Game of Thrones: Superlative storytelling

The challenge: Realistic imagery for film and TV

Animated sequences are now an established feature of the film industry. CGI and VFX effects are bringing storytelling closer and closer to perfection. Only an expert will generally appreciate the level of technological complexity involved in the creation of this realistic imagery. The viewer is often unable to distinguish between what was actually filmed and what has been generated digitally. And this is where the expertise of Mackevision comes into play: creating on-screen imagery that is indistinguishable from reality. One of the flagship projects of the VFX department is its work on the epic series Game of Thrones. Starting with Season 4 of the successful HBO production from the US, the team has since been responsible for the creation of many award-winning digital VFX effects.

Solution and realization: Technological advances are constantly raising the bar

Game of Thrones benefits from Mackevision’s particular specialty – digital environments. For example, many of the fortresses were created digitally on a computer and then merged with the scenes actually filmed. The VFX experts also create everything from fleets of digital ships, including complex water simulation, to battles between massed virtual armies created on a computer. The mass combat scenes in Season 7 were particularly demanding and represent a highlight of Mackevision’s work on the series.

Probably one of the most famous scenes created by Mackevision is the establisher shot with the “Colossus of Braavos” featured in Season 4, which earned Mackevision the VES Award. The team painstakingly built a model of the Colossus, added patina to the material and experimented with the effects of reflected light.

Game of Thrones VFX breakdowns

Visual Effects by Mackevision

The artists model hard-surface objects like this, including ships and buildings, directly in the 3ds Max animation program from Autodesk. For complex or organic models they use ZBrush software from Pixologic. The render engine of choice is Chaosgroup’s V-Ray. During compositing, everything is merged with the filmed backgrounds using Nuke software from The Foundry, and then color-corrected.  Textures and matte paintings are created in Photoshop.

The team is not always present on location when shooting takes place, so the Art Department at HBO initially provides sketches of the required scenes and gives frame-by-frame stage directions. As a rule, the VFX team first looks for references and creates preliminary sketches. To ensure that computer-generated towns and cities look authentic on film, the artists visit real-life castles such as Burg Hohenzollern in southwest Germany. They always try to find an object that exists in the real world to make it easier for viewers to relate to their creations.

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