The Technical Magic Behind The Burning of King's Landing
"We set fire to twenty-two people...twice." How do you create the fall of Kings Landing with technical perfection?
We're in the last season of Game of Thrones, and I'm not sure we'll ever get a television like this ever again. Over the previous eight years, Game of Thrones has sauntered up to the idea of "television being a lesser medium" and last week it lopped that idea's head off like it was advising Daenerys Targaryen.
It's no secret that I love Game of Thrones. There are times I think the only reason I work at this website is to evangelize to the dozen people across the world who aren't enjoying the high drama and action in Westeros.
Plus, some cool lens flares.
Today we're going to look at the technical details of Game of Thrones and discuss just how they created the look and feel of "The Bells", a.k.a. the burning of King's Landing.
Some spoilers to follow, so read and watch at your own risk.
How to raise a city
The usual setting for King's Landing is Dubrovnik in Croatia. It's a beautiful and historic city. But they were not too keen to have the show light that place on fire. When you're doing a production this massive, you have to be willing to pivot and improvise as needed. Luckily for Game of Thrones, their production house offered a solution.
Build a city they could burn down in the parking lot of the studios they were using in Belfast.
So, yeah. The Game of Thrones team built a city just to burn.
To keep news crews and people searching for spoilers at bay, they surrounded this city with shipping containers stacked five high so that no one could see inside.
Get all your camera angles
Since they were burning a city, they weren't going to get multiple takes. So director Miguel Sapochnik decided to use multiple cameras to make sure nothing was missed. But before they sacked the city, they had to set the mood. Sapochnik agreed that we needed some subtle ways to show how the cinematography of Game of Thrones could call upon the show's past to talk about how characters would act in the future.
So he mirrored a lot of the shots from the Battle of the Bastards to set the tone.
These switched made Jon Snow and company be visualized much like Ramsay Bolton, and his men were. An invading force.
But what did it take to invade? A city on fire.
A city on fire
For the burning and Drogon attacking scenes, multiple cameras were used to make sure they got every angle of the burn. You can't go back once a city falls. For instance, the explosion of the gate was shot with eight cameras, additional points of view in CGI, and had live components that had to sync up.
They built an actual gate and blew it up, allowing foam and wood to spray out and then laying digital effects over it later.
Then they used nine cameras to film the scene where the members of the Golden Company, including Aaron Rodgers, catch fire. Then they did two controlled burns of 22 people at a time. Breaking their record and breaking it again. Because of course, they did.
This all had to be supervised by stunt coordinators who lit some people ahead of time and then planted explosives to light the others as needed.
Kings landing falls
The most breathtaking imagery inside the show came from Arya's race to safety at the end. 9/11 imagery is pervasive in today's disaster movies. From Batman v. Superman to War of The Worlds, we've seen it on the big screen but never tackled on TV like this. Arya's run with the mother and child was down the streets of the fabricated city.
Dust was both practical and CGI. They spent several days practicing her shot and movements. They spent hours planning how to carry the camera through scenes depending on where Arya would run and fall. They did over 10+ takes of each shot just to make sure the energy was felt. It was originally a oner, or long take, but as they cut it, intercutting the Clegane bowl and Arya was more emotionally relevant.
That's bold - choosing to do a oner is expensive, but then cutting that oner up can be brutal in the edit. Still, they made the right choice because the intercutting linked both points of view and felt spectacular.
As Arya rides off on the horse, we're left unsure of the future of the story. But we know that technically speaking, we've never been in better hands.
What's next? Lighting techniques similar to dragon fire!
We all know dragon fire is created on the show using real flames and CGI, but what about the rest of the lighting techniques used on set?
We break down every primary technique.
Lighting techniques are invaluable for filmmakers at every level. For a director, they can help you communicate with your cinematographer. For a writer, they can help you craft words on the page that set the tone, and for the rest of the jobs on set, you'll spend most of your time waiting for everyone to get the film lighting right. So don't you want to know some lighting techniques so you can help out?
Click the link to learn more!