HBO’s Game Of Thrones has started filming its seventh season, and Jordan Soles – the vice president of development and technology for Rodeo FX, one of the visual effects companies that does special effects to the popular series – definitely knows a lot but is keeping mum.
The only thing he’d say is: “It’s going to be awesome. More awesome than last year.”
Soles is understandably still elated having just won an Emmy award in the Oustanding Special Visual Effects category for the Game Of Thrones episode Battle Of The Bastards.
He flew in from Montreal, Canada, to Malaysia recently to talk about the Autodesk software programmes such as Mudbox and Maya which Rodeo FX uses extensively in its work for films and television.
For the past three seasons, Rodeo FX has contributed to the visual effects in Game Of Thrones. The 10-year-old company has also worked on various films including Deadpool, The Martian, Birdman, Pacific Rim, Lucy, The Walk, Tarzan and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The company has been busy for a year with Luc Besson’s 2017 sci-fi action film Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.
For Game Of Thrones, Soles shared that Rodeo FX would already have some information of what the show is doing in the season a month after filming starts. Each visual effect, said Soles, would depend on what is needed in the scene.
“We could be working for nine to 10 months in a year to create a footage as realistically as we could, or we could be given a shot a few weeks before it needs to air, and turn it around,” he said.
Due to its production scale, the series employs more than one visual effects company for a single scene. Remember in the finale of S6 when three flying dragons breathed fire onto the ships?
“That episode had three or four other (visual effects) vendors working together. The dragons were done by another company and we did all the fire from the dragons. This is a dragon that’s flying 40m high, decimating ships. Not only does the ship need to decimate, the water underneath the ship must boil and people are going to be jumping off the burning ship.”
That’s where Rodeo FX goes for a more practical approach. The people jumping off the ship, for example, were Rodeo FX’s employees in costume doing a bit of “acting” to add realism to the digitally-created scene.
“So you’d end up having to learn what it looks like when fire hits water, and when it interacts with the ship. We have a lot of fun doing physics experiments to see how things work. We also do that for practical reasons. Rather than default straight to computer graphics, we also look at things to see if we could build it and shoot it, and then put it in the flames and see if it works. If it doesn’t work, that’s when we started using CG (computer graphics). We always try to have a real element, blending in with the CG.”
The VFX artists at Rodeo FX are also given classes by director of photography, said Soles, so they’d have an idea about the lighting involved in a scene. “It helps bring about a better image and it also helps to strengthen our artists. We try to foster a culture where our artists get to learn and grow.
While there is no doubt, technological advancement only gets better and better, there is one contstraining factor that has never changed through the years.
“The one limiting resource is time,” explained Soles. “It’s an interesting battle, trying to work in such a creative industry and at the same time, manage it in a way to give people enough time to create the best images. Time is that one constant – from when the artists working on Blade Runner till now, when the shot is due, the artists would always feel, ‘We could’ve used more time’.”