Obviously, a lot of deliberation and care went into the highly-anticipated resurrection of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in the current season of HBO’s acclaimed medieval fantasy drama. Production designer Deborah Riley went through several staging iterations, and cinematographer Gregory Middleton took inspiration from Rembrandt for his lighting scheme.
“It was important because the details of that scene were split over episode two (“Home”) and three (“Oathbreaker”),” said Riley, who also got to introduce the city of Vaes Dothrak in episode three, shot in Almeria, Spain, with a temple set influenced by Canadian modernist architect Arthur Erickson.
“So that although the space itself was established, we still needed to tweak it so that the finer points work well for the resurrection scene,” Riley said. “From a cinematography standpoint, when Snow sits up, we wanted him facing the room instead of facing the wall. And we didn’t want anyone standing on top of him. We had to re-position the door and other details. we dedicated a lot of time to choreographing the scene and room orientation. There was more talk about that scene than any other.”
Cinematographer Middleton often references Rembrandt for his tobacco grays and iconic use of light and shadow, but in this case the paintings “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp” and “Resurrection of Lazarus” were particularly apt, given their themes and aesthetics.
Dramatically, the scene revolves around Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and the lack of faith in her magical powers. (Though it’s revealed, in the previous episode, that her youth and beauty are a facade and she’s actually around 350 years old, an effect made possible by effects company Lola, a magician of VFX face work.)
“We approached the resurrection with the same amount of uncertainty and lack of faith that she has,” added Middleton. “That helped establish a lot of things about the room. It’s always a distinct challenge how to separate people that are very close together. Jon had to look as dead as possible so people wouldn’t have any hint that he’s alive. He had a lot of makeup help and we did a lot of washing of him to clean the blood and reveal scars. I wanted to keep him bathed in cool light from the window and to have Melisandre in some mixed light. It was tricky to keep the separation when she’s so close to him, but in the higher shot he really looks like he’s in his own little world, which separates the living from the dead in terms of color.”
Middleton’s other favorite scene in the episode occurs early on when Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) finally gets to play dragon whisperer: two of the best elements of the show coming together for suspense, conveyed mostly in darkness.
“We knew that Tyrion had an affection for dragons,” Middleton continued. “It had a great amount of tension and Peter imbued a great amount of emotion. And it was technically a tricky scene to pull off because he acted against a puppet neck with a collar on it, in a partial set against green screen.
Speaking of dragons (animated by Pixomondo and Rhythm & Hues), they have doubled again in size this season and it’s even more challenging to have them flying and breathing fire. “In addition to selling life and scale, the dragons are meant to be sentient and to have emotion and attitude,” remarked VFX supervisor Joe Bauer. “We always strive for animal realism and refer to nature constantly. Beyond that, it really is the skill of the animator to bring these creatures to life and imbue them with the qualities required in the storytelling.”
With 2,000 VFX shots planned for Season 6 (up from 1,545 last season), coming from 14 companies around the globe, there’s a considerable increase in complexity. “There are aerial shots following CG creatures. Fighting and mayhem that’s up close, personal and more epic than before,” said VFX producer Steve Kullback.
Indeed, according to Bauer, there’s a single episode with nearly 500 shots, “representing not only the standard fare of dragons, giants, etc., but an in-your-face human battle in which most of the agents are CGI. That’s the tough stuff, as there’s a one-to-one comparison with identical photographed material onscreen. Meaning, there’s no place to hide.”
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.