Asbjoern Andersen

HBO’s Game Of Thrones needs little introduction; With more than 18 million viewers per episode in the fourth season, it’s a massive global television and streaming phenomenon.

You may not have heard of Paula Fairfield, however – but she is the sound designer on Game Of Thrones, and the sound on the show has just earned her and the sound team a Primetime Emmy nomination.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk with her, and in this his exclusive A Sound Effect interview, she takes you behind the scenes on what it’s like to do sound for the show, what inspires her – and what she sees as the key to great sound design.


Hi Paula, congrats on the Primetime Emmy nomination! How did you get involved with Game Of Thrones, and what’s it like working on a production with such a global reach?

In November 2012 – as I was in the grocery store looking for peanut butter (!) – my cell phone rang. It turned out that Todd AO was assembling a new team for season three of Game Of Thrones and I was asked if I would be interested in sound designing for the show. It was a strange moment… my dream job called me in the grocery store!

I had done work on Snow White and The Huntsman a few months earlier and fell in love with that genre/period. Armor and horses and torches and catapults and crossbows and dirt and swords and castles – a “viscerality” full of sonic textures. And then there are the mythical creatures in mythical worlds! What’s not to love about dragons and dire wolves and whitewalkers and mammoths and giants and warging and gigantic ice walls?

I think everyone who has the privilege of working on GOT is excited that so many people share our passion for what we are creating. There is some criticism of the show for its violence, but I really feel that the things that happen in the world of Thrones is not that far off from the horrors of our own world. And sometimes we need the detachment that fantasy and art provides us so that we can look at the world around us and how we treat each other a little differently.

What’s your role on the sound team, and what’s the workflow like on an episode?

I am the sound designer on the show. My work is focused of the more fantastical elements of the show; the dragons, the wolves, the whitewalkers, giants, mammoths, whytes, ravens. I also do the dream sequences, warging, the gigantic ice wall and help out with other large sequences when necessary.

As for workflow, GOT is unique in that we get to see the entire season in rough cut before we start working. Of course there are little (and very rough) or no VFX, but we get to see all the arcs of the show for the entire season. So we essentially approach it like a 10-hour feature film, and then start chipping away at it, chunk by chunk.

We essentially approach it like a 10-hour feature film

From here I start focusing on various scenes that are mine, and work in conjunction with sound supervisor Tim Kimmel and producer Greg Spence to shape these sequences as visual effects progress in tandem. It’s very collaborative and a lot of fun. During the mix, the executive producers work with us all to finish the sequences in all their detail and polish. For all of its complexity, this process runs very smoothly, thanks to the dedication and talent of everyone involved.

More than 70 people have been working on some aspect of the sound for GOT over the years – with this many people involved, how do you ensure a consistent sound for the show? And how has it evolved from the first season to the current one?

Well, it’s interesting. The first two seasons each had a different sound crew – the first year in Dublin, the second in Los Angeles. The third year a number of people moved on to other projects and they configured the crew that still exists as we go into season 5. There are also a number of post sound people, particularly ADR, who are working out of London and some of them have been a constant.

For my part, I looked very carefully at the seasons prior and all the design work that had been done, and then worked hard to make sure that the work I did – particularly during season three – flowed naturally and organically out of season two. I think everyone approached their part on the show similarly so that the crew changes were seamless.

A lot of what I design is evolving naturally because of the story

The other interesting thing is that a lot of what I design is evolving naturally because of the story. The dragons grew substantially between seasons 2 and 3, and again between seasons 3 and 4.
[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead] Each season must build naturally on what’s been established before and yet the dragons are growing by leaps and bounds and are capable of things (eating goats and babies) they were incapable of when they were babies in season 2. Same for the wolves. The giants and whitewalkers are revealed in glimpses in season 2 and 3 – an appearance here or there – and then in season 4 we see the giants and their mammoths in the attack on the wall, and the home of the whitewalkers with its king and baby sacrifices. [/Spoiler alert off] It’s a unique challenge but I have a blast doing it.

How do you typically source sounds for the show?

It depends on what I am designing. I look for little moments that I can make unique. I establish a framework or sonic shape for the scene and then start to decorate it with all the things that will fill the scene (or element) with character. Each sound that’s chosen will add its own flavor or color, and for every sound I pick I might preview 1000.

I trawl my library and make recordings and often also purchase new sound recordings, especially when I don’t have immediate time or access to record myself. I find bits and pieces from all kinds of places and sources and then I work at integrating them together into the new sonic entity that I am building. I am always fascinated by new available tools and choosing to explore one might change what I choose to use in the design.

What are some of your favorite sounds you’ve made for the show – and how did you go about creating them?

It’s really hard to pick. One of the best things about the show is the extraordinary range and variety in its story-telling. The dragons are always fun and challenging and have had the most opportunity for dramatic expression.

I was asked to essentially “make people cry” – to help convey the emotion in the scene through the dragons, to convey the soulful connection between the dragons and Dany

[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead] In both the Plaza scene in Season 3 and the Dungeon scene in the finale of season 4, I was asked to essentially “make people cry” – to help convey the emotion in the scene through the dragons, to convey the soulful connection between the dragons and Dany. [/Spoiler alert off] Again, a crazy challenge but one we all step up to on the show. I bury fun little sounds in to the design that hint at the character and personality of each dragon.


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:


Latest releases:  
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Card Game Play Track 503 sounds included, 20 mins total $70.80 incl. vat

    Create an outstanding fantasy card gaming experience with Epic Stock Media’s hottest new game sound effects library 'Card Game'. Inspired by hit fantasy card games like HearthStone – Card Game brings you the energy of online card gaming mixed with the epicness and adventure of World of Warcraft.

    Features sounds such as:

    • 33 Abilities, Poofs, Pops, Water Missles, Wind Blasts and Movement, Shimmers, Shields
    • 26 Achievements, Chimes, Glimmer, Grand, Poofs, Shimmers, Twinkles, Wisps
    • 61 Game Actions, Bashes, Blocks, Breaks, Deflects, Cracks, Health Packs, Releases, Fire Wall
    • 22 Alerts, Advances, Turn Passed, Time Freeze, Next Round, End Turn, End Round, Cursed Winds, Your Turn
    • 8 Game Ambience Loops, Beach, Cave, Dungeon, Forest, Pasture, Snowy Mountain, Swamp, Underwater
    • 33 Card Movements, Deal, Shuffle, Tap, Cycle, Deck, Bets, Light, Singles, and Multiple Card Movements
    • 52 Special Effects, Bless, Shrine Buff, Expose, Fracture, Liquify, Lock, Miniaturize, Poof, Puncture, Slow Down, Tear, Fire, Rush, Shimmer
    • 33 Items, Boulder Slam, Cork Pop, Glass Break, Potion, Pour, Stone Breaks and Smacks
    • 34 Magic, Crackle, Punches, Smash, Shield, Glitter Missile, Launch, Pierce, Shot, Shimmer, Seal, Ice, Earth, Reinforce
    • 38 Plays, Bop, Hush, Mech Arms, Punch Metal, Shield, Skip Turn, Slam, Water, Swirl, Switch
    • 49 Upgrades, Buffs, Crystals, Earth Strength, Flutter, Long, Medium, Shimmer, Enhance, Power Up
    • 114 UI, General, Silly, Light, Heavy, Bubbles, Pops, Clicks, Thunks, Shimmers, Mechanical, Dings, Percussion, Menu Collapses, Gentle, Bells
    • + so much more!

    Also, check out War UI, or Modulated Movement for complementing sounds and designed sounds.

  • Sci-Fi Electromagnetic Fields Collection Play Track 600 sounds included, 113 mins total $46.80 $39.60 incl. vat

    This library has a unique selection of electromagnetic sounds, recorded and edited with the utmost care.

    Includes over 600 Electromagnetic Field sounds, 200 raw stereo 24Bit/192kHz recordings of more than 40 different electronic devices. Only the most interesting have been selected for this collection

    Inside you’ll find different kinds of Noises, Glitches, Whooshes, Passbys, Beeps, Mechanical Movements, Hum, Buzz, Clicks, Crackles, from simple smartphone to carving machine or laser engraving machine, eco-solvent printer, cutting plotter, touch screen terminal and much more.

    Includes embedded Soundminer metadata.

    15 %
    Ends 1528063200
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Gliss Bliss Play Track 100 sounds included, 4 mins total $12 $6 incl. vat

    Perfect for blissful moments in game audio or in tv/film! 100 glissandi with a wide variety of different instruments performing a wide variety of different gliss, slides, swoops and flourishes. Great for magical moments, chest opens, surprise elements, transitions, and much more.

    Music is only heard in the demo. Downloads are high resolution and without background music.

    50 %
    Ends 1559426400
  • Foley Lids Caps & Corks Foley FX Play Track 40+ sounds included $14.40 incl. vat

    From the mundane to the oddly fascinating, this collection of caps spinning, lids cracking and corks popping, screeching, scraping and twirling will elevate your next dinner, kitchen or pub scene with something exciting and different.

    Recorded with a variety of household objects as well as creatively found items, this selection of sounds were recorded in studio and in house. The emphasis was to capture only the tops being removed from the products, with effort made to pickup as little handling noise or finger touches as possible.

    Objects recorded include:

    • beer bottles
    • soda cans
    • jelly jars
    • cookie jars
    • jewelry containers
    • champagne bottles
    • milk cartons
    • liquor bottles
    • shampoo bottles
    • soap bottles
    • teapots
    • and much more!
  • Mechanical Personal Cassette Player_Pack 01 Play Track 700+ sounds included, 29 mins total $8.40 incl. vat

    Before streaming, before the mp3 Player, before the portable CD Player, the Portable Cassette Player reigned supreme. Now you could walk and listen to your favorite tunes!

    Personal Cassette Player_Pack 01 is the first in the Personal Cassette Player collection. Pop in that cassette and listen to the GPX Cassette Personal Stereo Player. Included are various buttons with and without batteries in, with and with out the tape in, open and close of both the tape compartment and also the battery compartment. Flip that cassette to the b side and pop it in. Maybe shake it a bit and squeeze first.

    Over 700 sounds fills out the 30 files. They were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and MKH30 microphones and exported in stereo. Recored at 24 bit, 192kHz and metadata tagged using Soundly and Bashead.

    Play and run the tape, or fast forward to the good part, plug in those headphones and enjoy!

Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:

What’s the key to great creature sound design, in your view?

I think the key to any good sound design is to bring the viewer to the threshold of believability. Post sound in general is essentially that and the irony is that the better we do our jobs, the more invisible our work is.
It’s why our jobs and contribution to every film project is so sadly underestimated … so few people really understand what it is that we do. Add to that the fact that post sound is pretty much the last stop on the production train before deliverables, and by the time the train gets to our station, it is often low on both money and time.

The key to any good sound design is to bring the viewer to the threshold of believability. And the irony is that the better we do our jobs, the more invisible our work is.

In terms of creature sound design, as visual effects technology is evolving at lightning speed, the bar is being raised in what sound designers are being asked to do and much of it comes down to detail and nuance. The combination of great visual effects and great sound design is incredibly important to the storytelling process in order that the viewer remain immersed in the story rather than being distracted by how it is being told. “I can’t believe the dragons are not real” is just about the best line any of us working on this show can hear.

What inspires you when it comes to sound design?

I love deep emotive and playful sound design, things that are unexpected. Those moments when you watch a film, or hear a piece of music, or see a beautiful painting, and you feel a connection. When you can’t help but gasp at the recognition of something familiar yet new, when you are moved or touched for even a fleeting moment and know you are not alone. And you laugh, or you cry, or you cover your eyes and ears.
Sound has the power to both literally and figuratively touch us, especially with emerging technologies in immersive sound. The possibilities in that really inspire me to play.

With the sound for the fourth season of Game Of Thrones completed, and the fifth yet to begin production, what are you currently working on?

I recently completed work on Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City 2” and have just begun “Hands of Stone”, the Roberto Duran biopic by Jonathan and Claudine Jakubowicz and La Piedre Films. It is an absolutely beautiful film in so many ways and I am extremely excited to work with these filmmakers.

A huge thanks to Paula Fairfield for sharing her insights on her sound work for Game of Thrones!

About Paula Fairfield
Paula Fairfield is an award-winning sound designer who has worked on movies like Sin City, Predators, Snow White and the Huntsman, Lucky Number Slevin and countless others. She’s also worked on television series like Lost, The Strain – and she has just received a Primetime Emmy nomination for her sound work on Game Of Thrones.

Cover image credit:


Please share this:


The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
Explore the full, unique collection here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.