MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Deluxe Entertainment Services Group’s Iloura (www.iloura.com.au) animation and VFX studio helped deliver key scenes for the recent Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards” episode on HBO. Episode 9 featured a massive battle between the Jon Snow-led army and the Boltons. The Iloura team used a mix of visual effects and hand-crafted animation techniques to realize the vision for the bloody showdown.
Iloura’s work on the pivotal sequence was led by VFX supervisor Glenn Melenhorst. The battle required many photorealistic horse and rider collisions, 3,000-strong armies, a mix of close-ups featuring live-action and CG humans and animals, and massive crowd simulations. Assets also included CG armor, weapons, flags, saddles, and body parts. In addition, VFX techniques were used to create and environmental assets such as blood, mud, smoke, fire and mist.
Iloura was selected to work on the episode after presenting the show’s VFX producer and supervisor, Steve Kullback and Joe Bauer, with a series of tests presenting photoreal CG horses and riders colliding with other horses, rendered from various points of view.
“Battle of the Bastards is shocking in its audacity,” says VFX producer Steve Kullback. “More shocking still that we pulled it off, and so much credit for that goes to Iloura. We are up close and personal in this battle, with CG horses and collisions right in front of the lens, and we constantly needed to review Iloura’s shots side by side with the photography because it was hard to remember and even harder to see the difference between what was shot and what was added. Amazing."
To meet the animation challenges, Iloura’s artists researched and reviewed video references of horse behavior in scenarios such as steeple chases, jousting, racing and associated accidents. Witness cams of horses captured on-set proved to be valuable resources for the animation team as they provided multiple angles of reference for the same actions. Further, Iloura tapped its large library of animated clips to quickly assemble a blocking pass for shots, which became the foundation for animation that ended up on-screen. Overall, the animation work consisted of motion capture, rotomation and key frame for horses as well as soldiers, building into a library of custom interactions and motion behaviors that could be used for both close-up shots as well as crowd shots built in Massive software.
The initial brief was for the two armies to face off and then collide, but once production began, it became apparent that more complexity would be required. Each army was comprised of smaller factions with custom armor, weapons, flags, banners, saddles, bridles, etc. Further, every asset needed a clean, pre-battle version as well as a muddy version, a bloodied version and a very-muddy-very-bloody variant.
To achieve the high-density shots and photoreal quality required, Iloura revamped its pipeline. Its internal publishing tool ‘BOSS’ was improved to help with the number of assets, animation publishes and traffic going through the pipeline. Massive was integrated into the render and shading pipeline. And large sections were re-engineered to allow for more control and flexibility, with the pipeline moving completely to Alembic with rigging, animation and lighting achieved in Maya, effects in Houdini, and compositing in Nuke using deep pixel compositing.