Caraxes dragon

The VFX Artists Behind ‘House of the Dragon’ Confirm Seasmoke Is Actually Drogon

Andria Moore

Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

HBO Max

Last night, House of the Dragon took home the award for best TV drama at the Golden Globes. With a budget of around $20 million per episode, the widely popular HBO series was a huge accomplishment on the part of the cast, crew, and of course…the VFX team tasked with bringing the dragons to life.

To do so, requires modeling the dragons after already existing animals. For example, in episode two of the HBO series, the audience is first introduced to Daemon’s (Matt Smith) maroon dragon Caraxes. The beast appears on screen with piercing eyes and snake-like movements that immediately establish its cunning character.

HBO Max

According to Mike Bell, visual effects supervisor at Moving Picture Company (MPC) Caraxes was largely based on the awkwardness of “a greyhound [dog] laying down or sitting.”

The thinking there, according to Bell, was that Caraxes isn’t meant to be lying down. “Caraxes is supposed to be flying,” said Bell. “Which is why he has that kind of almost snake-like animation.”

But for visual effects artists, the process of taking the dragon from conception to the screen is easier said than done. Unlike its predecessor which only had three, House of the Dragon had 10 dragons shown on screen just in Season 1. The construction of each alone can take three to four months, according to lead VFX Supervisor Angus Bickerton.

“For the first couple of months, we were just designing the dragons basically,” he said. “So we were collating lots of real world references, and Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan [Condal] were very keen to follow George R.R. Martin's belief that the dragons should all be quite distinctive, and more colorful than they were before, and have quite definitive characters.”

One of the most complicated sequences for the VFX team was also one of the most visually stunning for viewers: Vhagar and Arrax’s fight scene at the end of the season finale. Bickerton said before any production or filming takes place, the team spends a few days on set just scoping out and marking the scene.

HBO Max

“We had to kind of work out the flight path,” Bickerton explained. “We knew that they were arriving and leaving Storms End. And we found a location in Iceland…so we used that as our design, and then we plotted out what the chase would be.”

The VFX team then used virtual production software, Cyclops, created by visualization studio Third Floor, to map out a rough draft of what the scene would look like. Cyclops uses augmented reality and game engine tech to overlay CGI assets over live video in real time. Basically, Cyclops displays a quick rendering of what a dragon or building would look like in a scene, so the cast and crew know their marks and can visualize the layout.

“That allows [Director] Greg [Yaitanes] and his DOP, Pepe Avila del Pino, to come in and use the iPad to explore and find shots rather than, you know, an animator sitting at a desk.”

Lux Machina, a visual technology studio headquartered in Los Angeles, worked to stage many of the sequences on set before and during filming.

“[Engine operators] are doing a lot of things like recording and capturing the data that we're shooting on set,” explained Julia Lou, engine technical director and virtual production supervisor for Lux Machina. “So recording things like where the camera was, and any lens metadata, and taking snapshots of what the settings were and stuff like that.”

After staging is complete, Lou works in real time with the VFX team to operate the visual effect assets that take place in real time during filming.

Once the scenes are staged and mapped out, on-set visual effects supervisor Ed Hawkins is responsible for ensuring that filming aligns with the VFX team’s request. Lighting cues and camera angles have to be “pretty meticulously planned out,” according to Hawkins, so that it matches what the VFX team will create in post-production. And two dragons with two riders for a fight scene like the finale means two separate shoots.

“That was one of the more complicated sequences,” Hawkins said. To create it, all the actions of the dragons and the camera movements were pre-planned using a revolutionary form of VFX technology that offers a major upgrade to the traditional green screen. Rather than placing the actors in front of a green screen and building out the special effects in post-production, the team uses huge LED panels that surround a physical set that display whatever background image is required. The “volume,” as the technology is referred to, can also respond to camera movements.

“Also in that particular setup (the finale), it was quite challenging because we had a lot of rain and wind and smoke, which you wouldn't normally put into a volume, because it's a big, expensive computer screen,” Hawkins explained.

That said, even with all this state of the art technology, creating 10 dragons with distinct features and unique personalities is no easy task. In fact, Bickerton confesses that the team did reuse one dragon from the old series: Drogon, Queen Daenerys’s most famous dragon in Game of Thrones.

“When I joined, I was handed an old fashioned, big hard drive with about eight terabytes of accumulated assets and data from ‘Game of Thrones,’” says Bickerton. “We tried to glean as much as we could from those assets. And one of the key assets, of course, was Drogon himself.”

One thing Bell said he’d like to work on if he comes back for Season 2, is continuing to build the dragons in more detail and hone in more on their personalities and corresponding movements.

“I'd like to see how Caraxes’s character develops because he’s such an incredibly unique dragon, different from everyone else,” he said.

With the rapid improvement in VFX technology, it’s possible fans will see even more of the dragons in future seasons. Having worked as the lead on the first and last two Harry Potter movies, Hawkins said those films are an excellent example of the evolution of visual effect technology.

“If you look at those sequences of films, you can almost see the whole arc of the way the industry has changed,” Hawkins explained. “Because, you know, the first film was shot on film, there was a lot of models and practical effects. But as it went through the sequence of builds, Hogwarts became a digital asset. It's literally the whole arc of going from the beginnings of digital effects to where we are now.”

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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