Emmys: 'Games of Thrones' VFX Guru Reveals 'Battle of the Bastards' Secrets

From a 100-foot flying dragon to multiplying horses and extras, Joe Bauer breaks down how the epic fight scenes came together as effects pros from 'Hannibal' and 'Sherlock' also spill on their nominated work.
Courtesy of HBO
'Game of Thrones'

Joe Bauer, VFX Supervisor
Outstanding Special Visual Effects

Scenes for HBO's epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones are created by 13 effects houses in six different countries. This past season of Thrones, its sixth, was VFX supervisor Bauer's fourth with the series — and he already has Emmys for the three prior (plus another one for Star Trek: Voyager).

In this season's "Battle of the Bastards" episode, the VFX team had to tackle two separate fight scenes. In the first, Bauer says, "the difficulty was having Daenerys [Emilia Clarke] convincingly fly on the back of one of the dragons during the attack, and also the entire environment needed to be created digitally. For the Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton battle, it was multiplying 60 horses [and as many as 200 extras] into a combined 5,000 — and having very close coverage. Rather than being on a hill looking at it from a distance, we were in the middle of it."

During the series, the dragons have grown in size, from about 3 feet long to more than 100 in season six. "The level of the complexity and size and scope with each season seems to grow in proportion with the dragons," says VFX producer Steve Kullback, who has four Emmys for Game of Thrones (plus one for John Adams). "It's an excellent collaboration. … We're kind of at the same table all day long, just talking through all the various mechanics."

Robert Crowther, VFX Supervisor
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in Supporting Role

Canada-based VFX supervisor Crowther, with a team led by Toronto-based VFX house Rocket Science, earned Hannibal's only Emmy nomination — ever — for the third and final season of the NBC thriller (he worked on all three seasons).

"Every episode is very different, almost like a mini-feature with interesting and creative things to pull off," says Crowther, whose other credits include TV series The Firm. "[The nominated episode] had a bloodbath in the kitchen, from Will Graham's [Hugh Dancy] point of view. For this we referenced The Shining — the blood flowing through the hotel corridor. In Hannibal Lecter's case, it's blood flowing out of the stag creature of Will's imagination. It was a combination of [practical and CG elements] and was shot in a pool."

Other work included a set extension of a chapel in Sicily. "There was some photography in Italy but the chapel was a set built in Toronto, which was extended in VFX to create a larger space," says Crowther. "[Also in this episode] a man that Hannibal has killed comes back to life as a sort of stag creature. That was also a combination of practical and visual effects."

Sara Bennett, 2D Supervisor
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in Supporting Role

Sara Bennett already has a huge accolade from earlier this year: an Oscar, for the visual effects on Ex Machina — making her only the second woman to win an Academy Award in the VFX category (the first was Suzanne M. Benson for 1986's Aliens). She also was part of the BAFTA Craft Award-winning team for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, led by U.K.-based VFX house Milk, which she co-founded. In June, she was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and in July she earned her Emmy nomination.

"I never really thought about [being a woman in VFX] because I have worked with women throughout my career," says Bennett. Milk's work included a sequence in which Sherlock dissects a scene where the Abominable Bride is shooting into a street from a balcony and he examines it from 360 degrees. Milk made the rotating camera viewpoint, blending two plates to create the rotating, 180-degree camera move, which had been shot on a camera track around an actor who remained static during the take, then revealing an outdoor version of the lounge area of Sherlock's Baker Street house.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.