LOS ANGELES & LONDON — Visualization studio The Third Floor (thethirdfloorinc.com) has received a 2019 Creative Arts Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Special Visual Effects with the visual effects team for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 8. Across multiple seasons, the previs studio played an important role behind the scenes to help develop sequences and shooting plans ahead of time. They also brought virtual solutions to production for effects ranging from dragon rides to giant fights.
The finale season saw the company’s previs and on-set supervisors integrated into the Belfast-based production for nearly a year to help realize ambitious visuals for all six episodes, including “The Bells,” recognized in the Emmy VFX nomination. As Arya experienced a King’s Landing apocalypse, Euron was blown from his ship deck and Daenerys and Drogon rampaged an entire city grid, the visualization work provided a means to design shots creatively and determine the needs for filming and effects in advance.
Previs artists, headed by supervisor Michelle Blok and 2019 Emmy nominee Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, previs lead, modeled virtual environments from actual locations, props and equipment in which to stage the choreography episode director Miguel Sapochink envisioned, including the gate explosion, Dany’s attacks and coverage following Arya and the Hound. Earlier King’s Landing previs assets were fleshed out using lidar scans from Dubrovnik and new art department set construction designs to bring the expanded world of action into a single geography where shots could be studied from both story and real-world production points of view.
The Third Floor collaborated with lead visual effects producer Steve Kullback, lead visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer and key crew throughout to support live shooting and visual effects creation with the visualized shots and corresponding technical breakdowns. Work by the motion control, special effects, visual effects and camera teams, with The Third Floor’s virtual production supervisors, innovated continually on new methods to mimic the dragons while capturing plates. Motion base and fire elements were shot using suspended cable cams; high-speed, robotic camera rigs; practical flamethrowers and even a 200-foot travelling eyeline of LEDs.
“To deliver Game of Thrones with a high bar on a tight schedule, we needed to plan our shots and tech in a production-friendly way,” explains Steve Kullback, lead visual effects producer, Game of Thrones. “The Third Floor was our secret weapon for that, embedding with us on the ground in Belfast to provide previs, techvis and on-set virtual supervisors Kaya Jabar and Casey Schatz, who just killed it. The Third Floor’s Eric Carney, who’s been our go-to additional set supervision for the last several years, also took on The Battle of Winterfell and nailed it. Some of the most ambitious filmmaking I’ve seen."
“Season 8 had a tremendous amount of complex action to visualize and plan, particularly in 'The Bells,’” comments Patrick Gehlen, The Third Floor. "We worked with Miguel Sapochnik closely on previous tent-pole episodes like ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Battle of the Bastards,’ and it was very rewarding to again help bring out his singular vision. The choreography of Arya's escape from King’s Landing, Clegane Bowl and the destruction of the Red Keep proved to be some of the most complex sequences we visualized on the show. We worked for several months to produce the creative and technical visualization for the episode, blocking shots, paths of action, greenscreen placements and dozens of dragon strafes.”
The Third Floor initially began working on the show in Season 3 and its creative and technical contribution grew each season, especially in Season 8. To meet the scope and scale of the final, six-episode arc, thousands of shots were visualized digitally with creatives and show departments before filming commenced. Scores of technical assets and diagrams provided essential guides for filming, with some being leveraged with on-set equipment, realtime composites and immersive VR to literally “putting the dragon in the room” for directors, cinematographers, actors and the crew.
Previs Supervisor Michelle Blok, a three-season veteran and two-time Emmy Award winner, summed up the studio’s Game of Thrones experience: “Bringing the worlds, creatures and characters to life - and in many cases death - on Game of Thrones, has required a monumental amount of imagination, innovation and collaboration between all those involved, and is a key element in the show’s success. The culmination of the series saw 22 artists from The Third Floor work for an entire year in Belfast, alongside directors Miguel Sapochnik, David Nutter and show runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to produce truly spectacular visuals. All previous records have been broken in respect to the work needed to realize the finale season. Our crew in previs, on-set supervision and virtual production is humbled and honored to have been a part of this journey.”
The Third Floor has received four Emmy Awards with the Game of Thrones visual effects team, recognizing work on memorable scenes like the Wildling Wall Attack (Season 4), Fighting Pit (Season 5), Battle of the Bastards (Season 6) and Frozen Lake Rescue (Season 7).
The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be presented on Saturday, September 14th and Sunday, September 15th.