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‘Game of Thrones’ VFX supervisor on how much he studies the gross, awful ways people die

Published Oct 16th, 2018 7:37PM EDT
Game of Thrones special effects
Image: HBO

Being on the visual effects team that helps bring Game of Thrones to life sounds like a fun job but also a kind of depressing one. Because of how deep the team has decided to go in researching how and why people die and what it looks like, so they can in turn translate something horrible on screen into something that gets a visceral reaction out of you.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, for example, GoT visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer talks about how much of the job involves, well, looking at a lot stuff you’d probably rather not see. Again, for the sake of the art.

“I’ve killed most of the bad guys and even some of the good guys,” he tells HuffPo. “I killed Ramsay with the dogs and Joffrey with poison and had to do profound research on chemical poisonings and that sort of thing. So all the bloodshot, bugged-out eyes, all of the explosion of blood veins in the skin, the pus liquid coming out, all of that is based on reality.”

Cutting people in half? Beheadings? Examples of those you saw on the show, those were are all likewise based on real-world research, as well. At one point, the team also studied old 9/11 footage to research the way large buildings fall apart for the scene where The Night King and Viserion are working to bring down the Wall.

“[The Night King and Viserion do] a number of strafing passes to weaken it, then he concentrates on a single area to cause a structural collapse, like the concept for dropping a big building,” Bauer says in the interview. “You weaken the main part of it, and then the rest of it is sort of a chain reaction. So we established that weak part is close to Eastwatch Castle, and then [with Rodeo], we spent months doing sims to try to get the scale, the weight and the size of it and the right amount of fragmentation.

“Unfortunately, there’s the same old 9/11 footage that’s been researched so many times, but I think that’s pretty much the largest structure anyone’s seen come crashing down, so we had to look at that and see what’s hanging in the air versus all the material that’s crashed and spread onto the ground on both sides. Then we had to figure out how to leave an open space for the army of the dead to walk through, because there would be so much rubble that really it would just be another wall, so we had a lot of it fall into the ocean. It’s just trying to do it in a way that would be physically correct.”

He goes on to claim the thing that bothered him the most was research to try and figure out how to make undead horses. For the Battle of the Bastards, in which you see lots of horses of course being killed, that was based in part on videos the team had to watch of horses meeting similarly brutal ends in real life.

It certainly sounds like a demanding job, translating all of that unpleasant research into compelling art for the small screen. As a reminder, the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones returns early next year.

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Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.