Game of Thrones: Features

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Making the Blu-ray: Interview with Adam Vadnais

Just a few days away from the release of the Blu-ray and DVD sets of the first season of Game of Thrones on both sides of the Pond (UK DVD, UK Blu-ray, US DVD, US Blu-ray), and it seemed like the right time to give a more in-depth look into the production of the set. If you’ve read our review, the production values of the added features completely blew us away.

Thanks to HBO and Bryan Cogman, we learned a lot of this could be put down to the hard work of Herzog and Company, a creative production company who specializes in producing added content for DVDs and Blurays, among many other things they do. HBO put us in touch with Adam Vadnais, executive director of digital design at the company, and he was happy to answer seven (not a coincidence, that) questions for us!

1) Could you tell us a bit more about Herzong & Company, and what they do?

Herzog & Company is a creative production company located in North Hollywood, CA.  We produce original programming like “On Freddie Roach” for HBO, and “Gettysburg” for the History Channel.  We also do a large amount of entertainment marketing (Behind-The-Scenes, EPK) for the major studios.  I happen to run our Design/Animation/Interactive group.

2) The Blu-ray for Game of Thrones features a lot of fantastic additional content for viewers. What role did Herzog & Co. have in helping to develop it? Did you suggest some of the features that were added, or did HBO already have a good sense what they wanted?

Thank you!  That’s nice of you to say.  We’re very excited for it to finally be released and to see the reactions from the fans.

Herzog has had a great relationship with HBO for quite a while. We were working on Boardwalk Empire with their team when they asked us to develop some concepts for Game of Thrones. They definitely had some ideas, but were also very interested in how we would approach the features.  I mean, all of HBO’s releases are high-quality, but this needed to be something really special. We had a team of people reading all of the books around the clock to learn as much as we could.  Then we presented a number of ideas, as well as early designs.  They awarded us the project, and from there it was a collaboration between the HBO team, the terrific Bryan Cogman, and us at Herzog.

3) In particular, the Histories & Lore section is fantastic. Who came up with the idea to take the motion comic approach to illustrating the narration? It was quite impressive!

I think it was something I came up with early on. But whenever you have a world this rich to play with, doing motion comics as a way to supplement the storyline always feels like a no-brainer.  However, I will say I don’t think we have ever had an opportunity to work with canon quite like this.  Being able to immerse ourselves in Martin’s world was like a dream come true.

We asked HBO if we could come up with a list of topics that would be relevant to the series, but still bring the rich detail that comes from reading the books.  That way, new fans of the series could get the background, and fans of the books could get excited by seeing the worlds they know so well. We especially wanted to bring in the different points-of-view by having multiple narrators discuss the same topic, since that is such a major element of the books.  We worked with HBO on the list - adding a few things here, cutting a few there.  Then we worked on outlines of each history with Bryan Cogman, who then wrote the narrations you hear.

It should be said though - none of this would have been possible without the incredible support and guidance of HBO, and the faith placed in us by the show, especially Dan Weiss and David Benioff.  It would have been very easy for someone to say “we don’t want to discuss the Sack of King’s Landing - it’s too tricky a subject to be handled outside the show.”  Instead, Bryan just nailed it, and we were given a ton of support from everyone to move it forward creatively.  It was such a great experience!

4) Similarly, the House Histories —I’m thinking the Targaryen and Lannister ones in particular. To what degree was the script for those done before there was an idea of how they would be shown on the screen?

There was a lot of debate regarding what the History & Lore animations would look like.  We had the opportunity to work with Will Simpson, who is a concept artist and storyboard artist on the show.  I think Bryan Cogman had finished most of the scripts when I first met with Will, so we had a good sense of scope - how many drawings we would need, etc.

Bryan did a terrific job in tailoring the writing to be very visual.  There was also a lot of attention paid to what not to say and what not to show. We had to keep in mind that many of these histories would be from a very specific point of view, so some details needed to be left out.  For example, Viserys’ description of his father, Aerys, was warmer and more positive.  Based on that, we made sure to illustrate him in a more positive light - healthier, stronger, even a doting father a certain point.

Regarding the House Histories, I believe we had most of the narrations recorded before the artwork was begun.  This allowed us to get a sense of pacing - how long would the artwork be up based on the deliveries, etc.  Having access to such talented actors (Mark Addy, Michelle Fairley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Harry Lloyd, Charles Dance, Donald Sumpter, Richard Madden) brought this to a whole new level.

5) The artwork for the Lannister and Targaryen histories were especially remarkable—fully colored, stylized in various ways. Were these executed by artists at Herzog & Co.? If there’s any particular artist or art director who deserves a mention, we’d love to know, because we really adored these segments.

Thank you very much!  Yes, those in particular were done at Herzog & Company.  Raleigh Stewart, our Art Director, actually hand painted the artwork you see in the Targaryen animations.  Raleigh also turned Will Simpson’s art for the Stark animation into some amazing stonework, adding in all the environments, lighting and textures that you see.  House Lannister, House Baratheon, and the overall look of almost everything else you see in the other History animations comes from EJ Carlson.  For House Lannister, she illustrated the stained-glass windows, then built the world they lived in, and did all the animations.  I should also mention Heather Cardone and Jordan Riker who kept the production of all of these animations moving around the clock.

6) The approach of depicting the Lannister history through a stained glass window was especially inspired, as it captured medieval art so very well, and it’s quite a different approach from the Targaryen history. Who hit on that idea?

From the beginning, there was a huge question - “what does this stuff look like?”  I mean, Will’s artwork is so good, anything he draws would become immediate inspiration. canon.  For things like the First Men and the Andals, we knew we could just add some textures to his illustrations, and we’d be safe.

But still, there were questions like “what does Bran the Builder look like?” Or Lann the Clever? I mean, no one alive at the time of the series would have any sense of what their ancestors looked like thousands of years before - unless they had statues, monuments, or artwork of some sort that were kept as family treasures.  So Will and I started working out what each family’s monuments might look like.  The Starks have their crypts beneath Winterfell and Will had already designed some stone friezes for the show that were a great guideline for how their family history would look.  The Lannisters put their wealth on display, so a chapel depicting their triumphs like the De Medici’s seemed appropriate.  I think Will and I were talking when it just sort of popped out.

The Targaryens were tough - since much of what they created had been conquered, destroyed, or lost. Knowing that their colors are black and red, and that to a certain degree they were conquerors from the East, we sort of stumbled upon the idea of using Russian palekh paintings as an inspiration.  It was really just a starting point, though.  Once we started animating the flames, it also made sense, in a sort of poetic way, to tell their story with shadows cast by flames, as if that was all that was left.  “Blood and Fire “Fire and Blood,” and all that.

We had seen the Eyrie by the time we started work on the Arryns, and the show had such amazing mosaics, we knew we had to play in that world.  For House Baratheon, since they were the royal family, illuminated text and manuscripts seemed like they would be a good match - especially since that allowed our primary colors to be gold and black.

What’s funny is that I think we have about a dozen different versions of Aegon the Conqueror, each one stylized in its own way.

7) When creating a Blu-ray package like this, what’s the biggest challenge from your perspective?

If you would allow me to be exceedingly cheeseball - I’d like to paraphrase Jaime Lannister (my favorite character in the books and the series):

“There is no Blu-ray set like Game of Thrones. There’s only Game of Thrones.”

Now that I got that out of my system, I will say that the biggest challenge SHOULD have been getting permission from Dan and David and HBO to do everything we proposed. Instead they were so supportive and collaborative - everything else was cake.

We also knew that every little detail that we slid into the work - a blue rose here, a glass candle there- would be appreciated by the fans.  That made the work we did even more fulfilling.

We’re thrilled you enjoyed the work.  If we can impress westeros.org, then we know we’re on the right track!

 

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