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Shrieks, snorts, an ‘epic bear fart:’ how a Canadian brought Game of Thrones’ dragons to life

The Nova Scotian behind the chilling dragon shrieks and otherworldly wails of the White Walkers in HBO’s Game of Thrones says the final season of the fantasy drama was an enormous challenge.

Paula Fairfield, a Hollywood sound designer who grew up in Bridgewater, N.S., said creating the show required “an extraordinary amount of energy and effort.”

“Looking back, I’m very proud of the work we all did on it. It stretched us all way beyond,” said Fairfield.

“I always tried to strive to do better and was encouraged to do better and was pushed by how the show was stretching and reaching. I feel like I’m 30 times the designer I was when I started.”

Fairfield joined the Game of Thrones team during season three, when Daenerys’s dragons were “toddlers.”

Evolution of dragon sounds

She said as the dragons grew, their sounds became more complex.

This season, the mythical creatures were featured prominently. She said she spent as much time on the dragons this season as all the previous seasons combined.

Jon Snow, played by Kit Harington, and Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, were two of the many characters on Game of Thrones. (Helen Sloan/Bell Media/HBO/)

“The range of emotion in the dragons this season was much broader because we were riding them, they were flying back and forth, they were dying, they were crying, they were screaming, they were mad,” said Fairfield, who went to NSCAD University.

“It meant extending the palette enormously.”

The dragon sounds are created using combinations of noises from more than 30 animals to “create the illusion of realism,” she said.

Alberta bear sounds used on show

She also noted that she collected sounds for this season from animals at the Cochrane Ecological Institute in Cochrane, Alta., and the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Fl.

In Cochrane, she recorded two orphaned black bear cubs during hibernation.

“We’ve got sniffs and shakes and snorts, and even an epic bear fart,” said Fairfield.

“The sniffs and the bear shakes ended up in the beautiful scene at the end of the last episode when Drogon comes to see [Daenerys] and is nudging her, pushing her and smelling.”

She said when Rhaegal was shot out of the sky, it was an unlikely ode to the animals that served as the source of so many dragon sounds.

‘The metaphor of using sounds’

“As he’s in pain and dying, the metaphor of using sounds of endangered species to express that pain as their voices are dying from our earth is so beautiful, and a message that I’ve been bringing forward,” said Fairfield.

Fairfield’s work has earned her nine Emmy nominations and one win in 2015 for outstanding sound editing for a series for Game of Thrones.

She also worked on the TV show Lost and has worked with filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Robert Rodriguez.

NSCAD to host discussion with Fairfield

Later this year, she’ll debut an immersive audio work called Ocean of Tears.

Fairfield is set to discuss her career and the art of sound design Friday evening at NSCAD’s Bell Auditorium.

She said she’s looking forward to her upcoming projects, but will miss her Game of Thrones family.

“It is a magnificent piece, and a magnificent effort and story on the part of every single person that’s worked on it,” said Fairfield.

“I’m so proud to be part of that.”


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