In 2015, Spears’ team received a special assignment from HBO producers. “We were given a simple task, which was to animate and light this one particular scene,” he said. “They wanted to see if our work could live up to their standards for the show.” That show was the hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” which at the time was filming its fifth season.
In the pivotal scene, a massive dragon belonging to main character Daenerys Targaryen swoops into a coliseum, shakes the ground as it lands and gobbles up enemy soldiers running for dear life. Spears’ team sent their rendition of the scene and aced the audition with flying colors. HBO gave them the green light to produce the final sequence, and they sustained a strong working relationship with the show during the following seasons.
“Over the three seasons I worked on it, ‘Game of Thrones’ had a very interesting evolution,” Spears explained. “In that first battle scene we worked on, there was actual fire being used on set to interact with the stuntpeople. They attached a flamethrower to a giant motion control crane and had it spray flames where the dragon was supposed to, and it looked great. Unfortunately, at the end of that scene, when Daenerys climbs on top of the dragon and flies out, it was all very static because the camera didn’t move around her.”
In season six, production improved the dragon-riding effect. A large machine similar to a mechanical bull was built that mimicked the movements of the fictional dragon, which actress Emilia Clarke rode. The footage captured with the machine was much more dynamic, allowing Spears’ team to create swooping camera motions around her and the dragon in flight.
“Season seven took it to another level,” Spears added. For the first time, his team was tasked with rendering not just one person riding a dragon, but several people. To accomplish this, multiple shots of actors in movement were synchronized and composited together to attain the illusion of one harmonious movement. That commitment to problem-solving and constant evolution earned Spears, his team and the army of artists that worked on “Game of Thrones” three Emmy awards for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2015, 2016 and 2018.