The 'A Song of Ice and Fire' Domain


Belfast Set Visit: Part 3

[You can read Part 2 here.]

Again we were going to head back to the sets… and again we were distracted. I did learn some very interesting things from Bryan as we walked along, and he was in fact incredibly forthcoming. Perhaps once the series airs I can discuss some of the things after they’ve played out on screen. Suffice it to say, it was very interesting discussing the nuts-and-bolts of adapting the text to the screen ... and one thing in particular he said about their plans left me quite excited.

The distraction this time? Well, I had asked if I could also see the costumes and armor, and Bryan again was pleased to take us over there to look around. He noted that he himself rarely got to visit these areas, most often being directly on set or in his office (which he shared with the script coordinators). If I recall correctly, the very first thing I saw was this marvelous watercolor out of King René‘s Tournament Book. It’s an image I’m very familiar with, and I loved the fact that it was there serving as a visual inspiration for the sumptuousness of garments and the levels of pageantry in the setting.

The next thing that leaped out was a beautiful gown, the provenance of which I’m uncertain. I suspect it may be one of Cersei’s. Looking around further, there were any number of garments, including two racks with “hero” costumes with labels such as Ned Stark, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen, and more. Tyrion’s red jerkin that we’ve seen previously was among them. A number of people were quietly working away with some of the magnificent textiles the production had gotten a hold of. In fact, one of the pieces I was most impressed by was a very subtly patterned, green-on-green jerkin that I spotted in one corner. Something for Lord Renly, perhaps? Hard to say.

They shared space with some of the Armor department, so the next thing to grab my attention was, well, armor. A lot of it. Kingsguard armor, Lannister guard armor, gold cloak armor, unique pieces for “hero” characters, and more. The craftsmanship is beyond belief. The first piece of armor we looked at and admired was the Kingsguard armor, of which there were several examples (including a suit of it under the Jaime Lannister label on the “hero” rack). We briefly discussed the changes (the fact that the white has been reduced to ornamentation) and some of the similarities (the use of scale, which is what’s actually described). I did see one of the white cloaks they wear, however, and later saw a photo of an actor wearing said cloak while on horseback, and it looked fabulous. Under the Robert Baratheon label, we saw another piece of armor I had not expected: his breastplate from the tourney. It’s a beautiful piece of armor, and you won’t mistake the man who would be (trying to) get it on for anything other than a Baratheon.

After that, another piece of controversial armor: the Lannister guard armor. Right off the bat, yes, Bryan admitted there was a little bit of an Asian influence. But I can tell you, I looked at this armor very closely, and all the pieces of it (save the helmet) are absolutely, 100% European in construction. They are not samurai armor. The Asian influence is not in the construction of the armor, but in its ornamentation, namely the lacquer-like hues of color and that horizontal banding on the breastplate. Now, that banding is purely decorative—it is a solid breastplate, not segmented, not lamellar, and so on. The colors which we’ve seen appear to me to be due to a dyed leather or perhaps a sort of tough enamelling, but then, this is armor from a setting where colored steel, painted steel, enameled steel, etc. is de rigeur for wealthy knights and lords. The specific conception behind this armor is two-fold. First, as we’ve seen from the Michelle Clapton video, yes, the Westerlands mixes a bit of Asian aesthetics with medieval aesthetics (in fact, there’s a piece of armor we’ve seen that also has this Asian influence, but no one’s noticed—I only realized thanks to seeing a picture of the source inspiration next to the concept design). But secondly, they also wanted to show the vast wealth of the Lannisters by giving their guardsmen an extraordinary set of armor that set them apart from other guardsmen. I think they succeeded on this score.

Now, I didn’t discuss the helmet, not because it’s Asian, but because it’s not really European. The partial glimpse we see led many to believe it was a kabuto-inspired piece. I am happy to say it’s nothing at all like the helmet of the samurai. Like the Kingsguard helmet, it is more specifically an example of a fantasy helmet shape that I don’t think has much precedent in real life. The closest I might compare it to is the Italian barbute, if the sides were flared outwards. The reports that there’s a split, hinged visor that locks across the face is absolutely true. I didn’t get to see the helmet on anyone, but I can just imagine that the guardsmen will look forbidding and vaguely leonine once the visor is in place. Speaking of leonine, the elbows of the Lannister armor are utterly fabulous, and they drew George and I like magpies as we admired them. Shiny!

I briefly spoke with one of the armorers at this point, as he was fabricating a mass of helmets. We chatted about how long it took, and I shared my thanks and praise for the degree of effort I was seeing, which he seemed to appreciate. Apparently, these helmets were meant for wildlings

After that, George, Parris, and I gave our attention to the armor of the City Watch of King’s Landing. It’s gorgeous work! We’ve caught glimpses of it, but they don’t do it justice. I had thought that all the maille we would see would use the Lord of the Rings plastic tubing rings, which looks good on camera but is much cheaper and much, much lighter . . . but, no, this stuff is real metal! There was a woman in the workshop who was actually fitting these rings together by hand, which was mind-boggling. It makes for a very fine mesh. Add the ornate burgonet-like helmet and the bits of scale on the chest, and all in all I’m reminded of certain Turkish or Persian armor ensembles I’ve seen before. It has obvious connections to medieval/Renaissance European armor, but there’s something just a bit foreign to it that reminds us this is a fantasy. It’s actually better looking than what GRRM described for the gold cloaks, if I may say so, and I think it’s a terrific interpretation which highlights King’s Landing as the royal seat.

I noticed as I admired this armor that there was another gentleman quietly working away. I couldn’t help but note that he was working on a gauntlet of what George might describe as “lobstered steel”, and I asked him who it was for. He indicated the character, one near and dear to the hearts of many fans, and then asked if I wanted to see some of the concepts for armor he had pinned up in his office.

He didn’t need to ask twice.

I went in and was floored with all the pictures, both of designs, prototypes, completed pieces, actors in the armor (including a great shot of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the Kingsguard armor but without a helmet), and inspirations. Yes, just as with the costuming, the armorers are looking beyond Western Europe in the Middle Ages, but I have to say some of the inspirations were especially apt (the Northmen are going to look terrific, if the inspiration pictures I saw are any evidence). I also saw one helmet, one straight from the books, which was very distinctive. I loved the design of it, and was very pleased to see it was surviving the interpretation from book to screen.

I asked this person—who I was starting to guess was a supervisor for the department—about the change to the Kingsguard armor, from the all-white appearance described in the novels. When I wondered if it was because it didn’t come off well on camera, he actually nodded his head and said that he thought the gleam of all-white armor wouldn’t really work in relation to everything else on screen, and therefore they went in this direction with a more bronze/gold look to the armor with the white as a decorative accent. George and I rather liked the detail of the scroll-work crown on the Kingsguard breastplate, and I said I was quite happy with the result of much of the armor myself (though I didn’t really discuss the helmet, which I have to admit I am less taken with; I understand it, the workmanship is impeccable, but it doesn’t push my buttons).

I took my leave of him, and asked his name. Turned it was none other than Simon Brindle, who really is in charge of the costume armor department, with a good deal of credits in films such as Alexander. He was very kind to give some of his time to showing us what his workshop was turning out.

Now we were set to look at the final set: the throne room of the Red Keep. It was the only Red Keep area we’d be seeing, as the other cell with the bulk of the Red Keep sets was closed due to the filming of a new scene ... one which, at the Moot, was revealed to feature Lord Renly (Gethin Anthony) and Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) in what was described to us as a fairly intense scene for the actors to perform.

Exiting the armor room, we took a path towards the Paint Hall which passed a number of totem-like structures. Parris and I pondered them and then decided they must be something for the Dothraki, given that in one case there were horse heads carved on these primitive, wood-looking objects. We went on from there into the gloom of the Paint Hall, which George noted was always just a bit colder than the surrounding area. A klaxon went off at one point as Bryan let us into the throne room area, and we had to be very, very quiet—I gather the cameras were rolling in the cell immediately adjacent.

We got into the throne room and ... well, wow. It’s a massive space, with tall columns, stained glass windows featuring the seven-pointed star of the Faith, a relief depicting a hunting scene (just the sort of thing King Robert loves best), and more. And, yes, on a raised dais, beneath a stained glass window set high above it, there was one more thing: the Iron Throne. We made a beeline to it, I admit, and yes, I had a chance to sit in it. It’s not absolutely massive as some of the more baroque depictions from artists, but it’s still rather large, and yes, they’ve worked swords through the whole thing in a fascinating way. It looks a bit uncomfortable to sit on, to be honest ... and that’s just the way Aegon the Conqueror wanted it, so I’d have to say it’s a success.

We wondered in passing about the dragon skulls that the Targaryens once lined the walls with, nineteen in number according to the text, and glimpsed at one point in the novels. Bryan revealed that they certainly had built one, large-scale skull. He would have loved to show it to us, but it happened to be in Malta at the moment… And with that, our visit to the Paint Hall was done. Next stop, the production office again. First, I have to make a correction: I realized after my last post that I sort of conflated my first production office visit as being part of my second. So in fact, some of the details below are things I saw in my first visit (where I met Bryan and where he gave me a tour of the offices).

When we arrived at the production office the second time, I was aware that there were some plans afoot. They became clear when we paused in front of an office with a TV and DVD player inside. Awaiting within was 20 minute long DVD, a crew screener of a number of completed scenes put together for one G. Martin. Bryan was apologetic about the fact that I wasn’t permitted to watch it—he would have loved for me to see it—but it was for George and Parris alone. As I left the room and Bryan closed the door, I heard the famous HBO opening (you know the one, the click of a screen going on and a moment of static). So close, and yet so far!

As a consolation, however, Bryan gave me a chance to get another look at the production offices—wait, another look? Yeah, about that…

When I first arrived there, Bryan showed me around the various offices, including the art department and the offices of the executive producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss. One of the first things I noticed was that several of the offices had walls covered in faces, photos of every actor cast with their names and the role they’re playing. In part I suspect it’s there to help the crew put names to faces, especially when the total cast is now approaching 300 actors. I gather it means actors who have speaking lines, and so not all extras are included. I am put in mind that a recent report stating Boardwalk Empire had 200 roles with speaking lines, which was presented as a very large cast indeed.

Besides all these photos of actors, the other thing to notice was an astonishing amount of artwork, concept designs from various stages of the production, a storyboard or two, architectural plans, and more. I have seen the great roof of Vaes Dothrak, the Red Keep on Aegon’s High Hill, the Eyrie upon the Giant’s Lance, the ancient walls of Winterfell, the Wall with Castle Black nestled on its base (BTW, no, Castle Black is not surrounded by a wall in these concepts!) Also many, many concepts for costumes for various regions. There was one terrific room which had a particular collection of designs: dozens of heraldic shields and banners, and every single one of them drawn straight from the books. Including the Royce of Runestone design Bryan loved, I noticed Lefford (yep, that blue and yellow banner in the Gemma Jackson video is House Lefford, although they’ve flipped the pile over for reasons I do not know), House Crakehall, House Blackwood, House Hornwood, and ... well, a couple of houses folks have speculated on in regards to whether they’re playing a role or not in the series, and we’ll just have to wait for the show to air.

Next part tomorrow, featuring some more tidbits from the art department and production offices, a boring book Sean Bean had to read, and preparing to take the black…

Belfast Set Visit: Part 2

[You can read the first part of the set visit report here.]

To get to the next set required a journey outside ... and that ended up leading to a detour to the props department. I had noticed a giant, wooden stag’s head outside and wondered if it was a part of the tourney set, and Bryan confirmed. With Parris’s encouragement, we we went into the prop room. A true treasure trove! A very special saddle for one of the actors, various household ornaments, a cute child’s drawing (which I suspect came from the hand of Arya, given the subject matter of a warrior woman on horseback slashing at soldiers), banners galore, a certain (dead) direwolf which has been reported on before, a prototype for the Iron Throne, and much more.

The direwolf was especially massive, very much the size of a pony. I asked Bryan about this, saying that of course right now the direwolf pups need not be much bigger than dogs ... but what happens later on (if there is a later on, *knock on wood*)? Would the production use digital compositing or forced perspective… ? That was one of the things he said they would have to deal with when it came to it. I had the sense that they were very hopeful of having such a problem to deal with, giving that that would mean additional seasons in which to tell the story.

Now, as you know, the heraldry of the setting is near and dear to my heart, and I only wish those banners hadn’t been wrapped up so I could look at them. However, I did notice that they all had labels indicating who they belonged to. They comprised many names straight out of the novels: Karstark, Umber, Hornwood, Cerwyn, Glover ... and Bolton, I couldn’t help but notice. The sheer number of northern houses represented put me in mind of the fact that at the pilot shoot in Doune Castle, it was stated that the feasting hall was hung with many banners. But they weren’t all northern. There were two different Lannister banners, including one very fancy one, and I also noticed a more obscure house of the westerlands, House Swyft, represented, which pleased me to no end. Little did I know I’d get an eyeful of heraldry soon enough…

Shelves were lined with objects, and had tags indicating where they belonged. There was this terrific wheeled horse ornament which apparently belonged in Ned Stark’s chamber at the Red Keep, which I believe is a memento he carried with him from King’s Landing with him to remember Bran by, some textiles and things that belonged to Cersei, even a long row of objects that were part of the Dothraki setting.

We then went on to another exterior set, this one representing one of the sky cells beneath the Eyrie. I was amazed at just how heavy the wooden door was, just as it would be. I had to really push to get it open. When we were inside, they mentioned that they had already filmed scenes with Mord, played by Ciaran Bermingham. Everyone had thought he was a terrific actor and person, and really enjoyed his portrayal of the character (later, George mused that Bermingham would have been a fine choice for a character from the second novel, Biter, as well). The sky cell itself… the first thing I noted was that it didn’t seem to be subtly tilted, as in the books, but when I was actually standing on it I have to say it did feel like it was just the tiniest bit angled. The idea, of course, being that it would keep prisoners terrified to sleep on the floor for fear that its incline would lead them to roll out into the open sky and the long, long fall below.

There were all sorts of little details in the cell that added to the sense that this was a place where many people had suffered over the centuries. George discussed some of the details of his own description of the cells, such as the fact that they’re sort of honeycombed beneath the Eyrie. He also pointed out one change that he seemed to approve of, a measure to make sure no one could climb out. There’s a few pictures (thanks, Parris!) of myself, George, and Bryan Cogman in the cell. I couldn’t resist flapping my arms for one of them as I stood at the cell’s edge.

We were about to head on to the Paint Hall when a noise distracted us. Barking, specifically. Yep, a bunch of the dogs playing the direwolves were present. Bryan took us to meet them. I couldn’t say the exact number of them, but I know for sure there were at least two dogs for Ghost, and in total I’m certain there were at least eight dogs. They’re all quite beautiful animals, and a few seemed quite curious at the attention. George and Parris seemed quite familiar with them, as well, knowing them by name.

After that, someone said we should visit the ravens, in a tent-like structure next to where the dogs were. One of the animal handlers, named Esther, personally showed us around. Not only does it have a couple of rooms for the production’s two ravens (who have to be kept separate or they would fight), but it also had large, separate kennels for each of the dogs, plus a couple of dog runs. She went to take out the ravens, and discussed their training, issues with getting them to carry messages (it took a lot of time and effort to figure out how to do it; at one point they thought of just having them carry them in their beaks, but I gather they took to eating them), and so on. I hadn’t realized just how BIG ravens are. The bigger of the two, Ronnie, was also very greedy and kept leaping for Esther’s hand which was holding the food, rather than hopping onto her left arm to await being fed as he was trained.

One detail Esther noted? She had a bruised rib . . . because she had been practicing the Grey Wind “hits” on a certain “great” character, and she had been bowled over. Despite this injury, she seemed to really love her work. This was the general sense of the whole thing: all the crew I met seemed genuinely excited to be involved in a production like this.

Tomorrow, part 3, with a lengthy look at the armor department, and a visit to the throne room…

Belfast Set Visit: Part 1

A funny thing happened in October…

But if you want to hear the whole tale of how I had a chance to visit the sets in Belfast in late October, and my breakfast with George and Parris where I met Isaac Hempstead-Wright, or my first meeting with script editor and writer Bryan Cogman and what it was like to stand atop the Wall, or even a report of the Belfast Moot where many of the actors and crew hung out with fans… well, you can read those from my earlier postings. But if what you really want to read was what it was like to actually be inside the Paint Hall sets, or visiting the various production departments, read on!

A Budget to be Reckoned With

When HBO announced that it was ordering a season of George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones on March 2nd, the news was greeted with jubilation across fandom, on the internet and off. But the green light provided a host of new questions, such as when new cast members would be announced, when new production stills might be seen, and the like. And among them, a fairly significant question: what would the budget be?

We received answers pretty quickly. Nelson McCausland, a government minister, shared that the per-season budget was expected to be circa £30 million, equivalent to $45 million U.S. With a ten episode order, this would average at $4.5m an episode, a significant amount of money by most standards in the industry. On top of this, we had additional reports that the production was estimated to inject as much as £20m ($30m) into the economy, an interesting figure that has provided one of our own estimates regarding just what this budget means.

The thing that has to be realized when trying to decide what the budget means in terms of the production is that a host of factors make this production different than other, comaparably-budgetted HBO productions such as Carnivàle and Deadwood. Chief among them? A foreign location, Northern Ireland, which has only recently pushed to become a major location for international film production. With this fledgling industry comes a great deal of opportunity as far as production costs go. The Northern Ireland government has made many efforts entice productions through generous tax breaks, cash incentives, and other support.

So, what’s the purchasing power of a $45 million production in Northern Ireland, compared to a show in the United States? Good question, and one we’re going to try our best to answer. We welcome comments, additional analysis, and any relevant facts and figures that can help develop our first try further.

Achieving the Epic with Visual Effects

While all our present information from George R.R. Martin indicates that HBO is expected to give a decision somewhere around March on whether they will order a season of Game of Thrones (US, UK), the finishing of filming on November 19th has led to an understandable question: what next? We’ll try to answer, and speculate on, two of the primary tasks before the production now that principal shooting is done: visual effects and post-production. We are by no means experts on these (or, indeed, any) facets of film production, but we’ve collected information from across the internet that will allow the experts to speak for themselves.

An Introduction to “Game of Thrones”

In January 2007, Variety broke the news that HBO had optioned the rights to George R.R. Martin’s award-winning, bestselling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since then, the pilot has been filmed, the series greenlit, and the production date was set as July 26th, 2010. The series teaser released in June of that year confirmed that the show’s set to premiere in 2011.

So, it’s been a long journey, marked by an incredible amount of buzz for a show that for a long time hadn’t even received a season order. Fans of the series have rallied around the production, and TV critics and commentators have shared their support for the project. What makes Game of Thrones so special, to inspire such appreciation?