The battle to bring Game of Thrones to life in a gaming universe
Winter is coming... and it looks incredible.
With the epic conclusion of Game of Thrones leaving us reeling, it only seems right that HBO have licensed a PC browser game, Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming, in an attempt to fill the void that the TV show will inevitably leave in many people’s lives.
Over the past eight years, the show has gained a momentous following and a famously loyal fanbase. So it’s easy to imagine the pressure CG and animation studio, REALTIMETIME, felt when tasked with creating a photorealistic trailer for the game, a challenge made even harder as the team had no first-hand visual reference to work from.
Despite having created trailers for games such as Jurassic Park and War Thunder, the immense fandom of Game of Thrones doubled that pressure. But, armed with Nuke and Mari, the crew at REALTIME set about conquering the task.
As a raven flies through the Game of Thrones universe, weaving between the well-known characters and the sigils of the houses, it mirrors the suspense so often felt when watching the show - and the Director Stu Bayley and his team were trying to achieve: “We decided internally that the raven was going to be the thread that weaves through the two separate sections and illustrate the journey of the message of war,” he says. “The trailer was designed to be a teaser for the epic battles that would follow!”
The characters and the universe we’re shown are so lifelike it’s hard not to be encompassed by the world REALTIME have worked hard to recreate.
“One of the big challenges on this project was maintaining a high visual standard within a tight schedule,” Senior Artist Chris Scubli says.
“Nuke’s node-based workflow saved us a lot of time by allowing us to quickly iterate and to share a lot of fundamental building blocks between shots. It allows for great flexibility and makes navigating complex comps easy.
Another useful aspect of Nuke is the ease with which you can create your own tools within it. This can be done through straight-up compositing, wrapped into a gizmo, but we can push that even further with Python support. We've come to rely on these custom-built tools to round out our pipeline.”
Maintaining the fidelity of the characters, especially with the close up shots of the characters’ faces, was another key element of the trailer.
Alongside Nuke, REALTIME used Mari for the heads of the character, to be sure it would stand up to scrutiny and convey the true character they were bringing to life: “Mari did a lot of the leg work in getting our characters to look photoreal,” Senior Character Artist David Weaver says.
“It ensured that we could split the head into multiple UDIMs and then project 16bit 16k textures onto it… we would then retouch the textures and add variation using several of Mari's procedural textures.
Being able to use Mari’s warp tool was a massive asset to the crew as well: being able to project details and then warp them to fit around a mesh proved to be a great time saver.”
Achieving photo-realism was one of the main goals on the project, and to reach that takes time, Chris explains: “Nuke gives the artist a lot of power in how they manage their shots. It allowed me to dive deep into fine-tuning minute aspects of the renders without getting lost in the comp. It’s a very visual oriented workflow and once you understand the tools a lot of the process is just instinct. This saves a lot of time by just doing, iterating, tweaking, instead of figuring out how to achieve certain things and getting encumbered by the objective.”
What’s more, being able to adjust the comp on the fly based on client feedback makes the review and feedback process more painless, he goes on: “Every time we wrap a trailer, I look back at how things could have gone smoother in the compositing phase. We’ve reached a good point where more often than not, we can address client feedback in a quick manner, entirely within Nuke, without the need for costly re-renders.”
It’s undeniable that this trailer created a truly authentic Game of Thrones experience, and using Nuke and Mari played a vital role in making the artist process run like clockwork: ”Using tools like Nuke and Mari means we use our budget more efficiently, allowing us to allocate more time for artists to improve shots, refine and iterate,” Stu says.
Additionally, we can deal with both internal and client feedback better. The more attempts you can have at something the better the end result!”
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