Emmys: How 'Game of Thrones' Created a Fiery Dragon Attack

Plus, TV's top VFX artists from 'The Flash' and 'Agents of SHIELD' spill secrets behind their biggest creations.
Courtesy of HBO

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Mark Kolpack, Visual effects supervisor
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (ABC)

"Graceful yet horrifying," is how Mark Kolpack describes this shot of Sunil Bakshi’s (Simon Kassianides) death via a splinter-bomb weapon. The work was based on Kassianides’ performance, shot in front of a greenscreen. "His body is particle-izing, so it’s painful, but you sense his determination to protect" another character, Kolpack explains. "That’s driving him forward." Fuse FX applied effects animation to make Kassianides’ body appear to erode, all timed to his performance, in just 3½ seconds. "It starts on his right shoulder and erodes all over, so you see different levels of destruction," says Kolpack. "His power was his mouth, so the last thing to disintegrate was that." The eroding character had to be placed into the scene, with proper lighting, and the background then was revealed as he disintegrated. The shot also was slowed down to punctuate Bakshi’s demise.

Armen Kevorkian, Visual effects supervisor
The Flash (CW)

For this shot, in which The Flash, played by Grant Gustin, confronts the villainous Gorilla Grodd, the show went completely CG. "There was a practical set for the subway tunnel, but for this shot, we wanted to do a camera move that was easier to do virtually," explains Armen Kevorkian, who led the Encore VFX team. After completing the pilot, Kevorkian got a heads-up the season would include Grodd and immediately began developing the CG model. "We referenced both the comic book — for his size and personality — and footage of gorillas to ground it in reality," he explains. "Grodd’s around 8 feet tall and about 800 pounds. He also has telepathic powers, so facial expressions were really important to get across what he was trying to convey." The VFX team also created a digital double for Gustin: The actor’s physical appearance was scanned into a computer to create a photoreal double.

Joe Bauer, Visual effects supervisor
Game of Thrones (HBO) 

For a shot of one of Daenerys' dragons (with its 50-foot wingspan) setting fire to characters in the stadium, real fire was used. "We shoot as much as we can," explains Joe Bauer of the production, which shot on location in Spain. "For the dragon attack in the pit, we put a 50-foot flamethrower on a motion-control rig and shot the fire as a stunt. The dragon is moving all of the time, so the flames couldn’t be static. [The crew also photographed] about five stunt players running at it and being set ablaze." About 13 VFX houses worked on the series this season. Rhythm & Hues animated the dragon, using a model that already was built by Pixomondo during a previous season and that included aspects of lizards, bats and birds to make it believable. CG also was used here to extend and complete the stadium, and crowd replication techniques were employed to fill the stands with spectators.