Replica prop company Valyrian Steel has been around for a few years now, forging amazing Game of Thrones works of art. Their collection of weapons and armor is astounding, spanning all of the great Houses of the books and TV show and bringing to life what we see on TV or read in books. They’ve been fans of the Song of Ice and Fire series, working with George RR Martin’s books since 2006 and with HBO once the show started.
To put it simply, they get to make real weapons based on imaginary weapons, and they do it because they love the world that the series is set in.
But it’s certainly not easy.
At this past weekend’s Motor City Comic Con, I had a chance to chat with the team and get an explanation for their creative process. There’s a considerable path involved in creating their newest pieces. In fact, the entire process takes about a year from beginning to end. And, it begins before the team at Valyrian Steel even get notified that they’ll be making a replica.
HBO’s team of prop masters create the first sets of swords and armory, often specific to the certain episodes that they’ll be appearing in. This can include materials, damage, and even blood, and the majority of the time the pieces are made from foam or latex. Swords and shields made of actual metal are heavy, and can slow down the action of a scene if the actor has to spend too much time focusing on just holding it up, so the lighter (albeit flimsier) materials are necessary for shooting. Sometimes the scale of the props can change mid scene, too, depending on the angle of the camera or the person holding it. There is a lot of work that goes into determining what props are used where, and that can often be a big issue to replica makers.
For the team at V Steel, the process begins once they receive a prop from HBO’s production team. The prop-makers created their pieces in a specific way, to do specific things and be viewed in specific light and angles on television screens, so Steel need to reverse engineer them to determine what look closest to intent. They use any means necessary: creating sculpts by hand, using CAD to get more accurate, and even dabbling in 3D printing for quicker turnaround on early prototypes.
Once a prototype is done, the team sends the replica to HBO for approval. Hint: they never get a design approved on the first try. Certain factors play a huge part in the design of the arms, some that may feel like afterthoughts to us but are quite crucial to all involved. In one example, Jon Snow’s sword Longclaw required several versions before it was given the green light. The sword is almost exclusively depicted in scenes in the North of Westeros. Casual inspection will note that these are given blue, dull color tones to create a sense of cold and despair. Because of this the sword’s guard looks like it’s made of silver.
In reality, the guard is brass and the grip is a textured dark brown leather. HBO required a more realistic design, while the prop makers catered to the show’s visuals. The same can be said for other aspects of the designs, like the length of strokes in the brushed metal finishes, or the amount of gloss on the blade itself. There’s a fine balance between the two sides that needs to take place, all while allowing the Valyrian Steel team to have their own influence and craftsmanship shine through.
Several prototypes later, the design is complete and approved, and the final product goes into production.
The team behind Valyrian Steel is more than just fans, they’re also becoming increasingly skilled in not only crafting the products and using technology, but also in balancing licensing and legalese with creativity and passion.
The results continue to be spectacular, and the products show it. Perhaps that’s why the majority of their items sell out almost immediately to the rabid fans of the show and books. Real craftsmanship can sometimes be buried behind processes and red tape, but it’s ultimately what will make a product more than just a replica — it makes it into a piece of TV history.
Special thanks to the team at Valyrian Steel for letting me have my way with their designs at Motor City Comic Con this past weekend. I think my wallet hurt more than any impaled Lannister.