Pump up the Volume

House of the Dragon just put Star Wars to shame for one high-tech reason

Start taking notes, Disney.

House of the Dragon is delivering the weekly dose of Game of Thrones-style drama, machinations, and action that we’ve been missing so much. But while Season 1 of Game of Thrones looked a lot more like a soap opera than prestige TV, House of the Dragon is decidedly more 2022, taking advantage of advanced CGI and special effects technology.

One controversial choice in Episode 2 reveals just how genius the series’ use of special effects really is, something the rest of the sci-fi and fantasy world would benefit from remembering in the future.

The emotional peak of House of the Dragon Episode 2 probably comes when Princess Rhaenyra, fresh from getting ousted at the Small Council, mounts her dragon and flies to Dragonstone, where her uncle Daemon had fled from the Red Keep with the dragon egg she had chosen for her late younger brother Baelon.

Backed by his City Watch soldiers and their gold capes, Daemon has a face-to-dragon-face with Rhaenyra and he eventually returns the egg to her without bloodshed. It is Rhaenyra’s first action as a true leader, and the atmosphere of the moment emphasizes that.

Rhaenyra in the Dragonstone faceoff.HBO

The secret to this powerful scene? The 360 degree screen known as The Volume. This technology, used all the time in Marvel and Star Wars projects like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Thor: Love and Thunder, has provoked extreme critique from fans fed up with the “flat” imagery it can create.

But in an exclusive behind-the-scenes TikTok posted by HBO Max, House of the Dragon star Rhys Ifans explains just why the Volume was used in this scene. “For a director, it’s really useful,” Ifans says, “in the sense that you could freeze a sunset.”

When you’re filming on location, light is a precious commodity, and the Volume provides a way to keep the light looking like Golden Hour for as many hours as you may need. Unlike other projects’ use of the Volume to get around building sets, House of the Dragon is seemingly using the technology only when there’s no other way. You can build a set, but you can’t control the sun.

Maybe House of the Dragon is an example other franchises can learn from: The Volume is only one tool. Overuse runs the risk of making its movie magic obvious and thin to viewers. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; maybe, when you’re a showrunner, every scene looks like an opportunity to use the Volume. House of the Dragon is the evidence that moderation is key.

House of the Dragon is now streaming on HBO Max.