Gaming out Game of Thrones

With a team of 30 over 6 months, Realtime UK have produced some breathtaking digital versions of Cersei, Daenerys, Tyrion and more. The work shows both the hardcore artistry from the modellers and artists at the hip indie company, and the depth of technical advance in key technology, especially V-Ray. Work such as this did not seem even possible a year or so ago. People have been producing believable humans as art projects for years, but many of these involved over painting and were just still portraits. While this sort of static portraiture can still be exceptional, Realtime UK needed to animate their characters for this promo for the Game of Thrones (GoT) browser game.

Since opening the studio in 1996, Tony Prosser has had the desire to create some of the most exciting marketing films in the world. It’s an ambition that is shared with Director Ian Jones and Director Stu Bayley, who thrive on collaborating with clients to discover new ways of making their vision a reality. Bayley directed this 135 second CG trailer, created for Yoozoo Games’ new PC browser, titled ‘Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming’ which has launched worldwide. All of the characters were created in-house from scratch using only reference images. We spoke to the team in England about the project and how they solved the complex problem of producing such accurate digital likenesses. Below is a behind-the-scenes video and breakdown.

David Weaver was the Senior Character Artist and the characters were lit by Chris Scubli – Senior Lighting/Comp Artist. The key to getting the faces correct was actually getting the lensing correct on the shots. It is likely that there was some meta data in some of the reference footage the team got from the GoT production team. Bayley discovered that only when the team used the same long lensing as the actual production, did the characters really accurately match the feel of the real GoT characters. Wider lenses can distort a face and long lenses tend to flatten, so the team needed to accurately use the right lens and then guess the correct lighting to match the look of GoT.

Sansa’s hair

Daenerys Groom – James Kirkham

One of the remarkably successful aspects was the blond hair on Daenerys. This was done by Lead Groom Artist, James Kirkham. “The braid emission zones were planned from the beginning, then everything else was built around this structure,” he explained.

A braid blockout system was constructed first. Kirkham explains that, “this was done with one core spline groomed for each braid which was then multi stranded into three with a distance based on the width of the braid.”

Ornatrix’s Braid preset was used to define the 3 core guide splines that all others would follow. “The preset gets you nice results for the bulk of the braid. But getting a natural flow into it can be harder, so I manually groomed all braid guides using the core ones I had already established to make sure I had the correct look.”

Ornatrix for Max was used, which has tight integration with 3ds Max and works within the Max’s modifier and object framework. It has builtin support for renderer, such as V-Ray that the team used. It offers procedural hair and very intuitive modelling tools.

The guides for Daenerys’ hair were grouped up into various sections. “In all I think 30 something odd groups were used,” Kirkham comments. This allowed Kirkham to tag the modifiers to groups giving local control. “It also meant parts I was happy with wouldn’t change or break when tweaking other sections of the hair.” Although this was time consuming, it meant everything was controllable and consistent during the process.

A large chunk of Daenerys’ hair is symmetrical. “So I groomed the symmetrical part first, then collapsed to splines, mirrored the groom and attached it back to the master.” This meant Kirkham could modify the other side to create asymmetry rather than starting over.  “Once all the guides were in place, it was a pretty simple case of going through the groups using multi-strand and frizzes to the fill out the bulk of her hair. I was then able to dial in the final tweaks based on the pre-established groups.”


Adrian Vickers was the Senior VFX supervisor and Will Eades was the Lead Animator. The pipeline for all the characters was the same. The Modelling and Animating was all done in 3ds Max. The detailed sculpt was done in ZBrush. The team used their own in-house facial rig to rig the characters. Initially there was more performance, but the theme of the promo is the sense of war coming and as such the director found the spot worked better with less dramatic animation and more subtle, very character specific animation.
The exceptional texturing was built using Substance Painter and the texturing of the skin was done in the Foundry’s Mari using albedo and displacement textures from

Cersei’s eyes

Cersei was never intended to come so close to camera, but when Bayley saw how well the modelling and texturing was looking on Cersei, he decided to include a close up in her sequence. Cersei’s eyes are particularly realistic. The team kindly mentioned that they studied several interviews and stories on fxguide with leading teams to build on the work of artists around the world. For example, they studied the outstanding work of the MPC team who did the Terminator (See our story here) to get Cersei’s eyes looking as accurate as possible.

Cersei in Mari

Ice Map – Adrian Vickers 

Adrian Vickers was given the map to ‘ice up’. The effects animation used Houdini, with the geometry coming 3ds Max. A texture was used to scatter points evenly onto the geometry based on colour values, with some manual points added as needed. Vickers explains, “these points were then given an age attribute that only started to grow once they were a certain distance from the camera and also a constant id attribute. Due to the high polycount I was looking at down the line, these points were then clustered into several chunks and culled based on the camera frustrum.” Once Vickers had the scene broken down into smaller chunks we used the age attribute to grow geometry using vdb from polygons, “and after some tweaking with various vdb reshape sops and disturbing the top surfaces with noise, I ended up with the ice geometry.”

Interestingly, the addition of ice, while done by Realtime UK months ago, was also a solution independently arrived at by the actual GoT promo team as part of the new series.