The Second Studio Podcast: Deborah Riley, Production Designer of Game of Thrones & 3 Body Problem

The Second Studio (formerly The Midnight Charette) is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by Architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features different creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions.

A variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes are interviews, while others are tips for fellow designers, reviews of buildings and other projects, or casual explorations of everyday life and design. The Second Studio is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week David and Marina of FAME Architecture & Design are joined by Deborah Riley, Production Designer of Game of Thrones and Three Body Problem to discuss her background; why she studied architecture; career transition into set design; progressing from set designer to production designer; becoming a production designer on Game of Thrones; her responsibilities as a production designer; navigating physical sets versus digital or CGI sets; the challenge of working on different projects; and more.

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Highlights & Timestamps

(02:22) Deborah’s upbringing and studying architecture.

(09:15) Transitioning from architecture to set design.

(13:54) Difference between set designer and production designer.

I also think that it's the actors and crew, who are the clients that I'm working with, and you want them to feel a particular way when they walk into a space. If they don't, I think that as a viewer, you can feel it. You just know if somebody is invested in a space and in terms of storytelling, it's really important. (23:57)

(30:49) Stepping up from set designer to production designer.

I would always hire people who have an understanding of architecture because [architecture is] really tough! When you're talking to people who haven't got that sort of discipline, because architecture is a discipline, and they teach you how to see… If you're not used to looking at scale in that way, if you're not used to talking about space in that way, I just think it [production design] would be really difficult. (36:17)

(41:35) Becoming a production designer on Game of Thrones.

(54:51) Coordinating the vision in film vs architecture.

On Game of Thrones, for example, we had a lookbook and that was really the Bible of the whole show…There were certain rules that we all understood with the way that we were working. So, no matter who was stepping in, there was an understanding of what we were trying to achieve. I think that's remarkable when you consider how big it was. (56:13)

(01:00:32) Deborah’s favorite Game of Thrones set.

(01:03:57) Physical sets vs digital or CGI sets.

The better shows still tend to [physically] build [sets] a lot more because I think as a viewer, you can kind of tell when it's digital. You’re making very big statements about what you're shooting and how you're shooting it very early [in the process]. And I'm used to being in an environment where we are seeing on the day how actors move and responding accordingly. Whereas, in those [digital] environments you're locking it in, in a way that when you're shooting on a built set, you would never have to do. (01:05:36)

(01:10:22) Managing budgets.

(01:14:03) Working on different types of shows.

We get typecast, just like actors do. I can't tell you the amount of medieval shows that I was offered after Game of Thrones. Trying to convince people that you can do something that they don't have proof of can be tough. And that was one of the main reasons that I really wanted to do Three Body Problem, because it has such a range of design problems within it to solve. That to me was a really good opportunity to do a bit of design gymnastics. (01:22:21)

(01:25:05) What is Deborah’s favorite building?

Check out The Second Studio Podcast's previous editions.

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "The Second Studio Podcast: Deborah Riley, Production Designer of Game of Thrones & 3 Body Problem" 16 Jun 2024. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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