Unseen Westeros: A Game of Thrones Exhibition

Fans of the best-selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire and the award-winning TV adaptation Games of Thrones (GoT) are in for a treat this January 2019, with the upcoming exhibition Unseen Westeros in Berlin. Produced by senior matte painter and concept artist, Sven Sauer, along with a team of 40 artists who’ve worked on the TV series, discover never before seen artworks inspired by George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy saga.

 Tickets to the exhibit will be completely free. To support the artists, fans can take part in the Kickstarter campaign, where rewards include goodies such as art prints, a beautifully illustrated book, or even an original signed artwork. Read below for our exclusive interview with Sven Sauer and co-author of the book, A World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, Elio M. García Jr., as they share with us insights on the artworks and the upcoming exhibit!

How did you come up with the idea to produce Unseen Westeros?

Sven: It was in 2015 when I was working on the 5th season of Game of Thrones. When I paint, I’m always listening to the suitable audiobook to the production that I’m working on, to dive deeper into the history and to discover all the little details that are important for the painting. By coincidence, I discovered The World of Ice and Fire, which is the accompanying book to the original series.  That same night, the idea of transforming that book into an exhibition was born. It only took two days to find 5 GoT artists for the project, and soon, we were 40 artists from all over the world: Vancouver, Wellington, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Singapore. I never experienced a  project where so many concept artists worked together at the same time.  We worked for 3 years on the paintings. The most difficult aspect was not to make anything about the project public for such a long time.

“Valyria“ created by Sven Sauer and Max Riess

Where do the artworks take place in The World of Ice and Fire?

Elio: The artwork in Unseen Westeros covers a wide span of the history of The World of Ice and Fire. Some of them are contemporary with the time of the novels or the TV show, but other pieces feature places much older. For example, the oldest city or place depicted is Stygai, a mysterious ruin within the Vale of Shadow. It’s a place that terrifies shadowbinders, rumored to be haunted by ghosts and demons. Who built it? Where did they go? No one knows. It was a place that was old when even the Valyrians were young. Similarly, the Free City of Lorath is another place that has a long history lost to time. Today, in the time of the novels, it’s inhabited by the descendants of Valyrian colonists… but before them, the Andals (who eventually settled Westeros) were there, and before them the “hairy men” … and before them, the “mazemakers”, whose race or identity is unknown. They left labyrinthine structures across all the isles of Lorath, but simply vanished, and to this day those who inhabit Lorath have made their towns and homes within the mazes they left behind.

“Lorath” by Sven Sauer & Kirill Barybin

How much description does George R.R. Martin offer in the books when describing the different cities and people?

Elio: Some places have more information than others. Lorath, for example, is very well described because in The World of Ice and Fire, George took the time to lay out the history in detail. The castles of the Great Houses were all described in great detail at one point. Sometimes George has surprising levels of detail about what seem to be minor characters, and other times he is very open to interpretation on more significant characters. That said, as a rule, he feels that he should not constrain artists too much. He wants them to use his descriptions as guidance, but he also wants their best work, and that often means giving them creative license to explore or expand on his ideas in ways that he never imagined.

“The Great Tourney at Harrenhal” by Sven Sauer

How important was it for the artists to stay true to the source material?

Sven: It is important for us to stay as close as possible on the original material. Before we begin, we always try to collect as much information as possible. Many artists search in blogs and forums of discussion to enlarge the scale of information one might not think of at first.

What were some of the creative challenges the artists faced when creating their pieces?

Sven: The visuality of Game of Thrones has strict rules. The most prominent is the balancing act between the ‘reliable reality’ and the ‘unreliable fantasy environment.’ All location, castles, and environments in the series work together as a homogeneous appearance. This is no coincidence. For every season, a group of artists thinks about how far they can go with the design so that the world doesn’t seem hard to believe. Despite dragons and magic, the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire succeeded in creating a world accepted as ‘real’ by the audience.  We ask ourselves these questions as artists all the time: is what I create reliable? Or, does my mind tell me that it doesn’t make any sense at all?
Detail of “Shivering Sea” by Jimmy Przemek Duda

Are there key visual elements that are repeated throughout the world of Westeros?

Sven:  Before we started with the paintings,  we had one of the artists, Tobias Mannewitz, set up a style guide with different color-codes of the yet known places: Dorne always appears in yellow light, winter fell in rainy green-blue.

We set up a similar list for the vegetation. With the help of that list we were able to construct a map. How, for example, the cliffs of Lorath could look like, which are neighbors of Braavos. Or, for example, which places lie on the same latitude as Kings Landing? Which climate zones result from that? Like a puzzle, we developed the locations.
“Valyria“ created by Sven Sauer and Max Riess
Elio: Everything in Westeros tends to be bigger than it would be in real life. The world is epic, and the things in it are on an epic scale.  To some degree that sheer size is simply due to George wanting to make things big. Sometimes, he made things bigger than he actually realized — like the Wall. When I visited the set of Game of Thrones during the filming of the 1st season, we went to Magheramorne Quarry where the Castle Black set was. He pointed to the giant cliff and asked me how high it was from its base to its top. I guessed several hundred feet — and he exclaimed that it was in fact 400 feet tall, and that was so much taller than he thought that it made him think that the Wall itself was too tall at 700 feet! He even mused about trying to change it in the books, but his wife Parris and I dissuaded him.

What can visitors to the exhibition expect to see when they come to Berlin in January?

Sven: The idea behind the exhibition is that the visitor experiences it as if he is traveling through the 4 continents from The World of Ice and Fire with every room being a new region. For the exhibit, we felt that the location has a remarkable role. We looked for almost 2 years until we found the old Umspannwerk in Berlin, which was shut down for 60 years. It will be re-opened for the first time for our exhibit. The visitor starts in the dark cellar catacombs and walks through 5 levels up to the bright hall. Every room is set in the scene. The composers, Julian Lapping and Andre Samolyanov created soundtracks that become sharpened for every new region. The paintings have a size of 180×100 cm – that’s huge. If the visitor stands in front of them he can perceive the work on a large scale, the same impression as if he was in a cinema!

The Unseen Westeros Exhibition takes place this January 2019 in Berlin. Visit the website for information.


About the author