Game of Thrones-like animation for 70th edition of town tournament

Hello everybody,
it’s been a while since my last thread here, and since my last approach to Blender.

My skills are still basic, and I wanted to start a new project which will allow me to get seriously into modelling and animation: a Game of Thrones-like (how original!:rolleyes:) animation to celebrate the 70th edition of a tournament which takes places every year in my town.
The contests are between 4 neighbourhoods, so the GoT opening is perfect to introduce them.

This thread will follow my work, hoping that the challenges that I will find and the solutions provided by anybody who wants to help will be of good use for other users approaching Blender.

So, let’s dig in!

Yesterday I started off the project with a test of my rusty skills: in 3 hours I did a basic model, a rough animation and some camera test. It was pure fun.


Today I studied the making of of a similar project made with C4D+AE, which covers all the phases of the process.
I think it’s immensely useful to understand what needs to be done and in whcih order.
My first task then is to find out how to do the same things in Blender.


Before diving into Blender I’m going to concentrate on a pre-production stage in order to set the workflow, get some reference material and more tutorials on some aspects that can’t be overlooked.

Progress so far (see last post of the thread):

Hi everybody, here I am, back with an update.
I spent these doing some research and thinking about a method to apply before diving into the project.

The main questions are:

  • How big is the world I want to create and how to keep everything on scale
  • How to achieve consistency while laying out the terrain (what are the rules to follow?)
  • Flat or concave???
  • How to populate the terrain with large amounts of rocky areas and woods and how to keep a low poly count
  • how to organize the assets (build everything in a single .blend file, or create more blend files to be merged in a single scene)
  • Bonus: Versioning
Here's what I came up with:

1- The creators of GoT opening said in an interview that the idea was to set the sequence on a 10x10ft diorama. So I would stick to that and make a 3x3m terrain. Proportions and distances will be set while drawing a pencil and paper version of the map.

2- As you can see from this reference, the terrain is made of thin, stacked layers of wood. The rule then is to build the main parts of the tarrain using several layers on top of each other. The rue is to use only horizontal and vertical faces and keep the same thickness on each layer. Rocks and terrain features will be added later. See reference

3- The original GoT opening map is built into a concave surface, (see same reference) as it would be on the inner side of a globe. I would love to do that because the effect is great when the horizon is visible in the frame.
I think that it will be a very difficult task. Stacking layers of wood on a flat surface is easy, but i have no idea on how to do that on a curved surface. Any idea?

4- The easiest way I’ve found to create the wood layers is by drawing curves from a TOP ORTHO perspective, transform them to mesh, then extrude along the z axis to create thickness.
This leads to a problem when I want to add stones and pines as an hair particle system, as shown below:

Example 1: this was made by drawing the curve to set the shape, then using the curve as a knofe project on a subdivided plane. By doing that I can then weight paint on the subdivided plane and set a vertex group on the particle system which will put the rocks where I want.
The disadvantage is that the plane doesn’t keep the neatness of the curve (as you can see in the red circles) and the face count is high.

Example 2: This shows the problem that occurs when using the curve converted to a mesh: the outline is perfect, buth the subdivision of the surface is horrible, and cannot be painted properly.

Example 3: This example uses the extruded curve as the actual terrain, while the rocks partycle system sits on a hidden subdivided plane.

Which of this 3 approaches do you think is the best? Does anybody have more suggestions?

5- The idea is to set a scene with the complete terrain, particle system, cameras and lamps and then 4 more blend files with the 4 “castles” and their animations, which once finished will be imported in the main scene.
Do you recommend this approach?

6- Bonus: in order to keep everything nice and tidy, I want to use a versionign system that allows me to keep track of the changes I make to every blend file, texture etc…
I think Mercurial is the right tool do do that. Since I’m on Windows and I like GUIs I’m using SourceTree, which is free and available also for Mac and Linux.
A good tutorial on Mercurial (although a long one) can be found here:

What's next? Inthe next days I'm going to sketch on paper a credible map of the world and I hope to come up with a definitive workflow for the terrain, in order to begin modeling it.

Thank you for the suggestions you may wish to provide!

This evening I tried a different approach to model the “terraced” terrain: a “heightmap gone wrong”
I found many complaints about chunky heightmaps on some forums and I tought that was exactly the effect I needed.

So I gave it a try in Photoshop:

and I got this (reference picture on the background).

The effect seems right, but the lines are less sharp than I expected.
I don’t think I can use this approach, as there are many drawbacks:

  • It’s impossible to treat each layer as a separate one
  • I would be difficult to give each layer a different texture (with sharp edges between layers).
  • lines are too much sawtoothed

Instead, I would draw a detailed contour lines map in photoshop and then retrace everything by hand with curves in blender, as I said in the previous post.

I also found out that the particle system for the rocks won’t be a problem anymore. I can just stick to curves for the terrain and then draw mountain ranges using Voronoi textures and some modeling workarounds, as explained here.

This said, what do you think is the best approach to draw a large map using curves and keeping a low poly count? Please give me some feedback as you can really help me getting things right! :eyebrowlift:

The sketch of the map is finally ready, entirely made in Photoshop. It’s a very simple sketch, made by hand with a Wacom tablet, but is enough to fulfill its purpose.

The next step is to use it as a blueprint to draw all the curves in Blender, which then will be extruded to make the elevations of the map.

The trickiest part was to scale the map: after defining the zones and setting up the main elevation layers I ha to add more layers using a smaller brush, in order to get more details and keep consistency between landscape and the areas where the “castles” will be.

I think it’s a quite credible map.
It is the first map I draw but i tried to keep the flow of rivers coherent with the ladscape, mountain ranges and valleys.
There’s a ton of material about map drawing on the internet, with some nice tutorial on how to make a map credible. I had to say I enjoyed drawing this map since I knew how to do that without wasting my time!

A good starting point for me was this:


Here I am, back again.
I need some help with modeling… I’ve modeled most parts of the map, and I want to add some details.
What I want to do is to make a kind of "steps on the land and islands, as if they were layers of plywood glued on top of each other, like this reference.

I subdivided the side of my piece of land, but I have to find away to pull all the faces of each layer out (of bot convex and concave parts).

This is what I have:

And this is what happens when I try using Alt+s. The faces shrinks or expand, while what I need is just to "pull them at once, like a drawer, with each face moving out following its normal:

Can you help please?

Try it with extruding, just select the whole with row with “alt” and the extrude it with “E”.

Thanks. Regular extruding didn’t work, but the technique described in this article did.

Basically, once you’ve selected the faces along the edge loop you extrude them with E, then esc to confirm extrusion but canceling transform, and then Alt+S to move all the faces along their normals.


This has been a good wekkend: +1 hour of leeping time and the result is that I managed to do something satisfying.
After days of making curves and extruding them to model the main part of the map I did some experiments with proportions, particles textures and lighting.
I like the result!

Much more similar to the original:

Next step: figure out how to fix trees overlapping (it’s a hair particle system) and move on to finishing the map modeling, adding trees zones and rocky mountains zones. I also need to add rivers.

couldn’t you use vertex paint to paint where the trees go?

I’m almost finished with the map, but I have a problem with a massive ngon flat surface. When I render strange diagonal streaks appear on the surface, as if there were hidden faces at weird angulation from one side to the other.

It is a very complex ngon, but i thought that being flat this would’n turn out as a problem.
Is there a neat way to fix that massive ngon with a decent topology, without messing with the outside vertex that must stay in place?

This is how the surface appear in edit mode:

I’m attaching a blend file where i copypasted the mesh with that problem.
Does anybody have any idea?

map_simple.blend (5.17 MB)

After a few months and little time to work on the project, I’m finally ready to post an update which, for me, is quite big.

I’ve put aside the map I was working on - I will come back to it later on the project - because I felt stuck on trying to fix little problems which were demotivating me.

So I started modeling the first 2 of the 4 animated buildings that will populate the map.
The first one (modeled mostly in December) is the town church. The inspiration is clearly the Red Keep, with less details of course, and with the main building modeled after the actual church of my hometown. It’s very simple, but it served as a training ground for modeling and animating.
There are a lot of things that I would like to improve, but first I want to finish all the models.

Here’s a picture of some clay renders of the church.

And a OPENGL animation:

The second building - started modeling in late January, stopped in February for various reasons and started again in March - is a station built on a mountain and surrounded by a railway that runs on a extremely high bridge.

I enjoyed making this second building more than the first. I felt more confident with the modeling tools and once I got to full speed I modeled it in a weekend.
It might sound a lot of time for this simple building, but I still have a lot to figure out and my approach is trial and error: I prefer fiddling with Blender and find solutions rather than looking for tutorials for each thing that I have to do.

This building needs more details a well, and I still have to add all the gears.
The animation here will be focused n the railway: a steam train will be running on it and the sections of the bridge will rise up in front of it as it passes.

Feel free to write down suggestions and ideas on how to improve these models and animations, bearing in mind that I want to keep it simple because the animation will be very long and I feel that the gears already have an high polycount.

This is looking great. Can’t wait to see more. Good work!

This is such a great idea. Recreating a title sequence as a way to figure out how they did it.

One thing that might be helpful that I learned listening to a podcast is that they modeled the land in a “Bowl” shape, so that you can get the camera down into it and never see the horizon line.

If you re-watch the title sequence knowing this secret it becomes visibly clear.

Hope this helps! Can’t wait to see where this goes!

This looks really cool! I’m looking forward to the result.
What kind of tournament is it? Does it involve jousting and melees?

Indeed! That’s one of the trick that I appreciated most. It works very well with the flyover camera, because the environment wraps aroudn the viewer instead of fading away in the horizon. I think it a good representation of the story style of the series, as each charachter is always flanked by enemies.

Anyway, I gave it a go while I was modeling the main map, which is flat. The wide, flat surfaces of the map are filled with ngons and I fear that won’t work well if I bend them. And I’m talking about ngons with 20s of vertices. I haven’t found a way to make it work, maybe I will try later, when I’m finished with modeling.

Thanks for the appreciation!

Not really, it’s nothing medieval, neither my town is medieval, it’s just a week of trivia games based on music, entertainment, cinema and more general topics, sport tournaments and a tresure hunt that lasts for an entire afternoon in the town and the surrounding countryside. The fact that is a tradition passed down from one generation to another makes it very competitive! That’s why I wanted to make a opening sequence for the games!

Some suggestions to help you with your map / nGON issue. Modifiers are your friends!

Here’s a different approach to making the map that will give you more flexibility, and is also hopefully faster.

  1. Create a bowl by cutting a UV Sphere in half and then scaling the height to something you like - a shallow bowl:

  1. Add some UVs to the bowl. To do this flattenthe Z-scale to 0 but leave X and Y alone making it a disc. Change your view to the top, tab into edit mode then unwrap “Project from view”:

  1. Reset the z-scale to whatever your bowl shape needs, turning it back into a bowl.

  2. Add a sub-surf modifier. I used 5 subdivisions, but you can make it more or less depending on how much detail you want. This’ll smooth out the bowl:

  1. Now here’s the fun part. Let’s make a 3D topological map by using an image as a displacement texture.

Here’s an example I made using a grayscale height map of Iceland. (More on how I got it later)

Here’s my texture. Black represents the lowest points (the sea) white represents the highest points (mountains.) This version is 1K but I actually used a 4K map to get as much detail as possible:

I sized it to make sure the land mass fits within the UVs I made:

  1. Use the texture to displace your bowl shape to make a map:

Add a displace modifier. And select “New Texture”

In the texture tab load in your map texture (My Iceland texture is 4K to make sure I have plenty of detail):

Your bowl will look something like this:

That displacement is TOO much and in the WRONG DIRECTION, so change the displacement strength to a negative amount and less strength. I chose - 0.1 and it gave me this:

Booyah! Once topographical map of Iceland in a bowl:

Adjust the amount of subdivision surface levels in your modifer to give you more or less detail. Less detail will give more of a low-poly look. More detail will give you a more realistic map. Here’s an example with 4 subdiv levels plus I added a triangulate modifier to the bottom of the stack to give it a more low-poly look:

Here’s the same thing with 6 subdivisions:

If this is too much detail for you you can simply use a silhouette. This will give you less detail on the land itself but give you the general shape:

Or you can blur the detail map in Photoshop or an image editor to smooth out to less detail, or smooth the vertexes / faces under UV shading to give you a smoother look.


Looking back on your thread it looks like you tried something similar but got some “sawtoothing.” Ways to avoid this include:

  1. Making your displacement image as high-res as possible.
  2. Adding as many subdivisions as you can. Remember you can always set more at render, less at preview so your viewport doesn’t slow to a crawl.
  3. Smooth faces, edges, vertexs in edit mode.
  4. Try the triangulate modifer to add even more detail.

Here’s how I got the Iceland topological map by the way:

There are things called DEMs (Digital Elevation Models) you can find online. You can download them here.

Now you need a way to be able to actually read these. I found a free viewer here.

And the cool thing about this free program is that it has a function that allows you to export maps as grayscale images!

Hope some of my explanation wasn’t too simplified for your obvious skill. I figure it might also help others.

Looking forward to seeing how your project continues!