INTERVIEW – Deb Riley – Production Designer – Game of Thrones

Australian production designer Deborah Riley takes over the design of the most watched TV show in history The Game of Thrones. Congratulations Deb, amazing work!


What feelings did you have approaching the design of the most watched television show in history?

As you can imagine, I was extremely anxious when I joined the team.  I had awfully big shoes to fill and as an unknown quantity, there was a lot to prove.  That said, I also have never been so sure of anything in my life.  It is a strange thing to explain.  After being given such a huge opportunity, I was not about to let anyone down.

What methods do you use in the conceptual period of the design process?

I think you are only as good as your research.  It can be quite difficult to find the visual key that will enhance the story.  Mostly, I look to architects and architecture.  I also think about the places I have travelled, the buildings I have seen, and more importantly, how I felt when in those spaces.  The psychology of space is very important to me.
Dany's Audience Hall

 What was the most difficult aspect of the design you have encountered so far?

 The lack of time is the most difficult thing that the art department faces.  We shoot for 200 days, (two full units work in parallel for 100 days each over two or three countries), and the schedule is so demanding that I clearly can’t be everywhere at once.  I had sixty-five boarding passes on the show last year and yet it was still not enough.  Learning to let go does not come naturally to me.
HOBAW_exterior_zagrib_loc2 (1)

Does designing a period/fantasy film require different skills from the designer?

 Game of Thrones is set in so many different worlds in a completely made-up universe, yet the period / fantasy side of it very rarely enters the conversation.  We keep bibles of the different worlds and make sure that we stick to the rules of the architecture, colour and texture.  We have to be very disciplined.  I try to keep the art department focused on the reality of a set and hope that this reality is what allows the audience to believe in dragons.
mammoth harness adjusted

Does maintaining the look of the previous series restrict your design contribution?

 As Game of Thrones exists in an ever-expanding universe, this has never been a problem.  I still walk into the Castle Black set in particular, and feel extremely lucky to see it in person.  To be the caretaker of it and also be able to build from scratch in other worlds is a huge privilege.

How closely do you work with the visual effects designers and do you have much contact with the digital designers in the post production period?

The designs of the art department are realised in 3D programs that are then passed onto to the visual effects team.  Unfortunately my involvement in the series finishes on the last day of shoot and I have to leave them to it through post production.  I am not the first to say it is not an ideal system.  I appreciate very much what Rick Carter has said on the subject and hope that the two departments become one in the future.

Do you have a favourite set and favourite character?

For me, I enjoy Arya’s story arc the most.  In Season 5, the world of Braavos was the most satisfying to design.  Conceptually and architecturally there are some quite bold ideas that we were able to explore.  I am extremely proud of the House of Black and White and specifically the Hall of Faces.

How did your training and experiences in the Australian industry help you with designing this Golden Globe awarded series?

My training in the Australian industry began at NIDA.  It taught me the discipline, work ethic, honesty and resourcefulness that Australians abroad are famous for.  I also believe that being Australian, I have a fearlessness and optimism that is not easily quashed.  I was also lucky enough to be in the art department of some world-class productions while working at home.  I was very fortunate to grow up in a relatively small industry and be exposed to such amazing opportunities and incredible personalities so early in my career.  That would not have happened anywhere else.


Deb Riley on the set of Game of Thrones