Game of Thrones dragons

Each season, we get to see new behind-the-scenes videos detailing the impressive work of the visual effects teams for HBO’s Game of Thrones and how they’re able to generate some of the most iconic images in fantasy from scratch. Take, for instance, Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragons: Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal. A company called Pixomondo has been in charge of bringing Dany’s “children” to life since season 2, and now they’ve revealed the unlikely inspiration for the fearsome winged creatures from our real-life animal kingdom.

In an interview with Gamespot, Pixomondo CEO Thilo Kuther explained that a trip to Trader Joe’s grocery store was instrumental in making Dany’s dragons look right:

“When they got bigger in Season 3 and 4, there was a lot of, ‘So if a dragon is this big, how can it lift itself up? What is it? Is it a bat? Or is it a bird? Is it an eagle?’ And the amount of energy that went into these discussions is beyond belief. That’s why [the artists] went to a Trader Joe’s and bought a chicken, and took it apart, and said, ‘So, how does that work?'”

The visual effects artists didn’t stop after their grocery store biology exploration: they also turned to YouTube videos of chickens and bats flying through the air in order to nail down the finer points of dragon musculature. But as we’ve seen, Dany’s dragons have grown to huge proportions over the past few seasons. Take a look at this reel from season 5:

The dragons’ larger size that provided a whole new set of challenges. So Pixomondo quickly looked to a larger animal for inspiration: elephants.

“There was a lot of discussions about even looking at elephants, on how skin rolls over the bones. It stretches, it rolls over the bones, so [the animators] went for reference to see how that would look on an animal of this size.

You have an expectation of what [Jon Snow touching Drogon in season 7] is going to look like. That’s why they looked at elephants, where there is rougher and harsher skin, but then you have, around facial areas, their skin is softer, and when you touch it with your fingers, it would actually give in. So you see the fingers pressing in a little bit. When they shoot it, they usually have a cushion where you can touch it and press your fingers in, so we’re taking that information and applying it to the skin.”

VFX reels are a dime a dozen these days, but it’s cool to actually hear a little about the research process and learn how these teams are able to craft such remarkable digital creatures.

Game of Thrones has one final season left, and it’s rumored to return sometime in 2019.

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