GAME OF THRONES: Ed Bruce – VFX Supervisor – Screen Scene VFX

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Ed Bruce has worked for many years at Screen Scene. He started as an 3D artist, then Head of 3D and finally as VFX Supervisor. He worked on projects like the SILENT CITY, MY BOY JACK and ALBERT NOBBS Nobbs.

What is your background?
Many moons ago at the turn of the century, I started out as a runner having completed my degree in industrial design/product design realizing I was less interested in engineering but more the presentational aspect. The CAD part was the fun part.
After a few short months I was working as a 3D artist in a team mainly looking after commercials. A couple of years later I moved to Screen Scene where I continued working as a 3D generalist until I was made Head of 3D. Throughout my time in that capacity I attended many shoots, from commercials and films as a VFX Supervisor. For the past few years I’ve been Screen Scene’s VFX Supervisor and in 2010 we landed work on HBO’s GAME OF THRONES.

How was the collaboration with the different directors of the show?
Personally I got to work with 3 of season 1′s directors when providing on-set supervision. Each director had their different style and vision, but all wanted to get the best bang for their buck.
However my main collaboration was with the lead VFX Supervisor Adam McInnes, who worked closer with the directors to get their visual effects desires achieved.

Can you tell us how did Screen Scene got involved on this project?
With the production being in Northern Ireland there was interest in doing post south of the border. Screen Scene, being the largest and most comprehensive facility in the country which comes with a great reputation delivering high quality work; either doing VFX or sound & picture post.

Which sequences did you make?
Screen Scene VFX (SSVFX) looked after about 350 shots of the 686 total VFX shots in season 1. Screen Scene also housed the entire picture post and sound.

Can you explain the shots in which Bran is climbing on the tower? How was this sequence shot?
Obviously production couldn’t let the young actor climb the set unaided. Therefore he was supported by wire rigs. Some of the shots in this sequence came from the original pilot footage shot on film and some re-shoot material shot on the Alexa. There was also a variety in the way the rig was assembled. Some shots he had a front mounted rig, and in others a rear mounted rig. Sadly most of the climbing shots had very difficult rig removal due to the substantial rig size and its positioning. In many shots the rig would pass over Bran’s face, arms or torso, thus making it far more difficult to remove.
Also due to a tight production we were unable to shoot background plates or material for this sequence. This meant that it would have to be generated in CG. In SSVFX we have a great 3D team, who relished the challenge of creating the woodland backgrounds and grassy floors. By creating this environment in 3D it allowed us coverage for all the various angles and tracking shots.

How did you create the crow with three eyes?
The on-set VFX co-ordinators, Niall McEvoy and Colin McCusker would let you believe the most difficult aspect to these shots was placing the small white tracking markers on the Ravens heads. However, getting good 3D tracking from these shots was quite the task. This for me was probably the most important aspect of the shots. If the 3rd eye had not been tracked perfectly then the whole shot wouldn’t have worked. Once tracked by our match-mover Mike McCarthy, he then created a 3D model of the eye with a surrounding socket. Once this was animated and textured it was delivered to our compositors who had the task of blending the real feathers in with the generated ones. This was made more difficult by the fact that the raven turned in and out of the light. These shots were always going to be difficult to make completely believable because instantly people know there are no 3 eyed ravens. But our task was about making sure that the VFX was convincing and seamless.

How did you enhanced the crowd on the King tournament?
The crowd at the Kings tournament was a straight forward duplication using the many plates we shot on the day. As we only had a small number of extras, we shot fixed cameras high and low, where we wrangled and shuffled the people to ensure we had coverage throughout the shot. This meant that the VFX was more about stitching various takes together rather than creating elements.

We also shot some extras on blue screen which enabled us to fill small pockets. Also in these shots we added CG tents to fill out the area behind the main stand. There was a lot of rotoscoping but nothing too difficult.

Can you explain to us the horse death at the tournament?
I can assure people that no animals were hurt in the filming of this sequence. The actual horse decapitation was a well choreographed piece where Conan Stevens (The Mountain) used a blade-less sword to strike into a prosthetic animatronic horse head. Conan rehearsed many times with a full sword before tackling the real takes without. When it came to the VFX we had to orientate his wrists and hands to ensure the CG sword hit it mark. We then had to add a lot of blood and gore to increase its impact.
The shot proceeding the decapitation shot was made up of a couple of takes. One with the Mountain against a crowd and the other of a horse getting up, which required flopping and reversing. Once assembled together a compositor hand painted the neck wound onto the horse. Again we added blood and gore for dramatic effect.

How did you enhance the fight between Jaime Lannister and the Lord Stark guards?
Most of the fight sequences in season 1 had blood additions created in VFX, as it was very difficult to choreograph on-set blood spurts to be seen in frame. The fight between Jaime and the Stark guards had blood additions, CG spears and a CG dagger thrust into Jory’s eye. It was very entertaining to watch actors throwing imaginary spears. Again there was plenty of CG blood. Jaime stabbing Jory was a tricky shot that involved re animating Jaime’s arm, re animating Jorys head, adding a CG dagger, replacing Jaime’s face due to the re animation of his arm. Our compositor Alex Jacquet did a fantastic job of this very tricky shot. Also in this sequence most people won’t know that the spear that is stuck in Ned’s leg is also a CG spear.

How did you create the huge campment of Lannister army?
On set I realized that the only way to fill and populate these sequences was with CG extras. This wasn’t originally planned for nor even had a budget. Both myself and Adam McInnes, lead visual effects supervisor, knew this would enhance the shots and was therefore important to do right.
On set we took plenty of photographs of the solider extras front on and from the sides. This gave us modeling and texture references. Our artists then modeled and textured a few generic soldiers with multiple differences that meant we could re-use the characters to create over a thousand. Then they were rigged and ready for animation.

Our animator Vadim Draempaehl then created multiple animations from walking fast and slow, carrying things, riding a cg horse, standing talking/interacting, sitting down at tables etc. With this library of animations we were then able to multiply the characters over the pathways and non tent areas. We had specific areas where we wanted to place certain actions, and then using scripting methods spread the others across the scene without any of them walking through each other or floating. Then they were lit and rendered with multiple passes, diffuse, reflection and highlights, shadow etc and handed to the compositors who were able to balance them with the foregrounds live action people and the rest of the scene adding the CG tents, props and atmospherics etc. These shots also had considerable amounts of rotoscoping to tackle. I’m thoroughly delighted with these final shots. They’re good hidden VFX that helps the scene feel big and epic.

Can you tell us more about the shot showing the battle deads all over the field?
Having built many soldiers for the Lannister encampment scenes, we were able to re-use and animate/pose extras for the background of the after battle shots. We re-textured the CG characters, re-animated them, added CG horses, and placed many CG characters lying across the field. The foreground tree stump was also set alight by using blue screen elements we shot in our element shoot. These shots also had a lot of smoke and atmospherics added and a lot of rotoscoping of the foreground live-action people.

What was the biggest challenge on this project?
As this project was episodic, so where the delivery deadlines. Time was always a challenge. Our team worked a 6 day week for over 6 months to ensure every deadline was met at the highest standards.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleeping?
I always sleep like a baby, especially when working long hours. However there was one shot which caused a few tosses and turns. This was a Bran’s climbing shot. The rig he was suspended on went through his head, arms and back. The harness also reshaped Bran’s torso. This was the most time consuming shot that SSVFX had. We tried various techniques to remove the rig. The best result was where we had to fully re create Bran’s torso in 3D. We modeled Bran’s body, and animated it to match over the original. As Bran was moving quickly in rotation and position, this match animation and tracking was extremely difficult. In the end there was 222 reviewed versions of the shot.
Now when someone says they have a rig removal shot for me, I cringe thinking the worst.

What are your software and pipeline at Screen Scene?
SSVFX use NukeX; 3d studio Max with Vray; Eyeon’s Generation; Photoshop; and various other software and tools.
We develop individual pipelines for each job specific to their needs and requirements.

How long have you worked on this film?
I first got involved in the pre-production and shoot in June 2010 and we delivered our last shots in mid May 2011. So nearly a year.

How many shots have you made and what was the size of your team?
SSVFX completed 350 shots from 686 with a team of 19.

What did you keep from this experience?
It was a great experience working with HBO. I’ve always watched HBO shows and am now proud to be part of the community of people who have contributed that networks success. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed working closely with Adam McInnes, VFX Supervisor, and his VFX team of Peter Hartless, VFX Coordinator, Keith Mason, VFX Editor and Niall McEvoy and Colin McCusker on-set VFX coordinators. Adam is an exceptional talent in our field and I was able to gain/learn plenty from working along side him.

What is your next project?
We always have a few projects in the pipeline. One of which I’m delighted to announce. We are currently in previs on DIE HARD 5, the latest installment directed by the unparallelled talent of John Moore.
Keep an eye on my website for further announcements. Also, just for your readers, I am always looking for talented and motivated artists to work on our projects.

What are the 4 movies that gave you the passion of cinema?
There are so many movies that have motivated and excited me in this industry. As a child I was encapsulated by BACK TO THE FUTURE. It had a large impact on me. It was one of those films that had my imagination. Like so many STAR WARS fans I find myself still referencing that film.
If I had to say 4 films. Erm. I’d say, 1. BACK TO THE FUTURE 2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK 3. JAWS 4. And a western probably THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. But the list is endless. With every year VFX takes further leaps and inspires me more.

A final note maybe?
GAME OF THRONES was a great project for us in SSVFX. I am very fortunate to have a great VFX team to work with, especially Sarah Mooney, VFX Producer, and Nicholas ‘Stocky Nick’ Murphy, VFX Production Assistant who both are integral to our success and the way we deliver quality VFX for every project we undertake. We all enjoy our work immensely.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

- Screen Scene: Dedicated page about GAME OF THRONES on Screen Scene website.
- Ed Bruce: Official website of Ed Bruce.

// GAMES OF THRONES – VFX BREAKDOWN – SSVFX

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2011

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