Art Director Paul Ghirardani on bringing the world of Game of Thrones to life

Arya in the Hall of Faces on Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is a visually stunning show – the makeup, the costumes, and the special effects all contribute to the authenticity of the series. None of it would matter, however, without the beautiful sets and scenery to provide the backdrop. Bringing the worlds of Westeros and Essos to life requires more than simply finding the right location, however. An incredible amount of creativity and hard work are required to turn the fantasy into reality.

In a new interview posted by the Portuguese website SAPO, Game of Thrones’ Supervising Art Director Paul Ghirardani provides insight into the creative process. “What you see on screen is what we create,” he says. “So the fictional architecture is something we’ve imagined, we’ve researched, we’ve designed, we’ve drawn – so we bring that to the screen.” The team also tries to give each location a unique look and feel. “There’s so much information thrown at an audience at any one time,” Ghirardani says. “You don’t want to arrive at a location and wonder where this is, so we try to sort of give away those clues.”

Where do they get their ideas? “We borrow from other architects and we remold it, we use it for ourselves…we create a language that becomes our language for Game of Thrones,” Ghirardani explains. For Braavos for example, they drew inspiration from India. “We knew we needed temple architecture, we knew it had to sort of coexist with water…It kind of suggested temples in India, particularly in a town call Varanasi, where there are temples lining the banks of the Ganges.”

One set was particularly challenging. “House of Black and White was really complicated…we made about 600 prosthetic faces to hang on the walls. The size of the thing was huge.” Ghirardani continues, “We build as big as we can, and then visual effects will take it from there and they’ll send the thing rocketing into the sky.” Speaking of the faces, many of them were “masks of producers, writers – I think David and Dan, they had a mask,” he relates. “So that was always kind of a little bit strange, standing next to these kind of death masks of people – was always a little bit odd. But interesting.”

Ghirardani didn’t have any information to share about season 7, saying, “I can’t possibly comment. In sixty days’ time you’ll get to see it yourself.” Interestingly though, he did say he would be working with the team again “in a couple of weeks’ time.” It sounds like work on season 8 will be underway soon.

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    1. Huh! I never would have thought of India. The Hall of Faces seemed more like Roman catacombs to me. Braavos’ exteriors are so Venetian – well, in my mind’s eye, more than what we see on the show, which isn’t so focused on it being a city with canals instead of streets.

      Funny that their greatest ‘success’ in terms of setting one city’s décor apart is Meereen, but that they did it with design elements that look entirely too modern for the era being depicted. Specifically, I mean the walls and windows and screens with the sort of off-kilter patterns of rectangles that you’d see in a Klimt painting or an area rug from the Company Store catalogue.

      I think the overall strong art direction is quite an essential component of what makes GoT addictive viewing, though. I’m glad they don’t skimp.

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    2. The website is taking ages to load it’s almost like Every1s checking in to see if a trailer just dropped … can we actually expect 1 tonight
      I wish HBO would announce a trailer date

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    3. “working again in a few weeks”???

      What if a season has no new locations? does that mean Paul and his team do not get to work on the season? I asked this because I didn’t think there are going to be new locations in the final season.

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    4. I don’t know if a trailer has ever been anticipated this much. The website is almost definitely going to crash when HBO decides to hit us with one…..Here’s hoping Sue, Luka and other admin staff have prepared against that.
      Sansa’s Knight,

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    5. King beyond the Wall II,

      While there may be no new locations that we visit in westeros they might still need new locations to shoot as existing parts of westeros … take season 6 and the sept of baelor … old location in westeros new location in our world to shoot for the show
      Take Danny in the season 5 finale being surrounded by the dothraki … unknown location in westeros new location to shoot in our world so yes they will still be scouting new locations
      Even season 7 the dragon pit is in kingslanding … we’ve seen kings landing since season 1 however they needed a new location in our world to stand in for the dragon pit in kingslanding
      Hope that’s not a spoiler

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    6. King beyond the Wall II: What if a season has no new locations? does that mean Paul and his team do not get to work on the season? I asked this because I didn’t think there are going to be new locations in the final season.

      They may not have new “destination locations” on the show but they’re probably always looking for and considering good shooting locations they haven’t used previously for specific exterior scenes. I don’t believe I’ve seen it said anywhere that there wouldn’t be any new locations of any kind for S8. We also had reports that they were scouting in Sweden late last year before ruling it out due to taxes, and then switched to looking in Norway. That info was put up here as late as Nov. 2nd last year. I think they’ll continue to scout whether they use the locations or not.

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    7. No new locations? I thought we were going to get a glimpse of Casterly Rock before all was done and dusted. Though I guess that could be done mostly in-studio.

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    8. Sansa's Knight,

      Clob,

      Yeah you’re probably right. Didn’t quite think of it that way.

      On a slightly different topic, do you think ex-president Obama will get season 7 as an advance copy this time around, too? It just occurred to me earlier today and I thought it’d be a fun speculation to play with.

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    9. King beyond the Wall II: do you think ex-president Obama will get season 7 as an advance copy this time around, too?

      I don’t see why not, as a continuing courtesy. He didn’t get them early before because the President has the power to demand such a thing by executive order. And he has shown himself to be trustworthy. He has reason to understand the need for non-disclosure policies well, and is not the type to blurt out anything that crosses his constantly misfiring synapses, unfiltered (unlike certain other highly placed public officials I could mention).

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    10. That’s really cool, I like how sometimes you find out that they designed a certain place or filmed in a certain place that you wouldn’t expect and it really surprises you.

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    11. Mel,

      Haha! 😀 you’re probably right. Come to think of it, the sooner one finishes season 7, the longer the wait for season 8 soo I don’t envy him all that much now. Lol

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    12. Still no trailer 😭😭😭
      This honestly feels like last year when I started to believe we wouldnt even get a trailer thanx to the Jon snow question
      Is everything they shot a spoiler this year

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    13. The Long Walk teaser has been removed from Got’s oficcial YouTube channel. Maybe because the song’s copyright. Maybe trailer dropping really soon?
      They’ve always remove the first trailer or teaser before or after uploading a new one.

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    14. There’s also 26 videos in the playlist the most recent 1 being a private video
      That HAS to be the trailer
      So excited
      It’s coming people

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    15. There has to be (something) rather soon one would think. I mean, they’re going to want to have a promo actually on HBO at the least for the new season approaching. What they have released so far isn’t sufficient. Since they’ve thrown the usual schedule off it seems like they’d want to start reminding non-rabid fans unlike ourselves when the season begins.

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    16. I saw a new trailer for Outlander this weekend and the premiere isn’t until September. I am praying to the Old Gods and the new that the GoT trailer will be here soon. However, I’m also trying to keep my mind off of it until it’s available because all I’m really accomplishing right now is driving myself crazy.

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    17. Mr Derp,

      I’m with ya mate
      Today I had a meeting with my employers to review my suspension ( was a silly matter that wasn’t handled properly) and even then all I could think of was when is this trailer going to be released I couldn’t give a dam about the job … I’ve even used my annual leave to get Mondays off (it airs Monday mornings at 11:30am here in Australia) for the 7 weeks the season airs … I’m just hoping HBO doesn’t have a 2 week break between 2 episodes cuz I’ll have to change my annual leave
      YES THATS HOW OBSESSED I AM
      I NEED REHAB

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    18. Sansa’s Knight,

      You should be safe regarding any break in airing. There isn’t a major US holiday weekend during the expected schedule. Labor Day weekend Sunday is September 3rd which would be a week after the finale.

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    19. Clob,
      crud, my edit/add was too late.
      I was just adding that there shouldn’t be any big tv events that they’d skip for either during the period like sports championship games or awards shows. The Emmy’s aren’t until the middle of September for example.

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    20. Mr Derp,

      It’s annual leave … while most people will take a week or 2 off in a row to go on a holiday I use my annual leave to make sure I get to watch the episode the moment it airs same time as in America

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    21. Wonderful news. Long time GoT AV club member. I’ve been enjoying you all for a long time and hope to add to the discussion here. Thanks !

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