HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is once again the VFX frontrunner. The episode “Battle of the Bastards” created a spectacular crescendo for Season 6, bringing to a head the heated feud between Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and his army of Wildlings, and the Boltons, led by nemesis Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon).
Led by production VFX supervisor Joseph Bauer and the team at Australia-based Iloura, they used Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” and other classic battle movies for inspiration. Historical reference informed army formation and tactics, and the body pile concept came from both Roman and Civil War accounts. The POV stayed with Snow to relentlessly keep us inside the action.
Iloura raised its photoreal game with 400 audacious shots featuring 3,000-strong armies, a hybrid of real and CG people and animals and massive crowd simulations, as well as hundreds of flying body parts, blood, weapons, mud, smoke, fire and mist.
For realistic-looking horse and rider animation, Iloura used video references of steeple chases, jousting, racing and various accidents. The studio then tapped its large library of animated clips to quickly assemble a blocking pass for shots. Further, Iloura revamped its pipeline with new software such as Massive crowd simulation for more control and flexibility.
Starz’s “Black Sails,” meanwhile, raised the bar with its impressive hurricane sequence. The 18-minute, 250-shot sequence was led by production VFX supervisor Erik Henry and the majority of the work was done by Digital Domain with assistance from ILP (additional sails) and Crazy Horse Effects (matte painting).
CG water, of course, is always the biggest challenge. The ocean had to be believable and drive the animation of the ship as an integration of elements. The swells, the surface turbulence and white spray were key.
The water was Houdini-based with additional proprietary work from DD to be able to see through the surface of the water.
At the same time, the SFX department provided a full-scale ship that moves on a gimbal beside wind machines and rain machines. But when you pull away and look up into the rigging, that didn’t exist. And so they mixed and matched practical and CG without us telling the difference.
By contrast, Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” offers world building at its most fantastical for this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history in which the Nazis and Japan won World War II.
Led by VFX supervisors Curt Miller and Jeff Baksinski of Zoic Studios, alternate versions of Nazi-occupied New York and Japan-occupied San Francisco were achieved through imaginative hybrid designs and clever augmentation.
The pilot, shot in Seattle, required the removal of everything modern (except the monorail, which, ironically, was built in 1962, when the pilot takes place), and replaced by CG backgrounds containing familiar landmarks fused with Nazi or Japanese iconography. But they didn’t use green screen to keep the lighting scheme intact for Emmy-nominated cinematographer James Hawkinson.
Times Square has a dreary Eastern Bloc vibe and Hirohito Airport in San Francisco contains no evidence of modern architecture. Mercedes is the car of choice in New York, and there’s a plane in San Francisco that’s a B9 rocket crossed with the Concord, with liquid nitrogen coming out of the engine and washing down the concrete.