VISIONS OF ICE AND FIRE
From the thrilling TV show to a thriving Fantasy Flight Games series and 14-month calendars by the best in the business, A Song of Ice and Fire has become an inspiring fantasy tale for artists
Tobias Mannewitz took to crossing the street in his lunch break – whenever he had time for one – and entering a veritable village of craftsmen forging swords, testing catapults, painting murals and preparing four huge sets for filming.
“Essentially, all of Northern Ireland is the set for Game of Thrones,” says the visual effects concept artist. “But at the heart of it is the former wharf building Paint Hall,” located on Belfast’s reclaimed Queen’s Island. “Being able to walk into these sets gives you such a great feeling of being involved in the process, and our work on the CG pieces greatly benefited from that,” says Tobias.
While the series locations include Malta and Iceland, it was his Belfast-inspired second season work that won Tobias an Emmy for special visual effects in 2012. Yet he nearly didn’t work on it at all.
Restless after years of generating concept art for games, Tobias was looking for a new challenge. In 2011 his Berlin-based studio Karakter was told about a potential job for a new fantasy TV series, and it was, understandably, intrigued. In fact, hiring artists for the new HBO series A Game of Thrones wasn’t going great. “The team had a very difficult time recruiting VFX concept artists for the show, because no one knew
Walking into the sets was a great feeling and our CG work really benefited
whether it was any good, or whether it’d be worth spending a full summer in rainy Belfast,” admits Tobias. Then, inspired by a poster of a troubled Eddard Stark sat on the Iron Throne, Karakter threw its hat into the ring, and got the job.
He’s not the only artist to fall under the spell of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series – a fantasy epic fuelled by power-lust and deceit with all-too-human characters looming large, only to vanish like breath on a razor blade. Since the 1996 publication of the first book A Game of Thrones, artists have been seduced by its gritty, uncensored action.
Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) released two art books-worth of inspired art. Six
towering fantasy artists, including Michael Komarck and John Picacio, worked on as many calendars, with Donato Giancola currently finishing one for 2015. The imminent release of the massive encyclopaedia A World of Ice and Fire is the latest in a string of books featuring original art, with French illustrator Marc Simonetti leading the charge.
At the heart of it all is George RR Martin, although he’s keen to tell us that his duties as Overseer Of All Ice and Fire Art aren’t what they used to be. Speaking from his Santa Fe, New Mexico home, at the desk where he’s penned every word of the series so far, he admits, “It’s just become too much! Remember, I’ve been doing this for a long time. When I started with Fantasy Flight Games, I was very heavily involved, approving every painting. In theory that’s fine, but then you’re doing nothing but approving and commenting on paintings. I just do specific characters now.”
And what characters! Divine, grotesque, chivalric and nefarious – in a genre fond of depicting morality in terms of black and
It’s like a parent choosing a favourite child, but I have a lot of affection for Tyrion, Arya and Daenerys
white, Martin likes it when opposites collide, casting his gaze over the far more interesting greys. Of course, he has his favourite forms of this complex colour. “It’s like a parent choosing their favourite child, but I’ve got to admit I have a lot of affection for Tyrion, I have a lot of affection for Arya, and for Dany [Daenerys]… But I love all my characters. Even the ones I kill horribly.”
With the continent of Ice and Fire art shifting and expanding apace, the author says he’s become more liberal in allowing how artists depict his beloved offspring. Speak to anyone who’s had an official commission however, and there’s a good chance they’ll recall a crit from the author on how their work stands next to what’s in his head. It seems that, like some of George’s more wily characters, old habits die hard.
making a classic For the HBO Game of Thrones TV series, art director Gemma Jackson and supervising art director Paul Inglis, had a list of things to consider before deploying their legion of artists and VFX teams. Remarkably, the expectations of millions of fans wasn’t
their first concern. “With a normal film, there’s 120 pages of script, and everything you need to discover and work from starts there,” explains Paul. “With Game of Thrones there was so much more to consider.”
As every serious artist knows, you start with shapes, not detail. Getting the philosophy of each main part of George’s Known World was step one. The producers wanted to avoid using subtitles to cue viewers as to which part of the world was being shown. “We used colour, texture, level of decoration, styles of set dressing, weight of architecture and choice of landscape to help define each main area of the world,” says Paul. King’s Landing was warm-toned and lavish, with a “fecund feel,” whereas Essos, although also warm, was arid. The Dothraki world was based on temporariness – buildings made from woven materials and lashed timbers. “We made Winterfell solid and squat, with a granite-like determination,” says Paul. Castle Black was deteriorating, its interiors showing the ravages of every aspect of life spent inside: “The walls almost dripping with rendered fat and tallow”.
By now revelling in the change of pace from game art, Tobias started on some
initial sketches of the giants – the latest, but certainly not the least, character addition to the fourth season. They were worked up by studio teammate Robert Simon, who also created “a fantastic range of new creature designs that we can’t talk about until season four has aired,” Tobias reveals. “I’m very envious of Robert’s character work, that’s all I can say.”
John and George Ted Nasmith admits bias in choosing his favourite fantasy writer. As a teenager he sent a letter to JRR Tolkien along with an original Lord of the Rings-inspired painting. The author’s generous feedback encouraged a passion that had already formed roots in the verdant Middle-earth.
Having since given much of his career to depicting Tolkien’s universe, Ted has recently moved to Martin’s – particularly painting
He offers rich imagery – castles are huge, unusual, on mountains or sea stacks
the castles scattered around the three continents of the Known World in the 2011 calendar. “For an artist he offers rich imagery – the castles are great flights of fancy, impossibly huge, unusual, perched on mountains or sea stacks, or next to the massive ice wall,” he says.
Although it’s more than the middle two initials that link George Raymond Richard Martin with John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the similarities can be overstated. “It’s known that Martin was a reader of The Lord of the Rings, but to his credit, he avoided trying to imitate Tolkien.”
Dance with Dragons A Song of Ice and Fire book cover artist Marc Simonetti shows us a scene to come! Mance rayder’s camp Tobias and team paint The King-Beyondthe-Wall’s makeshift stronghold for season three of the TV series.
walk of shame In this painting from Marc’s 2013 calendar, Cersei seeks atonement.
King’s Landing Kimberley Pope offers an aerial view of King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and the site of the Iron Throne.
Arya Star Artist John Picacio: “I created this artwork shortly after my daughter was born, hoping that she would possess some of Arya’s spunk – and she sure does!”
Throne room Tobias painted images for the desolate Harrenhal castle, the largest in all Westeros. Although it’s seen better days…
steaming in Woe betide anyone who gets
their 1850s steam boats confused in the vicinity of
George RR Martin.
Born survivor Michael Komarck brings his exquisite detail in light and shade, and to the most complex character, Tyrion Lannister.
A witch’s spell
Donato Giancola painted Melisandre, the Red Priestess, 12 years ago, but recently came back to Martin’s world.
The map room Kimberley Pope’s final concept piece can be seen here in her painting of Stannis’s hideout on the island of Dragonstone.
Map of the world
Working from hand-drawn maps, Kimberley designs the main feature of
Stannis Baratheon’s map room. Left, Michael worked on several maps of the continent Westeros, where most of the action takes place.
In the House of Dust Fans of the books may recognise Marc’s depiction of warlocks in this book cover painting.