From education to employment

House of the Dragon role for former Coleg Menai student Beth

Beth Elen Roberts with the model of Old Valyria she helped design for HBO show House of the Dragon

When former Coleg Menai student Beth Elen Roberts answered a call to work on House of the Dragon, she couldn’t have anticipated how iconic her work would become.

Beth worked as a junior concept artist on the Game of Thrones prequel, working with production designer Jim Clay to design the model of Old Valyria seen in King Viserys’ chamber throughout the hit series.

The model plays an integral part in the fantasy show, with the King, played by Paddy Considine, frequently seen building his recreation of the fabled city, while his grip on the throne of Westeros gradually loosens.

Beth, from Penmon on Anglesey, was hired to work under production designer Jim Clay on the intricate prop, which consists of more than 200 separate miniature buildings.

“I had an email out of the blue saying one of my tutors at RCA had recommended me,” said Beth, who studied the art foundation course at Coleg Menai before going on to the Royal College of Art to complete a Masters in Interior Architecture.

“The email was from Jim Clay, who was looking for someone to collaborate on a model of a city for a Game of Thrones prequel, and I jumped at it.

“I’d watched Game of Thrones three or four times. I’ve always been really interested in a lot of the behind-the-scenes of film and television, even since I was young. My brother works in animation, so I used to have to watch the Aardman films a lot!

“My role in the first series of House of the Dragon was solely focused on the design of the King’s Valyrian model featured throughout the series. It’s quite rare to be given just one thing to work on in that way.

“It was an intensive six-month process of research, drawing and 3D modelling, considering in detail the city’s planning, its critical relationship to the surrounding landscape and the development of its architectural style.

“Jim was an amazing mentor to me throughout the process. It was amazing to see how it was then realised on screen in the Red Keep, and in the opening credits of the show.”

House of the Dragon stars the likes of Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans and Olivia Cooke and is set around 170 years before the events of Game of Thrones, the epic TV phenomenon adapted from George RR Martin’s novels.

Left: Beth on the set of The Red Keep. Above: Beth’s exhibition piece from her final year at Coleg Menai

With computer-generated imagery and AI becoming ever more prevalent in film and television, the House of the Dragon showrunners were keen that as much as possible of the set was actually made by humans.

That level of authenticity was also expected of the model of Old Valyria, with Beth saying: “They wanted the design to feel accurate as a real city.

“I’d sit in meetings with the showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, and we’d discuss the look of the city, looking at plans from Aztec and Mediaeval cities. We were even looking at details such as how the plumbing would work.”

Beth was again hired for series two, this time working for set decorator Claire Richards on the design of props and furniture for the show.

Her work will also be seen on forthcoming Netflix drama 3 Body Problem, based on a trilogy by Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin, which is set to be screened in January.

Beth still takes inspiration from the lessons she learned at college, saying: “The art foundation course at Coleg Menai was an invaluable experience. I had an amazing time, even compared to my experience in university.

“The tutors were incredibly supportive and at the core of their teaching was an encouragement of play, experimentation and above all, drawing.

“Their understanding of drawing was fluid and investigative – not always pencil on paper, but mark-making through different mediums such as found objects, print or sculpture.

“I still draw upon these lessons in my work as a concept artist in TV and film. Despite tight deadlines and briefs, finding opportunities to play and experiment through drawing, brings about the best ideas.”

Beth’s former tutor Owein Prendergast is not surprised to see her doing so well in her career, saying: “Beth was always a lively, ambitious and talented student. She was capable of working both two- and three-dimensionally.

“Her final exhibition piece – a huge hanging sculpture – is still one of the most ambitious final exhibitions one of our students has ever produced. It’s no surprise really that she has gone on to have such a successful career.”

Applications open in November for next year’s Art Foundation course at Coleg Menai. For more information about the course, click here.

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