LARGER THAN LIFE

This Indian company made Khaleesi’s dragons in Game of Thrones

Quartz india
Quartz india

The dragons of Essos were actually created in Goregaon, Mumbai.

An Indian subsidiary of Prana Studios—a 3D, visual effects and animation company based in Los Angeles—developed the three fire-breathing beasts for the fifth season of HBO’s record-breaking TV series, Game of Thrones.

The brief was simple: Create not just creatures, but characters.

“The producers wanted creatures that had a level of sophistication very high for any television series, and very realistic and engaging as the characters of creatures,” Arish Fyzee, CEO and creative director of Prana Studios, told Quartz.

So, Prana’s Mumbai establishment—with visual artists, animators, light and sound experts and technology specialists numbering over 800 in all—got down to work to craft the dragons, including the brave-hearted Drogon who rescues Daenerys Targaryen in the penultimate episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones.

In the Dance of Dragons episode, Drogon roars, breathes fire, fights and flies away with Khaleesi. In the studio, however, the scene was shot with actor Emilia Clarke on a large mechanical device. “It’s green and shaped like a dragon’s back on hydraulics. It looks like a ninja turtle,” she told Entertainment Weekly.

Apart from the CGI (computer-generated imagery) dragons, the Indian studio also created the set and crowd extensions in this season.

The project was executed in collaboration with Rhythm and Hues, the American visual animation studio that Prana Studios acquired in 2013. It is best known for its Academy Award-winning visual effects in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Shot in the Plaza de Toros in Spain’s Osuna, the dramatic end of the episode got viewers talking not just for the surprise element, but its sheer scale and creative daredevilry. “It was a sequence so spectacular that the Game of Thrones team thought they could never pull it off,” wrote Entertainment Weekly, calling it the “epic dragon scene.”

Raw talent

Prana Studios was founded in 2003 by Fyzee, along with Kristin Dornig and Pankaj Gunsagar—and is backed by a group of investors, including Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, and Reliance Industries chairman, Mukesh Ambani.

Besides creating animation and visual effects for films and television, the company has worked on commercials, theme parks and expos. It has a production office in Los Angeles, too, but most of the work for large Hollywood studios happens in Mumbai.

“I am an Indian, so India was always a part of our plan,” Fyzee, born and raised in Mumbai and trained in Canada and New York, said.

The other reason, according to Fyzee, was that “India has a lot of raw talent that could be really developed. And then we could create a studio where a wide variety of projects can be created. In the US, due to the size of studios, they tend to specialise in only one kind of digital work.”

A presence in the subcontinent has also allowed Fyzee to tap into Bollywood’s growing appetite for visual effects.

Most recently, Prana Studios recreated Calcutta and Bombay of the yesteryears for two period Bollywood dramas, Detective Byomkesh Bakshi and Bombay Velvet, respectively.

“Visual effects is going to play a larger and larger role. There’s a generation of directors in India that are pushing for a different look, and new ideas,” Fyzee explained. “And they are knowledgeable about visual effects.”

Meanwhile, for the every changing world of Westeros and Essos, the gang from Goregaon is conjuring up more magic.

“We expect to be doing more with Game of Thrones,” Fyzee told Quartz. “There are more new creatures coming.”

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