, and so does the firepower to achieve them. "We have beefed up the dragon effort," says Bauer, due to the bigger on-screen roles of Drogon and his cohorts. "Dragons used to be all Pixomondo's German office. In Season 5, we added Rhythm & Hues and in Season 6 we took on Image Engine after we saw what they'd done on Jurassic World, and their work this season has been top notch." With approximately 2,200 VFX shots in Season 7, a number of people on Kullback and Bauer's team help "wrangle the logistics" of shot distribu- tion among the vendors, Kullback says. Bauer and associate producer Adam Chazen review shots and cuts at the LA "command center" where VFX editor Chris Baird and first assistant Tara Fidler cut the show on Avid Media Composer. "Season 3 had around 800 shots, now we have around 2,200, and they're all done in the same amount of time," says Bauer. Kullback notes that Episode 6 of Season 7 contains "almost as many VFX shots as all of Season 2. We like to say that the level of complexity of the seasons has grown in direct proportion with the size of Drogon," which was introduced in Season 3 as a three-foot creature and now spans nearly 200 feet. "Every year they send us work that raises the bar of what we can do as a company," says Matthew Rouleau, VFX supervisor at Montreal-based Rodeo FX (, which is marking its fourth season with Game of Thrones. Rodeo FX recently won three VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards for its work on the spectacular "Battle of the Bastards" sequence. "This year we've done around 300 shots, which is in line with previous seasons, but there's a lot more simulation work, more details, more com- plexity in general," Rouleau reports. VFX vendors primarily use Autodesk Maya for animation and The Foundry's Nuke for compositing. "Renderers are sometimes different house to house, but we don't get into the nitty-gritty of software used," says Kullback. "It used to be that big houses used proprietary software that didn't handshake with anyone," notes Bauer. "But now so many fantastic tools are widely available, and there's a lot of commonality among the houses," which facilitates asset sharing when required. LA-based Rhythm & Hues Studios (www., which netted 2015 and 2016 Emmy Awards for its work on the series, does use its Academy Award-winning proprietary Voodoo software, however. "It allows us to rig and animate faster, and is very good at efficient animation set- ups," says VFX supervisor Derek Spears. "We use Maya only for modeling." Rodeo FX switched from Softimage to Maya in Season 6. This season the company moved to The Foundry's Katana for lighting, and "that's worked out really well," says Rouleau. "For a sequence featuring about 150 shots of the same elements seen from multiple camera angles, we were able to set up one scene as a template for lighting. Instead of using eight to 10 lighters, just four were able to knock out the shot faster than we've ever done." Rodeo FX has used SideFX's Houdini "quite a bit for effects," but is now deploying the software for "layout, set dressing and creature effects," says Rouleau. "That's been a big step for us. The software is so well built and super open ended; it's node- based, so we can ramp up recipes into easy-to-use set ups." The company uses Solid Angle's Arnold for rendering, as does Rhythm & Hues. Prior to last season, Rodeo FX had not done a lot of CG ships. But the massive destruction of ships in the harbor during the Meereen bat- tle scene turned out to be an award winner: The flying dragons emitted enormous plumes of fire that shattered the boats and boiled the water underneath them as digital doubles jumped off the doomed vessels. "We've been able to train the team so they're all up to speed and able to do a lot more of this quality of work this year," says Rouleau. "Our whole team is a lot stronger." Rodeo FX also created the fully-CG city of Meereen for the battle sequence, including all buildings and props that were modeled individu- ally. Matte paintings filled in details such as skies, distant mountains and cliffs. Additionally in Season 6, Rodeo FX created the CG Dothraki Horde and horses used in two epi- sodes, as well as a 443-frame sequence revealing the fully-CG Volantis bridge, originally crafted for Season 5, now seen at dusk, beautifully detailed and seamlessly integrated with practical photography. Indeed, live-action photography — whether plates shot on location or element shoots — plays a key role in the show's VFX. "We're very photography heavy," says Bauer. "It serves the aesthetics of the show, which is so mud-and-dirt. We try to stay as real world as we can by using a lot of practical methods of shoot- ing — plates from location shoots, Spydercam, motion control — and giving vendors something to be involved in very early on. This show has to be married to the photographic image." Rouleau compliments Bauer and Kullback on the live-action elements they've sent to Rodeo FX, which also has its own live studio and DP, and can shoot fire, smoke, water tanks and motion capture in-house. "We shoot as much as we can," Rouleau points out. Season 5's "Dance of Dragons at the Great Games," staged in the Great Pit of Daznak, was slated to be the biggest dragon sequence to date. Drogon had grown to twice his previous size, and he and his fellows stunned the Great Games with a massive display of fire breathing and the rescue of CG ships were burned by Drogon, the flying dragon. Meereen's harbor is based on practical photography.

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