This past weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the Game of Thrones Season 1 finale, titled "Fire and Blood," and the dragons it introduced are still dominating the TV landscape. We caught up with visual effects producer Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, who helped bring Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion to life for the first time back in 2011 to reflect on their ongoing legacy. Like the rest of us, she is excited to see those hatchlings writ large in the upcoming prequel series House of the Dragon.
Ainsworth-Taylor co-founded BlueBolt Ltd., a London-based visual effects and CGI company that created some of the biggest special effects for Game of Thrones Season 1 — including the dragons. Her story has been told before: Tthe young company expected to create some environments for the fantasy series and ended up scrambling to handle dragons, blood magic and more. The results speak for themselves, as the dragons Ainsworth-Taylor and her colleagues brought to life went on to carry one of the most popular TV series of all time for seven more seasons and launched a franchise that will apparently go on for years to come.
BlueBolt was not involved in Game of Thrones after Season 1, though the depictions they created remained consistent throughout the series, and are likely to remain consistent in the upcoming spinoffs as well. This is especially significant when it comes to the look of the dragons, as you can see below. Ainsworth-Taylor has gone on to work on other influential productions as well, but she still looks back with pride on BlueBolt's work establishing the Game of Thrones dragons' iconic looks. Here's what she had to say about the experience in retrospect.
Season 1's final scene — featuring Daenerys standing in the ashes with her three baby dragons — has become one of the show's more iconic moments. How does it feel to see a moment you worked on still celebrated a decade later?
I think we all knew once we got going that this was something special as a TV show – there was such a build-up in the scripts, which were gripping to read, to be honest. The Dragons were highly anticipated so even for us creating them, seeing them come alive in post was very exciting. However, no one could have realised that the show was going to be such a global phenomenon.prevnext
What was the hardest part of crafting the dragons for their grand debut?
Designs had come through to us and we had a maquette made to show the showrunners what it would look like. Then a few tweaks had to be made once we got into the modeling, rigging and animation in post. It was only a few shots in the very final episode so any changes or tweaks was hard mainly as we had such a fast post schedule that to go back into animation and through the whole process to render the shot again took a lot of time, time we didn't have, but we got there.prevnext
The dragons became so iconic to the series and now they're at the center of this spinoff in the works, is it gratifying to see them taking over in particular? Does it still feel like seeing *your* work, or has it evolved a lot since you created them?
You say 'our' work but it's such a huge team effort that although we as such 'gave birth' to the dragons, they evolved over each series, and each vendor that took them on just made [them] bigger and better.prevnext
George R.R. Martin is very particular about the dragon anatomy, and he has said in interviews that he's so relieved they came out "right" in the show. Did he consult at all on those changes?
He was very involved in the initial concept drawings as were David and Dan but not directly with us. We only had to make a minor tweak so that when it turned its little head if had full movement and not ridges on that part of the neck to stop it from doing that.prevnext
Did you reference any of his writing for those changes? Or any other fantasy texts like monster manuals or anything?
We only went by the concepts we were given, they were babies and their character would have started coming through in later episodes, so our job was far smaller than the vendors that took them over.prevnext
I've read about the extreme crunch it took to get the 'Game of Thrones' Season 1 visual effects prepped, can you tell us what your work was like for those six weeks? What do you remember in the chaos, so to speak?
I am glad I went in as naïve as I did because there is no other way to describe the prep period other than being brutal! We shot out of order so started on Episodes 3 and 4 then came back to Episodes 1 and 2 – I think getting your head around the locations, characters and more importantly the pace we galloped out of the gate was mind-blowing. The crew on Season 1 were exceptional. We had a brilliant collaboration working closely with Gemma Jackson and her art department which was one of the highlights.prevnext
Based on the source material you had at the time, how confident did you feel that this show would be a hit? Did you imagine it becoming a global sensation on this scale?
You knew it was big just by being on set and seeing the approach HBO took from the go. It was bigger than most Hollywood film sets I'd been on, the crew, the equipment, the whole approach was just huge and Season 1 was tiny compared to what it became. The cutting rooms were up and running and stepping in to see what was coming through already showed how incredible this show was going to be.prevnext
You have worked on so many other iconic shows and movies — especially in the fantasy adaptation genre. Do you think the "golden age" for these kinds of productions is still on the rise? Is it a great time to be doing your job?
We set up BlueBolt initially as an "environment" house, so creatures and fantasy were not the kind of work we were chasing. We were a start-up company when we started Game of Thrones so were not in a position to continue working on it after Season 1 due to the pace and the scale. However, it was an incredible springboard for a new company that is now 12 years old. We have been lucky enough to go on to do the first 5 Seasons of Peaky Blinders and we are the house of The Last Kingdom both huge TV hits. It is a very busy time now with so many streamers making content.prev