Game of Thrones' cinematographer breaks down a 'dragon-induced Armageddon' in The Spoils of War

Canadian cinematographer Robert McLachlan is a Game of Thrones veteran. He’s shot 8 episodes of a show, including “The Dance of Dragons,” where Daenerys faces assassins from dragonback in a Daznak fighting pit, and “The Rains of Castamere,” a partial with a Red Wedding. And many recently, he shot “The Spoils of War,” partial 4 of deteriorate 7, where Daenerys takes her dragons into conflict in Westeros for a initial time. The partial was tremendously complicated, as a behind-the-scenes video reveals — it concerned coordinating bomb devices, pyrotechnics, and a immeasurable throng of extras, in further to CGI dragons and difficult close-quarters combat.

But McLachlan is used to difficult shoots, and large projects, after decades in a industry, mixed Emmy nominations (including for Game of Thrones), and work on array from Westworld to Ray Donovan to Millennium and The Lone Gunman. In a array of interviews with The Verge, conducted both before and after a partial aired, McLachlan says a climactic conflict method in “The Spoils of War” took 18 days to shoot, with a organisation operative six-day weeks to get it all done. Unlike a show’s actors, who are kept in a dim as many as probable about arriving story events, a organisation gets a scripts some-more than a year in advance, and formulation for “The Spoils of War” began as many as 14 months ago for McLachlan, counting plcae scouting, travel, and operative with auxiliary teams. He ran us by a process: a allege planning, a worker shots representing dragon POV shots, a fume predicament HBO had to tighten down, and since he thinks his subsequent partial is even some-more satisfying.


This review has been precipitated and edited from mixed interviews.

How did we proceed sharpened “The Spoils of War”?

Any method with a good understanding of visible effects has to be unequivocally delicately planned. It roughly comes down to formulation sold frames as we confirm how prolonged any shot is going to be, since those shots are insanely expensive, generally if there’s a dragon in a frame. A lot of a artistic work for a large movement sequences has to be finished way in advance. It’s like a proceed Alfred Hitchcock worked, where he meticulously storyboarded his cinema before sharpened it, and afterwards he’s been quoted as observant that a filming partial was indeed a vapid bit.

And in some ways, it is. The bigger and some-more thespian a method is, and a some-more visible effects are involved, a reduction it’s delightful for a cinematographer. we flower on walking into a vacant set in a morning, where what ends adult in a film is wholly in a cinematographer’s hands. Whereas with this episode’s grand movement sequences, with a lot of visible effects, a lot of that work is finished roughly by cabinet in advance. Because those effects shots are so extravagantly expensive, they’ve got to be nailed down forward of time so they bill it. And inevitably, they still come in proceed over budget. And afterwards it’s a doubt of sitting down with a executive and a visual-effects producer, and reckoning out how to prune it down so we can means to do a method as effectively as we can.

We get all a scripts for a deteriorate some-more than a year before we start sharpened anything, and that’s vastly helpful, since it allows for outrageous assets in a earthy production. The association customarily has to pierce 40 trucks and 150 organisation members to some remote beach in Northern Ireland once, and afterwards 3 or four, maybe 5 director/DP teams will come in and share that organisation on that one location, since they’re all out there sharpened during a same time. So when we were in northern Spain final year, we shot sequences for mixed episodes, since those scenes would be in a same location. It saved us drifting a executive behind to Spain later, for half a day’s work.

Why don’t they have one executive glow all a Dorne sequences, one executive glow all a North sequences, and so forth? It seems like that would be some-more unchanging and engage reduction relocating around.

Probably a lot of producers would like that! But a Directors Guild of America manners are unequivocally despotic about a executive carrying authorship of an episode, and a outcome is that even if we customarily have one page to film, maybe 4 hours of work in Dubrovnik or something, according to a minute of a law, they have to fly a executive there to proceed that sequence. Of march infrequently a executive will ask another executive who’s already there to do it for them. There’s a satisfactory bit of that arrange of switching around.

So we got a script, did plcae scouting, and sat down with committees to devise a special effects. But we still had a lot of technical hurdles to face on this episode. How did we proceed them?

We worked with a flattering simple camera package — a Arri Alexa, that is positively my initial choice. All a cinematographers on Game of Thrones are told, “This is a camera package we use.” You have unequivocally tiny choice about it. But I’ve always been unequivocally happy with that, since it’s accurately a same rigging that we indeed own, and we use it myself all a time.

We usually attempted to glow as simply and elegantly as we could. For a large movement sequence, we used a tiny hand-held supply called an Osmo, with a tiny digital camera on it that authorised a horseman to get shots while roving a equine during a full trot by a cavalry charge. We used custom-built tiny helicopter drones for a beyond dragon shots. HBO has a unequivocally despotic routine of no drones going anywhere nearby any tellurian being, so we used those for drifting over water, and void spaces. It came in from Holland with a commander and a integrate of assistants. We brought in a cable-cam, since we indispensable a lot of steady passes over a battlefield, with a camera creation a accurate same movements, so we could digitally combination in all a elements. It’s unequivocally complicated to rig, and a flattering vapid routine for everybody who’s not concerned in creation a thing work. We had to report around all these elements, and when we had a many extras, and where these outrageous cranes that upheld a cable-cam would go. The cable-cam company, they’re a guys who do many of a biggest movies, all over a world. They fundamentally go from large uncover to large show, environment adult these repeatable rigs with remote-controlled cameras that are protected for anybody underneath.


How many of what we see in a conflict in “The Spoils of War” is unsentimental effects, and how many is CGI and compositing?

Well, apparently we didn’t indeed have 5,000 Dothraki. But to 3-D spur those would be extravagantly expensive. We did have 50 or 60. And partial of a vapid routine of doing a stage like that is, we have to do throng replication. We have cameras that can repeat their moves over and over perfectly, accurately a same proceed any time. So opposite segments can be blended together. It’s been something we’ve been doing on Game of Thrones for a prolonged time. we initial did it on deteriorate 3, when Dany was pardon a slaves. You saw behind her thousands of Dothraki. We did have a lot of dressed extras — we consider about 500 — nonetheless we had to spin them into thousands.

So we have a camera on a computerized, robotic supply with automatic movements. You take your throng and pierce it around a margin until it totally fills a immeasurable landscape, afterwards combination a shots. And of march it was a same with a Lannister troops. They spent a outrageous volume of time doing that with a Battle of a Bastards final year, to fill a margin with soldiers. The days of a Russian chronicle of War and Peace, where they physically had thousands of infantry on a field, that’s prohibitively costly now. So we do have genuine people there, nonetheless we transcribe and replicate them. The CG member is usually compositing a tangible shots we get.

What tender me many about a method was a impossibly thick smoke, and how it changes day to night. Was that extended as well?

We constructed a lot of smoke. That was something we wanted from a comprehensive get-go, since we knew a continue was going to be in and out over a days and days we were going to be filming this. We were sharpened nearby a tiny city in Spain, in a inhabitant park. It was late in a year, and we knew a continue would be spotty. And one of a things that can unequivocally assistance we make something some-more capricious is if we can retard a sun. I’ve finished that utterly successfully on a lot of shows over a years, nonetheless apparently on a many smaller scale, with fume machines. Here, we wanted to retard a object out so a shots would have some consistency. And we knew a glow and fume would be impossibly beautiful.

Fortunately, we had a unequivocally good forgive to have it, once a dragon has struck a train. The problem was — a initial dual days, we were blazing all of this material. Special-effects fume is customarily white, and it’s utterly innocuous. It’s easy to work in. It’s been proven protected to breathe. But we wanted unequivocally nasty black fume that would demeanour immorality and horrible, and a customarily proceed to do that is to bake diesel oil. The organisation and everybody tighten to a fires were propitious with masks and goggles. But after dual days, everybody’s faces were usually black, and we were all coughing and wheezing and hacking. The health and reserve officer from HBO said, “That’s it! No some-more of that!” Everybody was relieved, including me on one level, nonetheless on a other level, we was going, “Oh man, there goes my smokescreen.”

Navy over-abundance fogger trucks helped censor a object during shooting.
Courtesy of Robert McLachlan

I had a template that was desirous by J.M.W. Turner a British painter, who embellished those fanciful paintings with a object poking by haze. And also, we grew adult in British Columbia, and we live in California, where there are a lot of timberland fires. As a kid, we saw some unequivocally fantastic ones on a west seashore of British Columbia, and saw a light when a object was perplexing to get by that unenlightened smoke. That was a feeling, a demeanour we was always going for. With shots where we didn’t get it, we had to color-correct a film so a light looks like it’s entrance by smoke, and afterwards go behind to my friends in a effects dialect and say, “We’ve shot it so it looks like it’s by a lot of smoke, so now you’ve got to assistance us supplement a lot of smoke.” we knew that they could do that utterly successfully, since they gave me a lot of additional dirt in a Daznak fighting pit. Without their help, it would have looked kind of dopey and not right. But luckily, one thing we can rest on in a uncover is a viz-effects department, for ambience and goodwill and ambition. That did assistance constraint that look.

Your substantiating shots, with a mill formations in a background, demeanour like 1960s Technicolor Westerns. Were we desirous by Western films?

Very many so, with a car trains and a Monument Valley feeling. We combined those buttes in a credentials later, though, since a law is, a plains in Spain are rather… plain. [Laughs] For wish of a improved word. So that helped us get a tiny bit of abyss to a shots, usually a bit of window sauce in a background.

But from a lighting standpoint… when we was young, we saw Butch Cassidy and a Sundance Kid, and we was impressed, since it was so dark. It usually didn’t demeanour like any other Western I’d seen. And afterwards as a immature teenager, we unequivocally responded to a spaghetti Westerns, that didn’t demeanour like a ones we’d all grown adult on.

So in this episode, you’re traffic with fire, smoke, outrageous crowds, stunts, animals, CGI, a health inspector, and stars who have to keep their faces visibly onscreen and in focus, even when they’re using around in all this mayhem. What was hardest to shoot? What gave we a biggest headaches?

Your biggest plea is perplexing to keep a unchanging demeanour in a stage when you’re sharpened over a march of weeks, and a weather’s going from complicated cloudy or a drizzle to splendid sunshine. We’ve routinely got large cranes that move in large 40-by-40 silks, so a actors aren’t illuminated by oppressive object that’s entrance down during a wrong time of day. But here, a range was too large to use those. In a ideal world, we report to make use of a best light by a day. we use an app called Artemis that tells me accurately where a object will be during a given time of year, in a given location, on a given day, and that helps us confirm where to put a camera to keep a shadows consistent. We devise meticulously what shot we’re going to do during what time of day. Scheduling a whole deteriorate is an extraordinary puzzle, generally with a expel this size, where we have to take a method out of order, since we had 600 extras operative on a stage for a week, and afterwards that went down to 400 a subsequent week, and so on. By a final week of sharpened we were down to about 100 people.


There’s a prolonged follow-shot in a center of a conflict where Bronn is stumbling behind and onward in a cramped space, with blazing group and horses all around him. That quite looks like it took a lot of coordination. Are there sold segments in a conflict stage that you’re many unapproachable of

We were unequivocally happy with that one. With a oner, where we run one singular shot as prolonged as possible, a longer it runs, a some-more coordination and choreography we need, and a some-more soundness in all a elements, since we don’t have shots to cut divided to, to repair a tiny mistake. That shot was a genuine handling debate de force for my camera operator, who did it with a handheld camera. We got it in 3 takes, that is unequivocally impressive. But it is an amalgam of, we think, 3 shots that Joe Bauer’s well-developed VFX group married together, and afterwards significantly extended with additional smoke, fire, and embers. It couldn’t be finished practically, for reserve considerations. Once a critical mayhem begins, unequivocally few shots were not helped by a VFX department.

How many of a glow in a method is genuine and unenhanced?

We had genuine fires blazing all a time, and we shot a lot of glow elements so we could fill shots adult with composites, and to give us some improved accumulation than we were physically going to be means to say on a unequivocally far-reaching shots. On a tighter shots, we’re unsentimental many of a time.

There seems to be such a concentration these days on unsentimental effects over CGI. As a cinematographer, is that partial of your philosophy, that you’d rather get it all on set and in-camera?

As lot of that is substantially entrance out of what we listened about a creation of Dunkirk. And we know Chris Nolan — and his hermit Jonah, when we was operative with them on Westworld — don’t like green-screen. They don’t like visible composites, if they can assistance it. Because they feel subconsciously, a assembly is going to be some-more drawn in and intent with something if they feel like it was indeed photographed, and not superhero-movie cartoon-created. we consider there’s something to that. Certainly for a cinematographer, it’s usually a feeling that you’d rather be a solitary author of all onscreen, that was traditionally how it’s always been. Increasingly, we’ve worked hand-in-glove with a visual-effects department. we consider we all know — Dave Benioff, in a partial making-of feature, reiterates that a some-more things we unequivocally shoot, a some-more genuine it’s going to feel, a reduction charcterised and cartoonish it becomes. So that unequivocally was 50 guys roving on a backs of their horses, galloping down a hill, while sharpened bows and arrows. That’s a lot of training. But if it had usually been animated, it wouldn’t have looked as good. It wouldn’t have felt as real, or as visceral.


How did we proceed framing a characters in a scene, revelation a story by cinematography around a actors?

One of a things I’m many unapproachable of… Very early on, we review a script, and we thought, “Are there unequivocally any stakes here?” In a Battle of a Bastards, there’s unequivocally something during stake. You’ve got one of a misfortune characters, who we hatred roughly some-more than anybody we’ve ever hated in a series, on one side. We’ve got one of a comprehensive favorite characters on a other side. The romantic states are unequivocally high. When we initial review this episode, we suspicion “Well, here’s Dany drifting around on a dragon blazing all up, and Jaime down on a ground, nonetheless is that going to work, if we’re not unequivocally rooting for somebody?” Then we satisfied that a characters indeed examination this conflagration, this dragon-induced Armageddon, was going to be a game-changing moment. That wasn’t unequivocally specified in a outline of a script. As Jaime’s usually holding it in, it’s like somebody examination a A-bomb being dropped. He realizes all is going to change forever.

So we unequivocally had to concentration on Jaime, and to a obtuse extent, Bronn, some-more than this lady drifting around on a dragon, that was technically tough to shoot. So we had this review with Matt [Shakman], a director, when we initial met, and that’s where we put a concentration in a midst of all this mayhem. we felt it wasn’t going to meant anything if we didn’t see it from one specific indicate of view, that wasn’t unequivocally specified in a strange outline. And we did that, and we consider Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister] delivered one of his best performances in a uncover so far. we consider that’s mostly what helped make it work. That, and examination a conflict where you’re rooting for both sides. You don’t wish to see a dragon get killed, nonetheless we don’t wish to see Bronn get killed. we consider it worked. I’ve gotten emails observant “Best partial ever!” and it’s unequivocally gratifying.


You’ve finished sharpened deteriorate 7 during this point. Have we privately shot anything else that we consider will contest with this episode?

They’re starting to prep a final 6 episodes now, and I’m certain a vigour for them to surpass themselves will be enormous. My theory is that 3 of those will substantially have some large movement setpieces, and a other 3 will be finishing revelation a story. That’s usually a guess. I’ve got another partial entrance adult this week, subsequent Sunday, that interestingly, when we review it and saw a severe cuts — a lot of a visible effects weren’t in yet, and there were a lot of unprepared shots and animatics still in them. But examination a severe cut of a dual episodes, it was indeed a one from subsequent Sunday that we found many satisfying. So we’ll see!

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