Con of Thrones exclusive: Paula Fairfield on the importance of expanding mythology and the real voices behind zombie Viserion

Viserion

At Con of Thrones we had the pleasure to speak with Paul Fairfield, the sound designer for Game of Thrones since season 3. Listening to Fairfield discuss her creative process, one truly develops a greater appreciation for detail in the show’s sound design and for the passion that informs every creative decision.

It’s important to Fairfield to maintain the integrity of the voices she gives Game of Thrones’ mythological creatures, both in terms of continuity and world building. “I feel very proud of the fact that when you hear Drogon’s [roar] you know it’s him from a distance…” Fairfield told us. “I feel very good about the fact that the essence of baby, toddler dragon is in the voice of the big bag 7/47 dragon.”

She also creates stories and private mythologies for the characters, partly because she works alone in a dark room and “[has] to find a way to keep engaged” but, more importantly, because this process helps her navigate her library of nearly two million sounds and decide how best to approach a particular character or situation.

For example, Fairfield recalls a creative impass the Game of Thrones team reached during season 3 concerning the White Walkers. David J Peterson had created a language for them called Scroff. “We tried it and it just didn’t work at all,” Fairfield said. It then occurred to her that, perhaps, the White Walkers are such omnipotent creatures that they’re “above language.” She proposed that, in lieu of speech, the White Walkers could freeze everything around them as they move. “So that was the beginning of them controlling the forces of nature,” Fairfield said.

“Developing these threads of mythology that I can attach to different characters helps with the continuing evolution of the sound design.”

As you can imagine, resurrected Viserion presented Fairfield with a wealth of creative avenues and opportunities to mythologize. She has spoken at length in the past about her love for Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. When she learned that one of her dragons was … eh, switching sides, she had to move him into the same “category of sound design” as the reanimated polar bear (whom she named Beary Wight) and reassess how Viserion, now icy and zombified, should sound.

Her logic is that, since the resurrected creatures are frozen, their bodies have turned rigid, with missing parts and exposed skeletons. So, it was important to incorporate the jangling of dry bone into their movements. She found a man on Etsy who sells animal bones uncovered from the desert and constructed a giant mobile in her studio from which she hung around 40 pounds of animal bones on bungy chords.

As for Viserion’s new voice, Fairfield reasoned that, since he is effectively an ice dragon now, his vocal chords must be frozen along with the rest of him. “This makes no biological sense at all,” she admitted “but it has to have an inherent logic to it. If [Viseron’s vocal chords] are frozen then they’re clacking together. So, you’ve got this deteriorated vocalization with this clacking going on and the end result is really interesting because it has to move from being alive and vibrant and full to being kind of emaciated … [with] this nasty-ass rattling sound that comes through and it’s more screechy.”

Perhaps most interesting of all is how Fairfield designed the scream Viserion makes when he destroys the Wall at the end of season 7.

“I had this idea that, in fact, [the Wights] were all channeling their souls through [Viserion]. So, the concept was that the blue fire and part of his vocals were the screams of the souls of the dead army,” Fairfield told us. “I remember e-mailing David and Dan like “Hey, what do you think?” and they were like “Ok then … sure,” she laughed.

What’s more, she recruited none other than the Burlington Bar gang to supply the voices of the damned.

This took place shortly after she’d met the crew at last year’s Con of Thrones. “I had seen their videos so I knew that they had no problem emoting in unbridled fashion,” she said. “So, I texted them and I said, “Hey guys, could you give me some tortured screams? I can’t tell you what’s it’s for but I need you to scream like you’re dying. And so they did.”

Of course, Viserion’s roar at the end of the “The Dragon and the Wolf” isn’t recognizable as the screams of hardcore Game of Thrones fans but Fairfield believes strongly that the voices of creatures should have a soul. “No matter what you do to it there’s a little essence of it that sticks and I wanted that feeling … There’s something in it that touches you somewhere primal and that’s what I wanted.”

paula

Fairfield keeps in touch with the Game of Thrones fandom, and cites the fans as one of the reasons she puts so much thought and care into the sound design.

“The viewership is so intense on this show and most people know way ,ore about [the material] than I do … If I haven’t thought my work through people are going to pick up on that. And that’s not fair to the viewership who has stuck with the show and loves the show so.”

16 responses

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    1. This is why this show is so phenomenal. It seems every crew member I have ever read about or heard speak just gives this programme an unbelievable amount of dedication and love. Every single one seems to go above and beyond and it shows. It must also be contagious – this energy and enthusiasm in the crew – and so they probably feed off each other. I am so grateful to all their hard work!

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    2. Paula is just the coolest person. She’s wickedly sharp and hilarious in-person.

      – A super nerdy fan

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    3. I wonder if she’s the reason the young dragons sounded like crying children in the scene in S2.E8 showing them being hauled in their cages up into the house of the undying. I always feel horrified for them when I watch that

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    4. I loved, loved, LOVED the session with her. There was SO much wonderful insight, both professional and personal.

      Also, I just about died laughing when she said she thought of Rhaegal and Viserion as Beavis and Butthead. I immediately thought of a scene with Dany on the ground with Drogon and R&V flying around in the background, and imagined them screeching “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” at each other. 😂🐉

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    5. Love it…and yes, it makes perfect biological sense! ;D
      Haha, “I need tortured screams! Scream like you’re dying!” xD

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    6. Paula Fairfield is awesome! I could listen to her talk about her craft for hours. The passion, careful thought, and dedication that she and the other members of the Game of Thrones creative team pour into their work is just incredible!

      With respect to Viserion, I’d been very curious as to how the sound team came up with the design for his unearthly call. I’m looking forward to rewatching “The Dragon and the Wolf” yet again with this additional insight.

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    7. Yay! It was so interesting hearing about her process at Con of Thrones. Paula was very inspiring and so cool! 🙂 Hope she can be there next year because I know all the fans loved her!!

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    8. The talent that is required to bring this show together is just incredible. I did not know about Paula’s work, but I now will add her to the list of people I want to thank when this is all over ‘sob!’

      Is it possible to add a link to the sounds (yes I know I could watch the episode, but Im not able to right now and would like to listen to how he sounds again, knowing what I know)

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    9. Wow. Her process sounds very creative . She sounds amazing just from this short article and interview. I imagine she’s a great person to talk to at Cons.

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    10. krupke,

      I know exactly what you mean- poor baby dragons! But Paula started working on the show in s3 so I’m not sure who we have to thank for that

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    11. The dragons feel so real for me that sometimes I wonder if they didn’t use real dragons. The visuals the sound. Everything is perfect.

      krupke:
      I wonder if she’s the reason the young dragons sounded like crying children in the scene in S2.E8 showing them being hauled in their cages up into the house of the undying.I always feel horrified for them when I watch that

      One of the scenes that gives me shivers every time I see it.

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    12. “the reanimated polar bear (whom she named Beary Wight)”
      _______________

      “That’s not Beary Wight. That’s Toby.”

      – Rory McCann

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