*Spoilers for Game of Thrones seasons 1-7*
Matthew Rouleau first learned he was going to be working on one of Game of Thrones’ most memorable, jaw-dropping moments in the summer of 2016.
It’s fair to say he was excited at the prospect.
“It was just in concept art, and the episodes hadn’t been shot yet. I remember thinking, ‘wow…we’re really going to create something impressive!'”
Rouleau is the Visual Effects Supervisor at Rodeo FX in Montreal, a company that has helped create some of Game of Thrones’ biggest set-piece spectacles and most talked about scenes.
He and his team have won three Primetime Emmy Awards for their work on the show – and a VES Award for the extraordinary Battle of the B**tards episode.
In season 7, Rodeo’s effects for Game of Thrones took in Euron Greyjoy’s war-fleet, including effects during the astonishing sea battle with Yara and Theon.
But perhaps most notably, Rodeo were also instrumental in the epic closing scene from the series finale, where The Night’s King turns up on the back of an ice dragon, and destroys The Wall.
Here, Rouleau talks about creating an instantly iconic TV moment.
Tearing down The Wall
Bringing The Wall’s collapse to TV screens around the world was no mean feat. It took six months and 100 artists to complete the sequence.
One of the most crucial aspects was trying to strike a ‘realistic’ effect for what would happen if a 700 foot tall slab of ice were to suddenly, and dramatically, crumble to the ground.
For inspiration, Rouleau and his team turned to YouTube.
“We actually decided that the event in the show would function similarly to a glacier simultaneously melting and collapsing. We combed YouTube through hours’ worth of videos of glacial melting, which really gave us a strong sense of dynamic and scale.”
Scale, according to the visual effects supervisor, was perhaps the most integral thing to capturing a sense of awe with the scene.
“Characters are crucial to give an idea of the scale,” he adds, “as they put things into context very quickly.”
To that effect, Rodeo created detailed effects work of individual characters walking and then sprinting on top of the wall, and hordes of wights and white walkers at its base. This helped put the monumental significance of what was happening into even starker focus.
Scaling new effects heights?
It was definitely an order as tall as the wall itself, however.
“We saw from the very first simulations that it was going to be great. The biggest challenges were technical and, of course, working with the time available.
“TV is always challenging timewise, as you have less time than for a movie but the quality expectations are still very high. To overcome it, we had to rework our pipeline to integrate such intense simulations.”
That said, Rouleau notes that the destruction of the boats by Daenerys’ dragons back in Season 6, during the battle of Meereen, was actually more difficult.
“We had a lot of different materials and effects to deal with: wood, the fabric of the sails, and the water and waves the carnage would produce. Those are all very different from one another, and making them work together to get a look was incredibly complex.”
‘One fan cried’
Rouleau finds it wryly humorous that Rodeo spent so much time lovingly creating Meereen and The Wall, only to ultimately annihilate them in fiery chaos.
“Sometimes our job is to build worlds – and other times it’s to destroy them!”
With The Wall in particular, its destruction was something fans of both the show and the source novels had been speculating on for years. So to see it finally come to pass was a big deal for millions of people watching.
Watch the scene here:
“I don’t think I fully comprehended how important this moment was until I saw the fans’ reactions,” says Rouleau.
“When the episode aired, fans were recording themselves watching it, and their reactions were insane. A guy even cried! Honestly, I think it was seeing the impact we had on the fans that really made us feel like we’d created something very awesome.”
Rodeo have only been going for 12 years. But they now have a 500-person team working across three different sites in Montreal, LA and Quebec.
Pennywise enhancements – and Blade Runner pride
Rodeo FX have also contributed to the visual spectacle of some of the biggest films of the past five years, including Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Most recently, they have served as the VFX lead for upcoming thriller Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado.
Their fingerprints can also be seen on Oscar winners like Blade Runner 2049 and Birdman, as well as blockbusters like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
And then there’s Pennywise in last year’s IT.
“Moviegoers didn’t realize that the terrifying clown Pennywise is partly digital,” says Rouleau. “We stepped in for some of the more difficult shots, and we also enhanced certain aspects of the make-up with visual effects.”
Blade Runner 2049 “was a blast for everyone involved” he adds.
“Even though it was released over 35 years ago, the first movie always stood as a benchmark we had to live up to. Many artists chose to work in visual effects because the first movie had such a dramatic impact on them. But I’d definitely say the intimidation going in was nothing compared to the pride we felt coming out of it.”
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.
[Main image: HBO/Sky]