The Unfamiliar Heroes Behind Game of Thrones

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  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • April 17, 2015 at 12:31 PM

When it comes to Game of Thrones, we know the actors, the writers and maybe even a few of the directors and producers. But there are a lot of people behind the scenes that have helped make it one of the most popular series ever.

Take Kenny and Jennifer Gracey, for example. The couple owns Forthill Farms in Ireland and is responsible for many of the animals seen in the show, including the herds of pigs, sheep, and hens scratching around in the dirt, as well as much of the old farmyard equipment.

Kenny Gracey actually ends up on set with the animals a lot of the time, and has even appeared as an extra in the show. He says the series has helped save his farm, which has a family history dating back to the 1700.

The Gracey story is so inspiring that it got us thinking about just how much work goes into making Game of Thrones what it is. So here we take a look at some of the other people working behind-the-scenes to create the well-drawn worlds in the series. While all of them have worked on films and television before, there’s a good chance they will be unfamiliar to many fans of the show.

Michele Clapton – Costume Designer

Michele Clapton is the lead costume designer for Game of Thrones and has won an Emmy for her work on the series – and costumes have been nominated for the first four seasons. Since the pilot episode, Clapton has been responsible for designing all of the costumes, which means that her creative input has been instrumental in setting the context and tone of the entire show.

In an interview with Time, Clapton says that the goal with GoT costumes has always been to make it look as real as possible, “so that people look at it and aren’t quite sure whether it’s real or not”.

“There should be a reason for everything, the way people dress—to keep warm or to keep cool or to protect themselves,” she says.

Clapton and her team work in a shared studio space that is host to everything from the making of customs to their “breakdown” (so that they look worn), to the construction of the armour. She has said the collaborative nature of the space is enriching because you can have “someone dying leather and fabric” at the same time as someone in the armour department is “bashing things” into shape.

More details of Michele Clapton’s work is available on her website, which has a section dedicated to Game of Thrones.

Tommy Dunne – Weapons Master

With twenty years experience working on weapons and armour for film and television series including Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator and The Pacific, Tommy Dunne brings his own rich history to his work on Game of Thrones.

Dunne designs the show’s complete arsenal of weapons, from the daggers and swords through to the bows, drawing and then crafting hundreds of weapons alongside his team of four artisans.

In an interview with Mentalfloss.com, Dunne says that every single weapon is crafted with meticulous attention to detail, with development also influenced by costume, cast and the context in which it will be used.

“Everything is made in conjunction with knowing what the weapon does and how it should react and interact with other weaponry,” he says.

Gordon Fitzgerald – Props Master

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Game of Thrones can appreciate how much stuff is actually seen in each setting. This is a world of detail, and props play a big part of creating the reality we see on our screens.

As Props Master, Gordon Fitzgerald is responsible for organising all of the props seen and used on Game of Thrones. That means not only sourcing and creating props, but also categorising and storing them, then considering how to “dress the sets” they are used on.

According to IMDb, Fitzgerald has worked as a props master since 1985, with other notable productions including Lord of the Flies, Trainspotting, Beautiful Creatures and Hope Springs. Like the other behind-the-scenes heroes on GoT, Fitzgerald’s work is focused down to the smallest of details to ground the show in its own reality.

Gemma Jackson – Production Designer

As production designer for the first three seasons of Game of Thrones, Gemma Jackson was responsible for creating much of the look and feel of the show.

Talking about her work with CreativeReview, Jackson says the approach was similar to any other production she’s worked on: “reading the script, interpreting what George had written, working out what the directors wanted and building up images and designs for each set.”

When she left, the series had six stages and “warehouses full of sets” – a testament to the large team she worked with. She says it was an “extraordinary job, really, and I feel terribly proud of it”.

“Being in Belfast, I loved walking past the docks and the sea and into these lavish worlds we’d created,” she says.

“I miss it a lot, but I think after three seasons, it was a good time for me to leave – as a freelancer, it’s the longest I’ve worked on anything and once I’d set up the look and the roots of the show, I felt it was time to move on and do something else.”

Fergus McNulty – Armourer (weapons model maker)

One of the armourers working on Game of Thrones, Fergus McNulty is responsible for the models needed to create the weapons (and other props) on the series.

He says there is a huge responsibility towards the safety of cast and crew, because even if swords are not sharp and arrows are rubber-tipped, “everything you see on the show is lethal”.

“It’s still an object that with enough force would harm somebody, so if you have 400 or 500 weapons at a time [in a scene] and there’s a massive crowd of people, you’re constantly staying focused and aware,” he says in an interview with RadioTimes.

The same level of focus and skill is applied to the creation of the models and weapons used in the show – all of which are different and can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks to create. McNulty adds that bringing each piece to life is a “unique challenge”, especially when it comes to weapons like Jon Snow’s sword, Longclaw, which is named in the books and plays a significant role in this storyline.

“When a name is put to a specific sword you just know that’s going to be a special feature in the book and when you have to sculpt it and bring it to life and then it suddenly gets it’s five, ten seconds on screen – close-up to the point where there’s not going to be a thing missed – that’s pretty intense, trying to keep a couple of million people happy,” he says.

David J. Petersen – Linguist

Not many linguists have the kind of role David J. Petersen has on Game of Thrones: creating languages. Petersen has been called “the father of Dothraki” as well as the high and low Valyrian languages spoken in the show, turning a bunch of phrases from George R.R. Martin’s books into rich, complex languages used in the television series.

Petersen’s passion for creating languages – known as “conlanging” for those in the business of it – has been particularly fundamental for the GoT storyline set in Westeros, where we hear Daenerys Targaryen (aka Khaleesi) and others move between Dothraki, Valyrian and English.

The brilliance of Petersen’s work is highlighted by the way he talks about these made-up languages in his book and in interviews. He has considered everything from syntax and punctuation to meter, rhythm and the different ways native and non-native speakers would say things. The result is languages that can actually be learned and spoken by the actors, as well as fans of the show.

“There’s so much dialogue in the show, and I think that’s the key,” he says in an interview with The AV Club.

“If you just have one word or one sentence from a supposedly native language, it could be anything. But the more tokens you have, the more sentences you have, the more fluent speech you have with the direct translation. It’s as real as it’s ever going to be.”

Buster Reeves – Fight Coordinator

Buster Reeves has been working as a stuntman in various forms since the early 90s, and was the stunt and fight coordinator for the first series of Game of Thrones.

That meant not only choreographing each fight sequence, but also teaching stunt doubles, actors and extras how to perform the fights and how to wield their weapons. So the swordfighting lessons between Arya Stark and Syrio Forel, the brutal brawl between Khal Drogo and Mago and, of course, the epic fight between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister were all Reeves’ doing.

“I usually visualise a fight before I even start putting it down on paper and then I put it down on paper. After that I teach it to the guys and anything that doesn’t work, that worked in my head, we re-jiggle it around to make it work for the fight,” he says in the HBO YouTube feature on his work for the series.

While there’s a lot of physical work involved, Reeves also says a lot of it is thinking about the details of each fight, including reading the script for clues, considering the actors and the characters, their stature, physicality and weapons, where they are from, and many other things, so that the fights are as real as possible (while also being safe for the cast).

Richard Roberts – Set Decorator

As a set decorator on Game of Thrones, Richard Roberts is responsible for much of what we see in both the background and foreground of each scene. Specifically, though, Roberts specialises in the big banquet and dining scenes.

In an HBO video on his work, Roberts says the food prep side of set decoration is led by the script and the action in the scene, and “then it has to do with the look of the world they’re in, and where they live, the kind of food they’d have, the money they’d have, the facilities.”

He gives the example of King’s Landing, which he describes as “very opulent” and more a Mediterranean style climate and food.

“It’s a hot, sunny country, very colourful, sort of no expense spared. So we’ve mixed it with very exotic fruits which we’ve ordered specially in, added a lot more colour to food…still meats and fish [but I’ve] just, really heightened the colours,” he says.

The same amount of thought has been put into what’s eaten in other places like Winterfell and Castle Black, which adds to the tone of these places and highlights the different ways people live in these regions.

Angus Wall – Title Designer

The sweeping title sequence that sets the tone for the entire show is a creation by Angus Wall of Elastic. Wall was given a brief “in which a raven flies from King’s Landing to Winterfell”, and from that the iconic title sequence grew.

In an interview with title sequence website Art of the Title, Wall explains that the initial sequence for the pilot was very different, with the maps he and his team created actually planned to be used in the show itself.

“But due to the fact they somewhat disrupted the narrative, the whole map idea got pushed back into the title sequence,” he explains.

“Title sequences can do a lot of different things, and besides taking you on a journey, this one offers a lot of information about the world you’re going to see. It allowed us to really create our own little world. HBO and the creators of the show really let us run with this idea and we wanted to do something distinctive with it.”

Wall has extensive experience creating title sequences, also working on shows like Carnivàle and Rome, but he also has experience as a director for both entertainment and corporate jobs, and had won two Academy Awards for his work as an editor – so it’s clear this title sequence was in great hands from the start.

While this list tells the tales of some of the “unfamiliar heroes” of Game of Thrones, there are many more involved in the show. With such an epic production, spanning multiple countries, there are all kinds of people involved in every part of the process. In fact, as a show that places so much value on attention to detail, it’s probably safe to say everyone involved is a hero is their own way.

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