As It Happens

Meet the Emmy-winning Canadian who gave the Game of Thrones dragons their voices

Canadian sound designer Paula Fairfield won a sound-editing Emmy for her work on the last season of the popular television series Game of Thrones.

N.S. sound designer Paula Fairfield used recordings of rhinoceros and bears on the HBO fantastical drama

Sound designer Paula Fairfield created sounds for the mythical creatures in Game of Thrones, including Drogon the dragon. (@describethefauna/Instagram/Emma Knight-Hill/HBO)

What do you get when you cross the sound of a bear with a rhinoceros? According to Paula Fairfeld, a pretty convincing dragon.

Those were just some of the key of ingredients the Nova Scotia-born sound designer used to create the layered and rich sounds of dragons and other mythical creatures in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Over the years, Game of Thrones has won millions of fans and several Emmys, including Sunday's win for best drama.  And this year, Fairfield and her colleagues took home the prize for outstanding sound editing.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Fairfield about her award-winning sounds. Here is part of their conversation.

Paula, big congratulations. How does it feel to be a two-time Emmy award winner?

Pretty surreal. It feels pretty awesome. It's been a long, winding road and a lot of hard work. But it's really nice to get acknowledged like that.

Fairfield says she used the sounds of a variety of other animals to craft the unique sounds of the dragons in HBO's Game of Thrones. (HBO)

What are the sounds that you designed for Game of Thrones?

I had the fabulous honour of doing all the fun stuff. My job was to do all the fantastical elements — so the dragons, the White Walkers, the wolves — kind of all the crazy stuff.

All the scary stuff, come on. Everything you just mentioned, I still have nightmares about.

Well, the dragons aren't so scary always.

Paula Fairfield, third from the left, with her Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

At the beginning, the dragons weren't so scary. You had to create sounds for them from the time that they're born to the time of their most scary iteration. So how did the sound of the dragons evolve in your creation?

I actually came on in season three. So I took the dragons over when they were toddlers and it was fascinating because this was really the first time we've ever seen creatures that are kind of characters. They have to grow up over time.

So I had to kind of like literally grow the sound design for the dragons, which I didn't realize until like season five.

I knew that I had to maintain the essence of their voices as they were young. Drogon, in particular, who was the lead and was the main dragon that we heard the most of.

I'm quite proud of the fact that when you compare the later seasons with the earlier seasons, you can still hear an essence of the younger dragon in the older dragon.

At the same time, I had to keep adding things to kind of properly articulate the physicality of the dragons as it was changing — as they got bigger and bigger and bigger and as their emotional palette started to widen.

We were riding around on the dragons. The dragons were flying around, burning things down, doing all this stuff. There was a very emotional scene with Drogon and Dany at the end.

I had to add more elements to be able to kind of articulate those emotions.

You could just have, I guess, created mechanical sounds, but they're not. To get that realism, you turned to nature. Where did you go to get the sounds that you incorporated into the dragons?

Over the years, I've used a lot of different elements. By this season, there are approximately 30 animals or so that are part of the vocal palette.

I used my dog Angel, who was this beautiful soul, very powerful creature, to actually add some elements to the dragons.

I also went and recorded at White Oak conservatory in Florida. They have one of the largest rhino populations in North America. I recorded Mississippi sandhill cranes and a lot of other animals as well.

And then, I had the fabulous opportunity to record these two orphaned bear cubs that were in rehab at the Cochrane Ecological Institute in Cochrane, Alberta. 

We got a lot of breathing and snoring, and even some farting, and kind of play and tumbling, and all kinds of stuff — lots of shakes too, big old bear shakes.  

And that stuff made it in, in particular to that last scene with Dany and Drogon. These sniffs, these beautiful sniffs, and groans and pushes are from those bear cub cubs. As are the big, big shakes that Drogon does.

Written John McGill. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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