One of the reasons everyone loves Game of Thrones so much is because the show has given us a sense of what a real-life dragon might look like in the wild. And it’s not just that they’re realistic in a fantastical sort of way, but that they’ve grown up with us since the Mother of Dragons hatched the little buggers way back in Season 2. So, we’ve come to know them as real characters. You can thank excellent writing for that, along with a very healthy dose of VFX house Pixomondo — and a Trader Joe's chicken, too.
Pixomondo is in charge of bringing Dany’s dragons to stunning life, which they’ve been doing admirably since Season 2, when the Dragonmother rose from the ashes with little Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion clinging to her. Those little guys came with their own set of design headaches, which only grew as the little hell-raisers grew up, especially when it came time to letting them fly.
According to Pixomondo CEO Thilo Kuther (via GameSpot):
“When they got bigger in Season 3 and 4, there was a lot of, ‘So if a dragon is this big, how can it lift itself up? What is it? Is it a bat? Or is it a bird? Is it an eagle?’ And the amount of energy that went into these discussions is beyond belief… That's why they went to a Trader Joe's and bought a chicken, and took it apart, and said, ‘So, how does that work?’”
Alas, the dragons kept growing, so Pixomondo’s inspiration had to grow as well, and pretty soon the dragons became so big that a chicken or a bat just couldn’t emulate the sheer mass of these would-be beasts. So that’s when the elephants came into play.
According to Kuther:
“That’s why they looked at elephants, where there is rougher and harsher skin, but then you have, around facial areas, their skin is softer, and when you touch it with your fingers, it would actually give in … When they shoot it, they usually have a cushion where you can touch it and press your fingers in, so we’re taking that information and applying it to the skin.”
Think of Jon Snow petting Drogon last season on the grounds of Dragonstone. Go ahead and tell us that wasn’t reminiscent of Jurassic Park? And like Dr. Alan Grant surmised of dinosaurs, it seems that birds are also the evolutionary base of dragons, too. And bats. And elephants.
Where Jurassic Park is frequently given credit for kicking off the CG revolution in film, it’s probably safe to say that Game of Thrones and Pixomondo have similarly changed the VFX game for TV. Here’s hoping they got a chicken salad out of the deal, too.