New dragons, new fire


As season 7 of Game of Thrones wrapped up, I had the opportunity to chat to Joe Bauer and Steve Kullback who lead the VFX effort on the show. This time we talked about the approach to dragons, and within that, the approach to fire. Check it out at VFX Voice, including a hint at what’s to come in season 8.

Quickshots: The small VFX detail in ‘Game of Thrones’ this season that says so much about the show


Episode 4 (‘The Spoils of War’) of season 7 of Game of Thrones features one of the most exciting battles of the entire series so far. Known as the ‘Loot Train Attack’, the battle sees Jaime Lannister’s ground forces receiving the brunt of a fiery attack from Daenerys Targaryen, who is riding her dragon Drogon.

The sequence includes an impressive array of practical fire stunts, digital armies and set extensions, and of course a CG dragon. But it was one small touch added by the visual effects team that caught the attention of many viewers. This is the brief moment that Drogon’s wing, as the dragon makes a run above a stream towards the battle, neatly clips a tree on the river bank.


It’s a small thing, but a hallmark of the attention to detail that is part of the visual effects in Game of Thrones, led by visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer and visual effects producer Steve Kullback. Here, Bauer explains to vfxblog how fellow visual effects supervisor Eric Carney, along with Iloura and Image Engine, made that very cool shot possible.

Joe Bauer: Well, Eric Carney was our supervisor on the ground in Spain where that was shot, because we were prepping all the big sequences to come and future episodes. He was our man executing all of our planning on the set.

Shooting with a camera drone.

That coverage was done with a drone, and I know they had some technical issues when they got out there. We had quite a few tries to get the nice steady plates, and ultimately we did. And then really it was a matter of putting the dragon model into the scene. First of all, it involved 3D tracking the footage, and then putting the dragon model in and realising that the wings would bisect a tree. So the shot was really just out of necessity.

We had a LIDAR scan of the area, which is a digital model of the whole environment in the planning stage, but then the blocking sort of evolved in the shooting when they got there. The dragon ended up further up the stream that was feeding the little lake. Ultimately, we just had to deal with that tree.

The continued approach as Daenerys nears the battle.

Iloura made a digital branch and Image Engine was responsible for the dragon. It goes by in very few frames, but it’s interesting that people noticed that. We thought we were being quite clever disturbing the water underneath the dragon. I guess either people accepted it, but that was a complete contrivance, too, because you’d have to break the sound barrier, I think, before the water would behave that way.

Anyway, we’re a bunch of geeks and fans too, and anything cool that we can imagine or think of cramming into any sequence, we tend to go for it.

Below, watch the featurette released by HBO that focuses on the Loot Train Attack.

Quickshots: It’s 40 years since ‘Close Encounters’, but you can see it on the big screen again

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Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the other big sci-film of 1977. In a year without Star Wars, the film’s effects practitioners would likely have won the visual effects Oscar (they were, of course, nominated).

That’s because Close Encounters managed to use miniatures, motion control, optical compositing and even cloud tanks to tell a sci-fi story in an incredibly grounded way, paving the future for the kinds of effects that became so integral in Hollywood storytelling.

Cloud tank plates from Close Encounters – the cloud tank was literally a glass tank that, when liquid or ink was properly injected, would provide suitable swirling cloud-like imagery that would be composited into the final scenes.

If you haven’t seen Close Encounters at the cinema, Sony Pictures is releasing a 4K re-mastered version on September 1st to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary.

I’ve recently been able to cover the old-school effects in the film, twice. For Masters of FX, I talked to special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull. And for a VFX Vault article in VFX Voice magazine from earlier this year, Scott Squires dived into his cloud tank innovations and other work on the film (his story about being given “$20 in petty cash and asked to experiment with liquids in a 20 gallon aquarium” is pretty cool).

It’s so great to see these classic effects films have a new life, especially on the big screen where they were designed to be seen.

The tech of ‘Terminator 2’ – an oral history

Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Ever since James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in 1991, I’ve been reading about the many ways ILM, led by visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, had to basically invent new ways to realise the CG ‘liquid metal’ T-1000 shots in that film, of which there are surprisingly few. Tools like ‘Make Sticky’ and ‘Body Sock’ are ones that I’d heard referenced several times, but I’ve always wanted to know more about how those pieces of software were made.

So, over the past few months, leading up to the re-release of Terminator 2 in 3D, I’ve been chatting to the artists behind the technology who were there at the time. This was when ILM was based in San Rafael, and when its computer graphics department was still astonishingly small. Yet despite the obvious challenges in wrangling this nascent technology, the studio had been buoyed by the promising results on a few previous efforts, including Cameron’s The Abyss, and by the possibilities that digital visual effects could bring to modern-day filmmaking.

For this special retro oral history, vfxblog goes back in time with more than a dozen ILMers (their original screen credits appear in parentheses) to discuss the development of key CGI tools and techniques for the VFX Oscar winning Terminator 2, how they worked with early animation packages like Alias, and how a selection of the most memorable shots in the film – forever etched into the history of visual effects – came to be. Continue reading “The tech of ‘Terminator 2’ – an oral history”

The last-minute roto tool that saved the ending of ‘Death Becomes Her’


I recently spoke to visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston about his work at ILM on Death Becomes Her for the 25th anniversary of the film. The interview received some surprising attention; the film might not have been a hit but the practical make-up effects by ADI and ILM’s innovative ‘digital wizardry’ both continue to be fondly remembered.

Another ILMer on the show, Alex Seiden (who had worked on Terminator 2 and would go on to contribute to Jurassic Park), contacted me with a super-fun story about his last minute work on Death Becomes Her’s end scene – where Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn’s characters are at this point only their heads talking to each other, after they both take a major tumble down some stairs at a funeral. The shot was a long one – over 20 seconds – and was filmed as separate motion control passes that needed A LOT of hand roto in a very, very short space of time.

Below, Seiden relates how he helped make that possible. But first, watch the scene.

Continue reading “The last-minute roto tool that saved the ending of ‘Death Becomes Her’”