For all the fans of Game of Thrones, it seems like the political maneuverings which give the show the very name lead to a few specific turning points for Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister. Although the conquest took a back seat to a greater threat in season 7, very few confrontations are as memorable as Drogon’s attack in episode 4, “Spoils of War.” This required a huge visual effects team at Image Engine Design, Inc. and was led by Thomas Schelesny.
This scene shows Daenerys riding on Drogon back and laying waste to the Lannister troops. Image Engine had posted a few visual effects breakdown on Vimeo. The combination of the green screen with Emilia Clarke and a few practical effects with is something to behold.
Schelesny has admitted that the dragon would not be as impressive without the stunt work.
“They did some of the biggest stunt burns in history with 30, 40 men all at once, exploding in fire… and they were all thrashing their arms around and acting,” Schelesny had said.
“Then very quickly afterward people would rush in and put them out, but a lot of that stuff was practical.”
“When Drogon would take a deep breath and blow fire, that fire was also shot practically on a stage, and the motion of that flame is moving back and forth, left and right, had to be in very good sync with how our digital character was moving,” Schelesny then explains.
“The trick is that we animated everything before it was shot. We animated the dragon before the backgrounds were shot; we animated the dragon before the actors were filmed or the fire was filmed. After we had that first pass of animation completed, everything else that was shot in real life was shot to match the dragon.”
It was not just the soldiers that had to be in par with the actions of a fire-breathing dragon. Daenerys had to ride in sync with the programmed movements.
“On Drogon’s back, it was very rare that you would see a digital version of Daenerys. You’d almost always see a green screen photograph version of her because again, it just looks more real,” Schelesny explained.
“They had the actress sitting on a green screen, a robot controlled base that she would sit on that looked like the dragon’s back, and that was pre-programmed to bank left and right and move up and down in perfect sync with our animation.”
It would have been difficult for the actors to know where to look when there was no real dragon there. But Schelesny explains this as well,
“You might fly the drone past and say, ‘Everyone, look at the drone! That’s a giant dragon!’ Or you might have somebody running around on the ground with a pole and a tennis ball on the top. ‘Look at that! That’s the dragon’s head, and it’s coming right towards you!’ And you react to it as it approaches you because it’s going to kill you. But you have to give everyone a central point to look because if they don’t, and they’re looking all over the place, the shot becomes almost impossible because you don’t really know where to put the character then.”
Schelesny has worked on other Game of Thrones effects as well like the White Walkers in season 4 before Image Engine had come on board and he is proud of all the work that the group has done in the creation of Drogon.
“If I were to say anything about the loot train sequence,” he says, “my personal feeling is it is possibly the best-directed action sequence that I’ve seen in the series. It brought the audience along for a wonderful ride… It was well laid out, beautifully shot, and you see the ebb and the flow of the battle. And that’s entirely in the hands of the director.”
The show’s final season is landing in 2019 and Schelesny has some stellar work to reflect upon with his dragon battle at the peak of contributions to this show.
“Game of Thrones is among my top, most favorite shows I’ve ever been part of, but it’s also by far the hardest because of the fact that we have to put in the time in the shot in the moment,” Schelesny had said.
“It’s very high risk. It’s my 25th year doing this, and it feels as though everything kind of added up to being ready to take this show on.”