RealtimeUK spotlight for "Game Of Thrones: Winter is Coming"

We’re a VFX and animation studio with 2 locations in the UK, our foundations are Cinematic trailers for games, such as SMITE, War Thunder, Jurassic World… But we also have a world leading Automotive Department and we’ve recently had a big break into TV, which should be on screens very soon. Basically, we love creating visually stunning content for all audiences.

"Game Of Thrones: Winter is Coming"

We are all massive fans of the show, so this project was a dream to work on. That came with huge pressure, as we know how well known and loved the characters are all over the world – so we had to nail the quality and create a truly authentic GoT experience for the viewer. 

Our task was to introduce the viewers to the official HBO licenced game and create a trailer that was authentic to the TV show in every way.The message of the trailer is the impending threat of ‘winter is coming’ and how that links the key houses from the show as they prepare for what is to come. The trailer is split in to two sections, one literal showing the characters in real locations from the show and the other more abstract showing the Sigils that represent the houses being overcome with the frost of winter.

We decided internally that the raven was going to be the thread that weaved through the two separate sections and illustrate the journey of the message of war. The trailer was designed to be a teaser for the epic battles that would follow!

This was the first time we have been tasked with creating cg versions of well-known characters, and there is nothing like jumping in at the deep end! And to top of the complexity of the task we knew from the start that we would not have access to the actors or any scan data.

Jaime LookDev

So, the search for reference began, the client provided some good onset photography which was especially helpful for the clothing and apart from that the whole team scoured the web for any material we could find. The main challenge that arises from using multiple sources of reference is variations camera lenses and lighting, it’s amazing how these two factors completely change the perception of form in the human face.

We would always find the camera lens data in any reference we used and do test renders with cg cameras to match but we found that still left us short of finding the characters instantly recognizable read.

Cersei LookDev

After multiple iterations the amazing character modelling and lookdev team had created these great assets but we found we lost the likeness in the shots from the animatic, we then realized we would have to go back and adjust all the lenses and camera positions to mimic the cinematography used in the TV show, that was the only way we could get that instant read on character we had been looking for. This was the tipping point for when the whole thing came to life and we knew all the amazing lookdev would find its way into the final Trailer.

I’m David Weaver, Senior Character Artist at RealtimeUK and I’ve been in the CG industry for about 8 years. During my time here I have worked on trailers for games such as Dreadnought, World of Tanks, Crossfire and of course, Game of Thrones.

For this particular project we used Texturingxyz maps for all of the characters heads. This included the faces displacement textures and the cross polarized photos for the skin and we used the multi-channel iris textures for the eyes. The sclera textures were made from taking photos of my own eyes…immortality at last! It was from these textures all of the other elements were derived.

We didn’t get any scan data from the client so all of the likenesses had to be made from the ground up. I started off by bringing our base mesh into Zbrush, sculpt the primary forms then export a medium res mesh to Mari. 

Zbrush Cersei sculpt

At this point I would also prepare the Texturingxyz displacement maps by combining all of the channels together and splitting the areas out into 3 separate files, face, forehead and nose and save them out as exr’s. In Mari I painted the displacement maps onto the mesh and then exported them back out to be loaded into Nuke.

Final result of the Texturingxyz displacement maps painted in Mari

I needed to be able to balance the amounts of secondary, tertiary and micro displacement, so in Nuke I split the new Texturingxyz displacements maps out into 3 lots of displacements maps. The Zbrush, secondary, tertiary and micro displacement maps were then brought together in a composite map in 3ds Max and the values were tweaked until i got the desired results. In order to optimize the asset, those values were then used to merge all of the different displacement maps together to form one consolidated map.

After displacements I moved onto the other maps. For the Albedo, I brought in all of the images from one of the cross polarized packs and projected then over the entire head. I also overlaid the tertiary channel from the displacement to help tie the two together, then I went and added makeup and other subtle changes to match the character.

The process was the same for the roughness maps. A broad generic base was painted and then the tertiary displacement was overlaid. In total each character takes around 6-8 weeks, depending on their complexity.

A Typical Day at RealtimeUK

Normally I get in and see if there is any feedback from the day before then carry on with what ever needs to be done to get the character finished. Throughout the day I’m always in touch with the freelancers who are working on other characters, whether it be feeding back to them or helping them out with any issues they may have. I may get some modelling changes from the rigging department or get asked to look at some groom work that might have broken in one of the scenes.

Tyrion - Marlon R. Nunez

Shout Outs!

A big thank you to Stu Bailey our Art Director, Chris Scubli for his great Lighting and Comp work, Will Eades for pushing our face rigs even further, James Kirkham for his additional grooming and Marlon R. Nunez for his great work on Tyrion and Daenerys. Also a big thanks to Chaos Group, Allegorithmic and Ephere for VRay Substance Painter and Ornatrix, we couldn’t have done it without them.

 From everyone at Texturingxyz, we would like to thank David Weaver and everyone involved in this article.