Animation is a dynamic and exciting field, but it’s a highly-skilled profession that makes it difficult to get into. Three-dimensional generalist Thomas Kutschera who is part of the team at Pixomondo who design the special effects and dragons for Game of Thrones, spoke to us about working on the show and how the young and underprivileged can get into animation.
In the nineties, Kutschera studied design in Germany with his main focus on 3D. It was a long time ago and was restricted by software and hardware, he said, but this was his entry into the digital world of computer animation. Kutschera joined international visual effects company Pixomondo in 2012, when the company started its work for the third season of Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones is arguably the most popular television series in the world and has shattered Emmy records as the most decorated show in the ceremonies history.
While HBO has not confirmed it, Variety has estimated that each episode of the eighth and final season of GoT will cost around $15 million (approximately R202 000 000) per episode. In comparison, it’s first season was priced around $6 million (approximately R81 000 000) per episode.
“For the whole team it’s a big honour to work on the show. There are highest expectations in terms of quality we have to meet. Every season means a lot of work for us but the finished product is definitely worth it,” Kutschera said.
Kutschera and the team he is part of are responsible for the special effects of the show – including the dragons which are a source of fascination for many.
“I think animation is not the right word to describe our work,” he said. “Of course animation of the dragons is a big issue, but there is so much more under the hood. Each final shot has to be a perfect integration of a photoreal creature into live action footage. That also includes high detailed modeling, convincing texturing and shading, match lighting and reflections of the set, dealing with interactions like actors or environment and bringing all elements together in comp.”
To meet deadlines, Kutschera and his team have to have good preparation and pre-production as well.
Kutschera’s supervisor Sven Martin is on set from time to time. He said the technology used in his line of work depends on the task. “It might be exchanging motion control data between virtual sets and the real one, it might be working with LIDAR scans to get a precise model of the landscape. But even more important is the experience he brings into,” he said.
When Viserion – one of the dragons from the series – died, Kutschera was not too shocked.
“With the years you get used to the fact that important people, heroes or creatures get killed in Game of Thrones, so it wasn’t such a shock to me. It’s more difficult to keep the secret of your knowledge till the screening is over,” he said.
There are a number of barriers that young and underprivileged people have to overcome to enter the field of animation, Kutschera said. “ You have to deal with computers, with software, with a lot of new terms. In Germany I am teaching students the software and how to handle small projects in 3D,” he said. His students are achieving really good results after a few months as well.
“I wouldn’t suggest children to start with 3D animation because of the technical overload. You can do animation in many ways that are easier and cheaper, like 2D animation, drawing by hand or doing stop motion. You can learn the same principles of animation that one would use animating in 3D: developing a sense for timing, how to present the action best to the audience or how squash and stretch could enhance the lifeness of your character,” Kutschera said.
Kutschera was exposed to Nelson Mandela and apartheid in news reports growing up. He spoke of Mandela’s legacy: “When I was young and read reports about South Africa and Apartheid I could never understand why someone could be discriminated simply by their skin colour. I think the most admirable thing is that after all these years of suppression and prison Mandela was not driven by revenge or hate. It should remind us to take civil rights not for granted.”
The inaugural Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival will be taking place from 16 June to 18 June. The theme of the festival is The Children’s Champion: Celebrating Nelson Mandela’s Centenary.