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How ‘Game of Thrones’ Got Audacious VFX for Emmy Contender ‘The Battle of the Bastards’

For "The Battle of the Bastards," Australia-based Iloura created the most complex visual effects yet for HBO's perennial Emmy frontrunner, "Game of Thrones."

“Game of Thrones”


“The Battle of the Bastards” represents a spectacular visual effects crescendo for “Game of Thrones” 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).

Director Miguel Sapochni looked to Akira Kurosawa’s classic “Ran” “as an action and visual departure point,” said production VFX supervisor Joseph Bauer. “There were various other western and historic battle movies and other references that informed army formation and tactics. The body pile concept came from both Roman and Civil War accounts. Aesthetically, the feel for Bastards was to stay with Jon Snow and keep the viewer inside the action relentlessly.”

The task fell to Australia-based VFX studio, Iloura, which raised its photoreal game with 400 audacious shots featuring 3,000-strong armies, a hybrid of real and CG people as well as animals and massive crowd simulations, plus hundreds of body parts, blood, weapons, mud, smoke, fire and mist.

Iloura revamped its pipeline with new software for greater control and flexibility (including Maya for rigging, animation and lighting, Massive for crowd simulation, Houdini for effects and Nuke for compositing). Iloura then began compiling video references of steeple chases, jousting, racing and accidents for realistic-looking horse and rider animation.

The studio next tapped its large library of animated clips to quickly assemble a blocking pass for shots. The Third Floor laid out the action in previs, especially the 42 second-long uninterrupted take (“Oner”) that follows Snow through the heat of battle. Then the stunt team and horse unit lead by Camilla Naprous realized the required action, and digital work consisted of Massive crowd sims and digital gore.

“During the 25-day shoot in open Northern Ireland field, we positioned a number of ‘witness cameras’ around the battlefield in order to capture multiple vantage points of movement of the live horses,” Bauer said.

Ian Whyte as Wun Wun HBO

Ian Whyte as Wun Wun

“In addition, the thousands of CG horses kicked up mountains of digital dirt and mud, bled buckets of digital blood, and contributed volume and pathos to the body pile,” Bauer said.

The VFX department scanned and photographed hundreds of the stunt players and background performers, as well as the horses, armor, weaponry and banners. These were used to generate and populate the digital army filling out the required ranks.

“There is also the giant Wun Wun [Ian Whyte], who is featured in the fighting,” said Bauer. “He represents the end of the race of Giants. With Jon Snow’s cause to unite the north, Wun Wun has a cause he can believe in and dedicate the final moments of his life to.

“His integration required digital support, such as integration with the photographed location terrain (mud, dead grass, crushed bodies), as well as hand offs with wire stunts, and with digital doubles, including a fully CG horse and rider, which Wun Wun clobbers in a dramatic moment.”

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