In the Thick of Digital Battle
April 20, 2017

In the Thick of Digital Battle

As audiences gear up for another season of the popular Game of Thrones, VFX Associate Producer Adam Chazen discusses his role and that of the amazing visual effects fans have come to appreciate and expect from the series. 

Tell us about your background as a VFX associate producer and what led you to Game of Thrones.

I got my first job as a PA at VFX studio Pixomondo. I was there for a few years, working under my current boss Steve Kullback (visual effects producer on Game of Thrones ). He took me with him when he moved to work on Yogi Bear , and then on Game of Thrones.  

I’ve been with the show since 2011, so this is my sixth year on board. It’s become a real family at this point, since lots of people have been on since the pilot. 

From shooting to post, what is your role working on Game of Thrones?

As the VFX associate producer, in pre-production mode I assist with organizing our previs and concept work; help run and manage our VFX database; and schedule reviews with producers, directors, and HODs. 

During production I make sure everyone has what they need on set to shoot for the various VFX requirements. Also during production, we start to post the show – I’m in charge of running review sessions with our VFX supervisor, Joe Bauer. I make sure that all his notes get across to the vendors and that the vendors have everything they need to put the shots together.

Season seven has actually been the longest we’ve stayed on set before going back to LA for postproduction. When in Belfast, it’s all about managing the preproduction and production process, making sure everything gets done correctly to make the later VFX adjustments as streamlined as possible. 

We’ll have vendors all over the world working on that next step – from Australia, to Spain, to Vancouver, Montreal, LA, Dublin, and beyond. We like to say that the sun never sets on Game of Thrones .

Image credit: HBO

What’s the process for bringing new vendors onto the show?

They could be vendors that we’ve worked with in the past. Other times, we employ vendors that come recommended by other people. We check out industry reels and have studios do testing for us. For example, when we have dragon work we ask around for vendors willing to run dragon animation tests for us. A lot of it is word of mouth. In VFX, you work with the people that you know will do great work. 

What’s your biggest challenge in creating Game of Thrones?

We’re doing such complex work that we need to use multiple vendors. This can be a big hurdle. In general, whether it be film or TV, when you have multiple vendors working on the same shot, it becomes a potential issue. 

Linking in with cineSync helps. We can have a vendor in Australia and a vendor in Los Angeles both working on the same shot, at exactly the same time. I first started using cineSync while at Pixomondo and found it makes the revision process a lot quicker. We send notes out to vendors, but most of the time it’s easier to get on cineSync, see the same image, and draw on it. 

Even the simple move of hovering a cursor over the frame can answer a million questions. We have several vendors who don’t use English as their first language, such as those in Spain. In these cases, communication is a lot easier via cineSync. By pointing to a single portion of a single frame, we completely bypass the language barrier. It definitely helps to see an image on screen versus just explaining it.

Besides postproduction, we also heavily use cineSync for shoot needs. We shoot the show in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Spain, and Calgary. We are able to review storyboards, previs, techvis, and concepts with the producers, directors, HODs and others, wherever they are in the world. It’s crucial that everyone is on the same page; being able to look at the same material together helps everyone get what they want from a day on set. 

Image credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Is there a specific shot, effect, or episode you’re particularly proud of?

The Battle of the Bastards – it was a huge episode. Particularly the first half of the episode, when Daenerys came in with her dragons at the battle of Meereen, showing those slavers who’s boss. Meereen city itself was a large CG creation, which was unusual for Game of Thrones. We usually try to stay away from fully CG environments and like to get as much in camera as possible. 

For example, when the dragon breathes fire, that was an actual flamethrower we shot. Back in season 5, we started to pre-animate the dragon, translate it to a motion-control rig, and attach a flamethrower to it. It moves exactly how the dragon would move, giving us a practical element to use in the shot. CG fire can be done, but it’s really tricky. Real is real, so you can’t question it.

With multiple vendors working on the sequence, we had Rodeo FX do the environment, while Rhythm & Hues did the dragons. We reviewed shots between both vendors and pointed out areas of concern. Then in the second half of the episode, which was the actual Battle of the Bastards, the work was brilliantly done by Australian VFX studio Iloura. With the time zones being so different, cineSync helped make use of the short time when both our teams were awake!