Dragons are awesome. They can fly, they spit fire, and they sure make for a fun way to get from point A to point B. It's a shame they aren't real and up for grabs, though. The production of Game of Thrones really did make it seem like a very real possibility that dragons really are a thing. From their very first appearance on the show as tiny little things to being full-blown war weapons, it's undeniable that the team behind the show made a fantastic job bringing these creatures to life.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to make these dragons happen? There's actually an insane amount of work that goes into it, and even though they aren't real, they're one of the most expensive parts of the show. This is quite understandable, because those things look massive, and they move like actual, living creatures. It's time to put all your doubts to rest—here are 10 facts about the production of the dragons in Game of Thrones!
10 They Study Real Animals First
It would be much simpler if the producers could just drive to the nearest zoo and rent three dragons for an undefined period of time, along with their own dragon-expert to keep things running smoothly during the filming process. Unfortunately, evolution hasn't brought us this far in life, so more creative means had to be put in a place.
When the time came to bring the dragons to life, the first thing the visual effects team had to do was gather inspiration from whatever real-life sources they could find. Everything about the dragons is based on real animals, and the first ones they used were lizards and bats which, all things considered, actually makes sense!
9 It Takes A Village
Game of Thrones is the kind of show that has the ability to send our jaws flying through the room and land on the floor, hard. The epic scenes we get to witness take a lot of behind-the-scenes work, more so than you might think. Towards its later season, GoT had a staggering 14 visual effects companies all working towards making their most epic scenes happen.
And just to give you a sense of how much of a piece of work these dragons are; one of the teams that were tasked with helping to create them had 71 people involved in just this task in particular. They were split into smaller teams, each tasked with a different part of the creatures (skin, skeleton, and so on). That's seven dozen people needed to create three dragons. That's not a village, it's a whole army!
8 It's Not Skin, It's Polystyrene
Can you imagine if Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal were bright lettuce green? That would surely make for a much less threatening look, to say the least. It's almost impossible to picture them—well, him - RIP sweet, flying babies—without their signature scales and dark complexions. For some reason, neon doesn't seem to fit a dragon.
Well, what happens behind the scenes is actually pretty interesting. When it came time to bring in the actors to share screentime with the actors, and Emilia Clarke in particular, the visual effects team first modeled the dragons so as to have an idea of size and aspect, and cut up pieces of polystyrene to serve as sections of the dragons' body.
7 All About Mechanics
Being an actor is hard, okay? Especially if you're a method actor who is willing to go the extra mile for a role (we're looking at you, Christian Bale). Pretending to be someone else, and fake emotions towards other people, whether it's love, hate or disdain, is nothing short of a superpower. Thankfully, many people have it and we're blessed with masterpieces like GoT.
All of these things are challenging enough, but can you imagine having to act and show emotion towards a piece of polystyrene? Or worse than that, having to ride a mechanical bull-like machine, and pretend that you're flying through the sky? Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington did it, and it was a challenge. Poor Kit actually thought he was going to die. That's Oscar-worthy action, right there.
6 Harder At First
When it aired its first season, the team behind Game of Thrones had no way to know the show would become the blockbuster it is. It was just a couple of guys who really wanted to bring George RR Martin's work into television, with the means they had available at the time—which, as it would be expected with any show airing its first season, weren't immense.
In addition to not having nearly as much money as they did in the following seasons, bringing the baby dragons to life was hard because it was the first time it was being done in the show. The visual effects team that was in charge actually had to make several alterations to the original plan in order to make the dragons fit perfectly. Thankfully, they were successful, and Daenerys, Mother of Dragons and the Unburnt, was born.
5 Did Someone Say Chicken?
There is some crazy stuff happening behind-the-scenes of every show. On a series like Game of Thrones, that involves crazy battles, shadow babies, and fire-breathing dragons, this is truer than for any other show. When the second season of the show came about, fans were already losing it over the show, so things had to level up to the expectations.
So, when the time came to start producing the dragons, the producers hired a new visual effects firm to take on the challenge. In order to understand the anatomy of an actual wing, and how the entire thing works, the animators spent some time playing with frozen chicken. Yes, that's right—frozen chicken is the inspiration behind our beloved dragons. Sad you can't get your own Drogon? Just run to the frozen aisle of your local store!
4 Burn It All!
We love that dragons can fly because, well, that's pretty cool. But what's even better is their ability to breathe fire! After all, Targaryen's obsession with fire, and their eventual descent into madness, are very much connected to this unparalleled characteristic of the dragons.
Have you ever wondered how the producers managed to make it look so real? Well, surprise, that's because it was real. The effects we see coming out of the dragons' mouths was actually accomplished using a combination of digital fire simulation and—get this—flamethrowers. The team behind the dragons actually brought on flamethrowers to make the fire seem as real as possible. 10 points for commitment.
3 Playing With Sticks
We've already been through the hazards of pretending to ride dragons, but Emilia Clarke also deserves us to get deeper into the whole acting towards inanimate objects thing. As scary as riding a green mechanical machine sounds, it's understandable it the facial expressions end up expressing that feeling on the show, at least for the first few times. Even Daenerys would be scared riding a dragon at first, right?
The worst is probably the interactions that happen on land. Remember all the cute scenes we got of Daenerys petting her children's heads over the years? Yeah, those were stuffed heads on a stick. The girl was looking adoringly and motherly into a green pillow on a stick. In all honesty, we would probably go mad too (too soon?).
2 Acting Isn't Just For Actors
It wasn't just up to Emilia to act with the dragons. Long before making it to the filming stages of the process, the visual effects team had quite a bit of work to do. Including something that probably didn't come with the job description (as if playing with dead, frozen chickens wasn't enough).
In order to understand how the creatures would potentially behave, the team would act out the scenes themselves to try and bring it to life. This was possible using any objects they could find in the room. Think of it as one of those roleplaying exercises they sometimes do in drama club - except the outcome was way cooler.
What do dragons sound like? This was one of the questions sound designers working on Game of Thrones had to ask themselves. Thankfully, they didn't have to stay true to anything, because we don't actually know the sounds dragons make. This did leave room for creativity, but not too much. Just because we don't have a real-life counterpart to draw inspiration from, it doesn't mean they could make the dragons sound like they were auditioning for The Voice: Westeros.
Much like the physiognomy of the creatures, their vocals are taken from actual animals. The sound designer for the show revealed they use things like birds shrieking, insects and reptilians, and, for Drogon's signature purr, turtles mating. That's right, one of the sounds used for the dragons is turtles having intercourse. Good luck rewatching the show after knowing this!