Back in October of 2016, when Game of Thrones filmed in the Basque Country, the supervising art director for the foreign locations, Christina Moore, committed to give a talk at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) — and last week she returned to Spain to fulfill her promise, giving a lecture on creating the world of Game of Thrones.
Moore, an Emmy award-winning art director with degrees in architecture and fine arts, has worked in Game of Thrones for five years now, since season three, specializing on adapting foreign locations to the world of George R.R. Martin. As she tells it, she lives under the pressure of coordinating five different filming teams on almost as many countries. And when she isn’t doing the impossible, Moore looks for inspiration in local museums and craftsmanship, much of which finds its way into the world of the show.
Between Moore’s credentials and the fervent Game of Thrones fandom in Spain, it’s fair to say Moore’s visit to the UPV/EHU on March 16 was met with much excitement. Though this is my alma mater, I was unable to attend myself, yet there are detailed reports, as well as interviews in English — And, of course, the lecture was in English, with simultaneous Spanish and Basque interpreters for those who needed it.
“Usually I don’t go on-location because I just can’t find the time, but I was able to go to the Osuna bullfighting arena, in Seville, where one of the most epic Game of Thrones scenes was filmed. I remember the heat, and that 19 people suffered flamethrower-inflected burns.” Despite this and other setbacks, such as the giant green-screen they had carefully prepared being blown away by the wind, there was a silver-lining — the extras: “In the rest of Europe it’s obvious they do it for the money, but in Spain they are fans of the show who come enthusiastically. That day we had to use 600 extras, and they were all singing and taking it with humor, despite the scorching sun.”
Moore also elaborated on other foreign locations from previous years, such as the site for the crucial trial by combat in season four between Prince Oberyn Martell and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, in which they were fighting for Tyrion’s life. It may have looked like a fancy part of the King’s Landing Wall, but it was nothing of the sort.
“Actually, it was an abandoned hotel in Dubrovnik,” Moore explains. “It had been bombed during the war and it was filled with graffiti.” The transformation involved plastering the walls and repainting it whole, and adding lots of trees and foliage in the background to limit the set and focus the shots. But the trickiest part was the ground: “One of our challenges was to remove the Croatian symbol in the center of that courtyard and turning it into the Lannister coat of arms. We did a great job but there was a storm the day before filming, covering it all with mud. It may have been fortuitous, actually, because it looked older that way. I’m very proud of that mosaic… The problem is you can only see it clearly when the prince’s head is crushed on the ground. And, at that moment, viewers are not focusing on the mosaic.” No, indeed, we were not.
Apparently, the trick to making it all believable is finding a common visual language for each fictional location: “We have a lot of different worlds in Game of Thrones, which are all supposed to be very distinctive in the way that they look. And quite often we are filming those in the same country. So, for example, we filmed some of the slave cities on Morocco, Croatia, and Spain, and we try and get something coherent across those three countries that will look distinct for that world. So we don’t want it to look like Spain, Croatia or Morocco — We want it to look like the world of Game of Thrones.”
However, the art director didn’t only discuss the past but what lies ahead as well. Moore revealed what it was that brought Game of Thrones to the Basque Country (also known as “Euskadi”, the Basque name Moore actually used). After all, Southern Spain may have many geographic features lacking in Northern Ireland, but that cannot be said of the Northern coast of Spain. It had to be something utterly unique, and indeed it was.
Showing a photo of Gaztelugatxe, Moore simply said: “This is the picture that brought us to Euskadi.” Just by glancing at the picturesque islet, it’s easy to understand why:
Those readers of Watchers of the Wall who followed our spoiler reports back in October may remember the many, many (and many, many more) key scenes filmed on the winding stairs of Gaztelugatxe for season seven. An iconic location in the history of Westeros and the show, a great number of main characters will meet here the first time.
You may get such spoilers from us, but Moore was understandably not so forthcoming. When asked about season seven, Moore warned that she may suffer Walder Frey’s fate if she divulged anything, though the executioner would not be Arya Stark but HBO:
“I’m afraid I’m not allowed to tell you anything! I’m here on a private capacity, I’m not an official person from HBO on this instance, but if they find out I said anything about season seven…” Moore then laughed as she drew her finger across her neck in a cutthroat gesture, and joked (at least I hope so): “My contract is written in blood!”
This was Moore’s only tease for us regarding the filming in Spain for season seven: “All I can say is this was the longest time we’ve been filming in Spain this year, and we’ve done some really amazing, amazing scenes, so it’s going to be really exciting.”
I really hope they do Norway next year! I remember there were some rumors about HBO checking out Scandinavian locations. The only problem is that Norway is the most expensive country in the world, and our incentive program is very limited. Well well, I can only hope!
If I’m not mistaken, the expensiveness and lack of incentives in Sweden is why they decided to move on to Norway… though it’s also expensive and doesn’t have the best tax breaks (at least it has some.) So we’ll see what happens!
The work they put in for the location of the Oberyn/Mountain fight is simply amazing. And yes I didn’t notice the mosaic either at first lol.
Yeah, I’m still hoping they can use Preikestolen for something. I’m not quite sure where in Westeros they could say such a location exists, but it would still be cool.
Smart lady! I like her hippy look, she must be a free spirit, true to herself.
It makes me sad when I see women who have passed their prime and decide to change their look, to seem “like sensible people, because I’m not young anymore”.
In winter it could be the Fist of the First Men, if the show ever returns there.
But, honestly, I think they’re looking at Norway (and Sweden before that) because they need a substitute for King’s Landing in deep winter. Iceland has snow and glaciers, but offers little in the way of old stone buildings, while Norway and Sweden have quite a few old buildings. With clever integration of a CGI’d snowed-in Dubrovnik, they could find a great new King’s Landing. Only in bits and pieces, of course. There are no old stone towns like in Spain and Croatia. A church here, a museum there, a wall there. But it could work.
Shy Lady Dragon,
I mostly agree, but I also think it can get a little bit embarrassing seeing a 50 or whatever year old man or woman trying to dress hip. It all depends on taste, style, and what works for each person. Christina Moore’s look definitely works for her. It’s a little bit hippy, but in a more sophisticated and stylized way. She’s not “trying” to look like a hippy, which makes it work.
That’s my fashion contribution for the day 🙂
“It all depends on taste, style, and what works for each person.”
I fully agree with that. What I meant was it’s sad to give up what can be original, stylish and fresh, but also suitable for the person in favour of something plain, “serious” and “normal” in the worst way. I think everybody, irrespective of age and size, can find a personal style to make oneself happy and look pleasant for the others. I don’t think people should follow fashion, but their own view of creating a nice appearance.
Shy Lady Dragon,
Most impressive work. One of the reasons the show works so well (at least for me) is because it feels like they’re actually in Westeros. My hat’s off to you, Christina Moore, along with production designer Deborah Riley and everyone else.
I don’t know, Vikings used it in a very dramatic shot at the end of it’s 2nd season.. They could use it for if they want to show one end of the Wall (lets say at Eastwatch-bt-sea), but other than that they’ve made due in the past..
It’s always great to see some of the unsung heroes who work on this great series – the art directors, the cinematographers, the costume designers, etc. – get their day in the sun. Christina Moore’s work over the past five seasons have been stellar, and I very much look forward to seeing what she and her team have produced for Season 7. With beautiful natural canvases like Gaztelugatxe to work with, I’m sure it will be nothing less than breathtaking!
If they really need a KL substitute for winter, they should try Tallinn, IMO. But they know better, what they need.
Serious and sympathetic question: did they stop most filming in Croatia due to the migrant crisis?
The Dragon Demands,
I think there are more mgrants in NI, than in Croatia.
The Dragon Demands,
There is no migrant crisis in Croatia or other Balkan countries.
Preikestolen would look amazing for the Stormlands and the cliffs in the Storm’s End area overlooking Shipbreaker Bay
The Dragon Demands,
Croatia was not negatively affected by the “migrant” (refugee, actually) crisis. No European country was, despite what the right-wing hysteria says. It’s a crisis because they are refugees from a war-torn land; their arrival is not the issue. The only crisis taking place here is the Spanish and other governments’ disgraceful decision not to let almost any of them in. It’s the refugees who are negatively affected, not their would-be-host countries. So, what if they were filming in any country which did take in refugees? How would it affect the production? It’s people coming from Syria, not their civil war.
Also, they didn’t stop filming in Croatia; it’s just not the main King’s Landing location anymore, since season five. Nevertheless, they return every year for iconic locations (Fort Bokar for the King’s Landing walls in season seven, and the coast below the fort for the private King’s Landing harbor in season six), and even a few new places (such as the Dominican Monestary in season seven.) Their reasoning for going to Girona and Cáceres has been explained, too — They were looking for new places to add some variety. Even then, they still base the King’s Landing skyline on Dubrovnik to maintain consistency.
Is there a video of the talk anywhere?
Hadn’t thought about it until now, but I don’t think I was the only viewer who was watching the mosaic instead of what was happening to our beloved Red Viper.
Anywho, interesting and informative video and Ms. Moore’s hairstyle reminds me a lot of another artist, Christiane Kubrick, oil painter and widow of the late great director Stanley Kubrick, who’s work is probably my greatest obsession, besides Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups:
Is big hair back in style?
Wow, what an amazing job she does. That set for The Mountain vs Oberyn needed quite a bit of revamping! Never would have known!
It’s unrecognizable, isn’t it? Compare this to THIS. Probably the best set based on an altered location in the history of the show, in my opinion.
Nice examples, Luka. And that second photo looks awfully impressive as my new laptop background.
These are wonderful ..I still remember how much backlash they got for shooting at Osuna bull ring ..now to think about it makes me laugh ..
Of course even though I don’t hate the pit scene but iam not happy with how the pit scene turned out in the end ( i blame hardhome for this actually )
Really? Some of you are talking about how this amazing woman dresses? This isn’t a forum to discuss the way over woman over 50 dress, is it?
No, apparently it’s a forum to complain about it, though
Thank you so much for this post, Luka. It’s nice to see the spotlight shining on someone whose work is so integral to creating this world we’ve all come to love (and will miss far too soon).
You’re welcome! I would have loved to attend the lecture myself, and so my report here would have been much more intricate. Sadly, I had a previous appointment, on the other side of the country.
Thank you, Luka, for mentioning Tallinn. That was y initial idea as well.
Well-preserved old town + rocky coastline nearby.
No idea of the tax breaks offered, yet it will be much less expensive than Sweden and Norway.
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