HBO recently tapped New York-based creative strategy and production company BigStar to create the teaser campaign for the fourth season of it’s critically acclaimed drama Game of Thrones. “Dungeon,” “Desert” and “Forest” hint at turmoil and peril around every corner in Westeros with environmentally-driven character studies that build on this season’s tagline: “All Men Must Die.” The new season premieres on April 6.
BigStar’s initial season 4 teaser concepts for HBO honed in on the idea of environmental teases seen through distinctive character POVs. Upon seeing the first spot, “Dungeon,” featuring Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage), the client loved it so much that they ordered additional character-inspired teasers around Daenerys Targaryen and the Stark children.
“What’s great about HBO and Game of Thrones is, their teases are true teases,” said BigStar founder and executive creative director Josh Norton. “You don’t understand what you’re watching until you get into it. We wanted to immediately grab the viewer’s attention and get them curious about where these characters are.”
In “Dungeon,” the camera creeps down a torch-lit stone hall with a Kubrick-like shot, drawing viewers past mysterious doors and into a dark, dank end where Tyrion is revealed on the floor. To add authenticity to the environment, BigStar did R&D on medieval dungeons and examined the castle of King’s Landing in the series. They carefully considered the aesthetics of each nook and cranny, from wall textures to the floors. The architecture was built in Maya and the spot was composited in Nuke.
“As we got deeper, it reminded me of what’s possible in creating a sequence like this in CG,” said Norton. “You have to dial in the details and nuances into every frame of production.”
BigStar had the challenge of using only available show footage for the teasers, meaning they had to extrapolate the outer environments. For “Desert,” the focus was on a dry and desolate wasteland that quickly transitions into a lush green setting. As the camera rips through the arid earth, the shadow of a dragon reveals itself, followed by a roar. Once the dragon POV manifests, we come upon Daenerys Targaryen and Jorah Mormont, who warns her that even she, the “Mother of Dragons,” is in the presence of danger. BigStar used Maya and matte paintings to create the backdrop to match the shot.
“It was challenging to marry an undoctored version of their footage into our spanning 3D landscape,” said Norton. “But we wanted to remain as true to the show as possible.”
The third tease, “Forest,” features the four remaining Stark children in different places, but brought together in Godswood. The challenge was choosing an environment that would facilitate all of their stories whom, at this point in the show, are scattered about Westeros. Since the Stark family hails from Winterfell, BigStar focused on the Godswood area just outside of their town, centered around a single weirwood tree.
“What’s nice about this spot is that even though the Stark children are in four different corners of the world, their hearts, and therefore their loyalties, are in the same place,” said Norton. “It was obvious that Godswood is where we should be – close to where the Stark story begins and ends.”
BigStar framed the POV for “Forest” through the eyes of a direwolf, the sigil of the House of Stark, and an important plot point in Game of Thrones. This meant more R&D, such as studying the cadence and movements of wolves stalking their prey in the forest.
The team utilized the natural vertical lines of the woods to break the framing and motivate transitions between the footage of the characters as the direwolf POV vigorously weaves the viewer through the environment. A few signature blood-red leaves were also included to tease the presence of the weirwood tree. For the weather, BigStar chose to create a more ominous environment rather than a kinetic one, such as snowfall, juxtaposing a calm, almost grave-like backdrop against the wild camera movements. The atmosphere particles, such as torch fires and the fog, were mostly achieved with a combo of Maya, Nuke and After Effects. The spot ends with Bran Stark touching the weirwood tree – a metaphor for his ability to enter the minds of people and animals, which will become an important storyline in season 4 as he learns to embrace his abilities.
“Re-watching Game of Thrones for these teases, we were once again struck by how magnificent the show is,” said Norton. “The visual bar for this series is extremely high. You have to be up for anything and put your best talent into every step of the production.”