Annecy 2014 VFX Conference Roundup

Annecy has posted a round-up summary of the recent 2014 VFX conference, drafted by Stéphane Malagnac and translated by Sheila Adrian. Below are excerpts featuring Pixomondo’s Chris Stenner and discussing Pixomondo’s work on HBO series Game of Thrones.


While the creative dimension is inextricable from the technical dimension, it is always what counts most, whether this concern VFX for TV series like those Pixomondo produced for Game of Thrones, or for cinema, like what MPC (The Moving Picture Company) did for Godzilla or Maleficent. Skeletons, riggings and notions of scale are major items of a production. These things must all be foreseen as far upstream as possible since they have extensive repercussions on the animation. For Framestore’s Nicolas Scapel, who worked on Gravity’s VFX, “You must do a great deal of prototyping and blocking just as soon as you’re convinced the shot is right”.

Pixomondo is an international network of VFX suppliers, with entities in Stuttgart, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Beijing, Shanghai and Toronto. The Frankfurt studio has been working on visual effects for the Game of Thrones series since season 2.

In this heroic fantasy universe Daenerys Targaryen, a central character, adopts first one then several dragons. “These creatures played parts in three out of ten episodes, in sequences lasting from two to five minutes apiece, for a total of thirty shots”, Chris Stenner told us. Differences do exist between visual effects for TV and the cinema, although the Pixomondo animation supervisor sees none concerning creativity. “The only noteworthy differences are the very exacting deadlines which the channels put us under.” The result of such tight scheduling meant that the work to be done from division to division tended to pile up.

Concerning concept/design, a dragon was already on screen in season 1, before Pixomondo came in on the series. “The designs had been done by the Blue Bolt studio, so we started from those and modified them, especially since the dragons are getting older and heavier, and their skins equally display these changes.”

Pixomondo sought out photographic references for reptiles and batrachians to examine “this kind of oily, scaly look”. The 3D modelling was done on ZBrush by an artist who was not only in charge of the rig but also of the animation, to keep a handle on constraints. When the first dragon is just a “baby”, it often rides around on the actress’ shoulder. The tracking department thus had to model this part of her body, integrate the 3D model, animate it on the video in keeping with her bodily sway, and then implement the match-moving.

In season 3, the dragon is no longer alone… and all of them have grown considerably. “It was a definitive challenge since they were more on the screen and more visible, so interactions had to be handled, no longer simply with the actors, but also among themselves,” Chris Stenner notes. An added difficulty: they’re able to spew fire. “A flush of red light had to appear on their throats to indicate the rising flames.” Since the creatures had also learned to fly, a number of tests were done to estimate the bearing capacity for the unfurled wings. The simulation experts needed to completely redo the skin set-up between the wing bones, since the latter had to navigate air streams and not appear too stiff.

To read more about the VFX conference, visit the site here