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July 2017

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Page 26 of 43 25 POST JULY 2017 GAME OF THRONES Daenerys, who climbed atop Drogon as if he were a faithful steed. In determining the VFX to be used in that scene Kullback recalls Bauer "asking why couldn't the fire breathing be done for real." "So we got the super-geniuses who developed a lot of the Avatar software and the inventor of the Technodolly, and set up a 50-foot flamethrower on a motion-control crane in a bull ring in Spain," says Bauer. "We executed a number of shots — 20 stuntmen were 'burned' with fire in one day — and it went like clockwork." "That was an excellent example of vendor collaboration," says Kullback. "The Third Floor provided dragon previs and used Rhythm & Hues' animation to play back the motion-control crane. Special effects maestros Sam Conway and Lawrence Harvey designed and drove the flame thrower; stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam choreo- graphed a brilliant display." "With this approach, we could precisely cap- ture and accurately repeat the fire effects," Bauer emphasizes. "It was actually the safest way to go about it." Kullback notes that the method was a "natural progression" from Season 3, when they used a small-scale flamethrower and one stunt performer to capture fire elements. Rhythm & Hues crafted a Drogon for "Dance of the Dragons" that was at once vicious and vulnera- ble — quite a combination for the mythic beast. "We've done tigers before [for Life of Pi and The Walking Dead], but you can see them in zoos and in practical photography," says Spears. "There's no ba- sis for understanding a dragon. But they are based in a physical reality in the show, so we try to keep them grounded in reality." Rhythm & Hues animated Drogon using a model built by Pixomondo for a previous season and featuring aspects of lizards, bats and birds to make Drogon and his cohorts believable. When Drogon grew in size for Season 6, a new asset had to be created. "We couldn't just scale it up be- cause its proportions changed," Spears explains. The larger-scale dragon model was developed with the show's dragon designer, Dan Katcher, and Pixomondo. For "A Dance of Dragons," Rhythm & Hues also did extensive environmental and crowd work. They extended to three tiers the actual one-tier high bull- ring shot in Spain. To fill the stands with spectators, photography from ground level showing crowds cheering and standing was mapped onto cards and placed in the arena as individual photographic ele- ments. Overhead shots of people running through the arena were CG. More complex and dynamic camera moves were used in Season 6 to put Daenerys atop Drogon to burn the masters' ships in the Meereenese harbor. "Learning how to pre-animate the dragon for motion-control playback has been a new process for us," notes Spears. "We hadn't really explored before how animation drives what happens on the set." He cites the "very cooperative engagement" between Rhythm & Hues and Rodeo FX on the "Battle of the Bastards." "Matt [Rouleau] and I have developed a close relationship," says Spears. "I like what they bring to the table. Obviously, there's an extra level of complexity and a certain amount of labor involved when you share with another studio. But it's in- creasingly common in our world to share work." Kullback and Bauer aren't about to divulge any spoilers for Season 7. "The predictable answer is there will be more VFX for Season 7," says Bauer. "But the dragons have sort of maxed out in size — they'd be Godzilla-Mothra proportions if they got any bigger. And Drogon needs that personal con- nection in his interaction with Daenerys; it's import- ant to the story." Inevitably, "some of the cast will die," says Kullback — in unique ways that may include VFX. "Many of the main characters who have died in the show involved VFX in some way," adds Bauer. "We have a lot of digital blood on our hands." The VFX studios that specialize in augmenting human photography have been willing accomplic- es, of course. The "stock and trade" of Lola Visual Effects is "beauty work or otherwise changing an actor's appearance," like their work on the first Captain America, Bauer notes. "When we aged Melisandre last year, we shot the actress, shot an old woman, used some prosthetics and Lola brought all those elements together." Season 7 features more use of Spydercam, the suspended camera and specialty rigging system, for both production and element shoots. "I worked with Spydercam on Elf in 2003," says Bauer. "We increased its use this season; it's been really vital to us this year." Aerial work overall has grown through the years, according to Kullback. "Spydercam, drones, heli- copters. We were itching to use drones in Season 2 and plotted out one move for the Volantis Bridge sequence in Season 3. Now we have our own drone air force!" Rodeo FX promises fans will see "some things we've never done before and are super proud of — everything is bigger and more detailed. It's pretty crazy this year!" says Rouleau. He's still amazed how Game of Thrones will "stretch our limits and push us in new directions, then the next season the work is on a much larger scale and way more complex. Season to season, we're able to pull off a lot more and do it a lot more quickly. Every year is challenging and difficult. But what resounds is the high level of work we're able to accomplish on TV deadlines." The Lanisters will be challenged for the throne in Season 7. Arya Stark has been a key character since Episode 1.

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