The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones


By: Jason Krell
May
05
2014

#GeekOut is quite possibly our favorite hashtag. #GameOfThrones may be our second favorite. At Animation Mentor, we have an incredible community of CG artists from around the world who often say, “It wasn’t until I came to Animation Mentor that I found people who are like me.” It’s amazing to see animation and VFX students find a place to share their enthusiasm for CG, movies, television, comics, and more. The community over at i09 shares the same passion. We can’t get enough of the nerdtastic articles they publish.

Today, we are honored to have Jason Krell from i09 drop by to kick off our discussion of Game of Thrones. In our VFX Are Everywhere series we highlighted how visual effects has become a key staple in commercials. Game of Thrones has brought a ton of attention to VFX and CGI in television. Join Jason as he critiques the eight ways Game of Thrones is making the unreal appear real.

— The Animation Mentor Crew

By: Jason Krell

Once, many thought it was impossible to adapt an epic fantasy series for TV. And though The Lord of the Rings proved that such a thing was possible in a movie, it also showed just how hard it was to cram so much into even three long movies. But even more prohibitive than the story constraints are the costs. The CGI animation that brought massive orc armies and gorgeous fantasy cities to life were just too expensive for anything but a movie — and even then the budget would be bloated.

Years later, enter: Game of Thrones. After making the jump from books to HBO, it proved that sparing and clever uses of CGI — coupled with a character driven story — was enough to do justice to the source material. So in honor of the series that showed us how it’s done, here are eight of the coolest CGI things from Game of Thrones.

8.

Dire Wolf Interrogation
Despite being mostly a real wolf, the CGI team had to do some work to make these pups look even more imposing. And admittedly, the dire wolves often result in some of the more obvious cases of CGI in the series. Regardless, when Robb Stark brings Grey Wind with him to threaten the captured and otherwise cocky Jaime Lannister, it works. Anything that can make Jaime Lannister, one of the bravest knights in Westeros, close his eyes in fear is badass enough for this list.

GameOfThrones GreyWind The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
7.

King’s Landing
The majesty of King’s Landing may not be readily apparent, but this is another case where subtle and minimal use of CGI resulted in something gorgeous. As the most prominent city in the series, it wins out over more recent additions like Meereen and Yunkai—and it really is something special. It’s been a touched up version of a couple different cities (in Malta and Croatia), but it always looks twice as beautiful as its real-life counterparts. The way the Red Keep and the Sept of Baelor tower over everything else just fuels the sense of wonder that fills this world.

GameOfThrones KingsLanding The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
6.

The Unsullied
All men must die, but the Queen Daenerys’ army of Unsullied are the ones doing some serious killing. Grey Worm gets most of the face-time and is the voice of the troops as captain, but the show takes plenty of opportunities to remind the audience just how many of them there are. Whether marching single file or standing at attention in rank formations, whenever the Unsullied are put on display, they’re awesome. They’re so awesome that it makes us wonder what exactly is keeping the rightful Queen from going home (but that’s for another article).

GameOfThrones Unsullied The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
5.

Wildfire at The Battle of Blackwater Bay
Back when Stannis Baratheon was poised to take King’s Landing from the Lannisters, things seemed grim. They would be outnumbered and likely forced into a long siege that would see order devolve into chaos—and that’s assuming the Baratheon army didn’t breach the Mud Gate and sack the whole city. During that time, only one person really seemed to bother coming up with a defense strategy: Tyrion Lannister. He commissioned the pyromancers to make as much wildfire as possible, and they used it to give us one of the most spectacular moments from the whole series.

GameOfThrones Wildfire The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
4.

The Wall
If King’s Landing fuels the show’s sense of wonder, The Wall encapsulates it. As something that could only be created with CGI, The Wall is the only thing standing between all of Westeros and The Others. Still, the massive structure made of ice and magic will keep them out, for now — and we’ll always marvel at it while it does. There are plenty of beautiful shots throughout the series, but few are as gorgeous as when Jon and Ygritte take a look at Westeros from atop The Wall.

GameOfThrones Wall The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
3.

The White Walkers
Are they ice demons? Some magically corrupted humans? No one knows yet. But what we do know is they’re trouble for Westeros, and some of the most badass creatures in the series. With a horde of undead wights in their thrall, they sneak throughout the night working toward unknown goals. Visually they’re stunning and fearsome, with their ice weapons and deep blue eyes. It’s a shame we can’t see more of them, but their mystery is working in the meantime.

GameOfThrones Whitewalker The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
2.

Dracarys
The dragons are, for many, the highlight of the show. They’re finally getting bigger and better, and I doubt anyone can wait for the moment when they’re fully grown and ready to wreck everyone in Westeros. But even as babies, they’re still amazingly badass. And as a book-reader, there are plenty of other great moments to come—though the best is still when Daenerys orders Drogon to kill the slave master in Astapor. Aside from one other thing, it’s the best CGI moment in the whole series.

GameOfThrones Dracarys The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones
1.

The Opening
Was there any doubt about what would be number one? The hands down best thing is something we get to see every week—the gorgeous animation that starts each episode. Between the impossibly catchy theme song and the way all the cities rise up like clockwork, there’s just no competing. Even if Game of Thrones manages to fade into obscurity, those couple minutes of a CGI masterpiece will always be remembered.

GameOfThrones Opening The Wall, White Walkers and Westeros: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Want to read more from Jason Krell? Check out his articles on i09.

Want more Game of Thrones blog posts? Leave us a comment with what you’d like to read – one lucky commenter will win their choice of Games of Thrones Pop! figurine from the HBO store.


  • JavierNM

    What’s the average render time for a CGI environment in the series? How much time is dedicated just to do the VFX each season?

  • Kenji Watanabe

    I would like to read more about the post production in Game of thrones. And congrats for the interview.

  • Brad Chambers

    After a long week of animating, its always nice to sit and watch a new episode of my favorite show #GameofThrones

  • Jen

    Pixomondo has done such an amazing job with the vfx. Some of the best work on TV by far.

    • manjowithane

      Work they don’t pay their artists for.

      • Jen

        Well, that’s another ball of wax that is an unfortunate part of this industry… but those artists are doing great work.

  • Markus Steinschaden

    I would love to read more about the animation and time they have in production to get it done!

  • Pedro Henb

    Whats the references they used to animate the dragons in season 4?

    • Ingo Schachner

      we studied lots of fruit bats/flying foxes and birds of pray for the flying and different lizards for feeding and general movement. there were some shot specific refs for the general energy of said shot, but no ‘video ref’ to lean on. just lots of work and testing before hand:)

  • Jeroth Diggeden

    The best series on TV! Awesome interview, must be amazng to have the prevelidge to work on bringing a project like this to life.