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How The ‘Game Of Thrones’ Dragons Were Designed | Movies Insider


Dany and Drogon’s dramatic
rescue of Jon Snow and his fellow warriors is one
of the most memorable scenes from season seven of “Game of Thrones.” But before that scene came to life, it started here, in a
slightly less polished place. Before filming ever began, certain problems had to be solved, like how all the characters
would fit on the dragon and what they’d hold to avoid falling off. Also, what does a dragon even look like? Building these mythical
creatures from scratch required a combination of elements
found in the natural world, like the scales of a lizard, the wings of a bat, and
the neck of a T. rex, all to create this. (dragon roaring) Dan Katcher: I built that gigantic thing in this little, tiny bedroom. Narrator: This is Dan Katcher, the self-proclaimed “father of dragons,” and he’s the man responsible for designing these iconic creatures for
one of the biggest shows in television history. (dragon roaring) The “Game of Thrones”
dragons set a new standard for how these creatures are
designed and brought to life. Katcher: For me, every season
it would go anywhere from eight weeks to 12 weeks of actually working and
designing these guys. Narrator: It all starts with a sketch, like this early drawing of Drogon. But it’s not just about sketching. Katcher creates detailed models that he sends to HBO for approval, models that have to take into account the proportions of the dragons… (dragon screeching) which grew from tiny to massive
during the run of the show, how the creatures would
work inside and out, and every single detail down
to the individual scales. To do this, Katcher used
a program called ZBrush. The first step for creating
one of his 3D models is creating the proportions
of the creatures using elements called ZSpheres. Before he can think about
how the creature will look, he has to create the basic infrastructure for how it will work. Pretty soon, you see the basic
building blocks of a dragon. Katcher then creates an
internal structure, or skeleton. He lays out bones that will
be connected to muscle, establishing the physical dynamics of how this creature will
move and, eventually, fly. An understanding of physiology and anatomy is crucial to Katcher’s designs, many of which are inspired
by real-life animals. Katcher: In the skeleton
itself, I’ve mixed all these animals together. So, you’ve got bat wings
that are in the bones. You’ve got a bird rib cage. These are neck vertebrae taken from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Narrator: For his dragon, Katcher combined specific elements of real animals; the scales on the dragon’s head look like those of a sungazer lizard. And you’ll notice the similarities between the scales on its chest and the feathers on the chest of an eagle. Katcher puts his inspiration to work in the most time-consuming
part of the process: creating and refining
the extremely detailed features of the dragon’s anatomy, like its teeth and its scales. Although ZBrush has
tools that allow artists to repeat the patterns of
the scales, thus saving time, Katcher meticulously
designs every scale himself to avoid the appearance of artificiality. Once the detailed model
is complete in ZBrush, Katcher exports a 2D image
to perform a paint-over for an image that’s submitted
to producers for approval. But the initial design
is only the beginning. Katcher would be given the story line, which would determine
specific modifications that needed to be made for each dragon. Like in that scene in season seven. Katcher: So I had to
show, like, all right, well here’s how all the guys can hold on to the scales on Drogon’s back to eventually be pulled away. So that’s, like, part
of the design process. Narrator: Katcher exports
his files from ZBrush and sends them to
visual-effects companies, who import the files into programs like Maya and 3D Studio Max to begin rigging and
animating the creatures that you see come to life on screen. Katcher: The technology now
is at the point where, really, if you could conceive
of it, you can make it. Narrator: So, how do you
get a job designing dragons? Katcher: I was working on a show, called “Terra Nova,” with dinosaurs, and a gentleman by the name
of Rainer Gombos came in, who happened to be the executive producer for the visual effects
for “Game of Thrones,” and he was looking for a dragon. And it just so happened
that I had spent my life making dinosaurs and dragons,
like for McFarlane Toys. Narrator: Years before getting hired on to “Game of Thrones,”
Katcher worked as a toy maker, designing and sculpting creature figurines for “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane’s New York-based toy company. Katcher: I had already
had a pretty big portfolio of different dragon works to show them, so I didn’t have to do another
concept on top of that. They just sort of looked at my work, and Rainer trusted me and said, “We see you know what you’re
doing, just go for it.” So that design was always in me, and finally “Game of Thrones”
just let it come out. Narrator: Katcher
received Emmy recognition for his work on “Game of Thrones.” Today, he is busy creating
creatures for DC shows like “The Flash,”
“Titans,” and “Supergirl.” (dragon roaring) Katcher: That was the design
I did for the ice dragon, which I had to keep secret for two years before it was ever released. Even my wife did not see that. (laughs) Because everybody was like,
especially my wife was like, “Don’t you tell me what happens, don’t show me anything on your computer, I don’t want to know
until the show comes out.”

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