HBO's Game of Thrones is a rich palette of colour and display. Ireland's Screen Scene Post Production took on the task of enhancing the balance between worlds so vastly different, that colour play was a powerful component to straddling the extremes. Debra Kaufman looks into the slew of talent that brought these fantasy realms to light.
One of the TV season's brightest new arrivals was HBO's medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones, an adaptation of the popular novels by author George R.R. Martin. The TV series, created for HBO by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, debuted April 17th and was honored as Outstanding New Program at the 27th annual Television Critics Association's TCA Awards in Los Angeles. The series was also picked up for a second series two days after its premiere episode aired.
Shot mainly in Northern Ireland as well as Malta, Game of Thrones made extensive use of digital effects including massive digital set extensions, all created by BlueBolt Ltd in London; Screen Scene Post Production in Dublin, Ireland also did half the visual effects for the series. Also key to the series' look was production designer Gemma Jackson, art directors Paul Inglis, Thomas Brown, Ashleigh Jeffers, Tom McCullagh and Steve Summersgill; set decorator Richard Roberts and costume designer Michele Clapton.
The main cinematographers for the show were Alik Sakharov and Marco Pontecorvo who did camera and grading tests with colorist Gary Curren at Screen Scene Post Production, who used the Nucoda Film Master. The grading tests were not only used to help the cinematographers choose set-ups, but also influenced HBO executives to pick the ARRI Alexa camera, for its image quality and, in part, because of the camera's tight integration with the Nucoda Film Master.
To handle an intense workflow of constantly updating visual effects, Screen Scene created a workflow based on its Rorke SAN. Linked to the SAN was an Avid DS system for online finishing as well as the Nucoda. The Alexa 4:4:4 material was captured to HDCAM SR tape; the Screen Scene crew received an EDL, loaded up the tapes and pulled footage as DPX files to the SAN. Next, they shot-checked on the Nucoda Composer and then handed off the resulting EDL to Curran who relinked to the same media, pulling it from the SAN, for grading.
With regard to the use of HDCAM SR tape, Curran notes that production took place before the tsunami. "Once we got into post, tape did get scarce, but we had enough in reserve to keep going," he says. Curran also notes that Season 2 of Game of Thrones will go tapeless. "What happened with the Sony factory pushed them in that direction," he says.
Color correcting Game of Thrones was initially a process of trial-and-error. "They were keen to differentiate the world because the show jumped among them," says Curran. "They wanted a look that would tell when you're in Winterfell or Dothraki. So, initially we started with strong, bold looks for each world. But when we came back to look at it with fresh eyes, it was too over-the-top and to the detriment of the show. We were losing details in the costumes and a lot of the subtleties in the production design. So we brought it back and made it less extreme. We found actually that the palette that was already there in the art direction and production design, which worked in differentiating the worlds. We didn't have to push it further. Color correcting became more about enhancing and embellishing what was there."
King Robert Baratheon, a fierce warrior jaded by years of loss, over-indulgence and court intrigue, has no heart for the games required to keep politics under his absolute control. In King's Landing, colors are warm, rich, and vibrant, verdant with foliage in shades of strong greens, and deep reds and golds.
Curran describes the palette that differentiated the worlds. "Winterfell is a very controlled palette, with lots of cyans, blues and grays and some earthy tones as well," he says. "It was a de-saturated palette in that world. Dothraki was warmer and richer, but also sort of an arid look, like the desert, so it looked parched with use of ochres. King's Landing was rich and verdant, with lots of foliage and strong greens, rich reds and golds."
The centralized SAN workflow particularly came in handy for working with the constantly evolving visual effects shots. "In the early episodes, I worked with very rough temps of the shots," he says. "We had a drop folder system so any time they pushed the latest version of a particular shot, it automatically came straight into my timeline. So I actually found it easy to keep up to date. I could just hit the refresh button and I'd have all the latest shots. A producer could sign off on a shot and by the time he walked downstairs, it would be on my timeline with the grade applied."
Curran notes that he spent much of his time with associate producer Jonathan Brytus, who was post-production supervisor, and co-producer Greg Spence. "They were fantastic to work with," he says. "They were the engine of the show."
Most challenging, says Curran, was keeping focus as he jumped from episode to episode. "Once the looks were established, it was just about keeping it consistent," he says. "But there were so many changes, I constantly jumped between episodes and worlds. "Keeping my energy up and keeping focused and consistent was the challenge," he says. "But it was an awesome experience working on the show and with the team from HBO."
HBO has not yet announced where the show will post for Season 2.
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