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'Game of Thrones' sound designer uses unusual sources for the dragons

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Paula Fairfield uses animal noises, including turtles having sex, for Drogon's sound design. She also uses her dog's nose whistling.

The visual effects designers in "Game of Thrones" get all the praise for making the dragons, the white walkers and other mythical creatures come to life. But there’s a factor without which any of those elements would be very believable, and when it’s done right, it goes largely unnoticed: sound design.

Game of Thrones trailer

Paula Fairfield has been a sound designer on "Game of Thrones" since season three. The Frame's James Kim spoke with Fairfield about the real animals she uses to bring the dragons to life, including her dog and the sound of turtles having sex.​


A brief background on the dragons in "Game of Thrones":

The dragons were given to Khaleesi, who is this awesome queen of the desert. They are her super power. And Drogon, he's the main dragon and the most powerful of the three, but he also has the same name as her husband. She had a very beautiful husband in season one who essentially mythologically morphed into this dragon. So they have a very special relationship that I'm very tuned into because at times, it's not quite sexual in nature, but has the overtones of that. 

Why Fairfield uses the sound of turtles having sex to add an intimacy to Drogon:

The first time they had to have an intimate emoting, it was the very first episode of season three where he's flying around and he comes down on the ship and lands, and [Khaleesi] pets him and he purrs. With the purr sounds, I hunted and hunted for just the right sound, and while I was trolling around, I found a sound of two giant tortoises having sex. I'm not kidding, and the moan from the male is what I took as the basis for the purring of young Drogon.

What's funny about it is that I remember watching people watch it and every time that sound would come up, people would giggle. It was just funny, it was just automatic because it has such a primal element still in there. Knowing that, as I proceeded through the seasons, I have actively looked for sounds of larger and larger animals having sex. 

Fairfield uses sounds such as nose whistles from her dog.

I have a dog that I train in police dog work, and one of the most beautiful sounds from her is when she comes up and is very tender in my ear and there's a very tiny, barely audible nose whistle. It's one of the most beautiful sounds coming from a very powerful animal. So it's a sound that I started using ... last year. When Drogon shows up, you'll hear these beautiful nose whistles, they're from my dog. That's another sign of tenderness. 

Dog sound

The personal connection Fairfield has to "Game of Thrones."

When I create, I have the trajectory of each scene. I find a story that I tell myself and often it is personal. I got called in on this show in the fall of 2012. My father had passed away from cancer at the end of July. At the end of January, my sister had passed away from cancer. They had been sick at the same time, one on the east coast and one on the west coast. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. 

When I came back from my sister's memorial, I spent three weeks doing nothing but playing with dragons. I remember [thinking] this was one of the most beautiful jobs that I could have, and the best gift I could have ever been given to heal from such a horrendous thing. Every scene I have something that I inject that gives me something to follow, and that is the gift of "Game of Thrones." I always say that the dragons saved me. 

"Game of Thrones" is currently in its sixth season on HBO.

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