Image: HBO

What came first: the chicken or the dragon? A recent interview with the team behind Game of Thrones’ mighty beasts shows how a visit to Trader Joe’s helped create some of the most powerful creatures in the history of television.

Visual effects company Pixomondo recently chatted with Gamespot about the work they’ve done on the dragons for Game of Thrones. Starting in season 2, Pixomondo has been contracted to design the fantastical creatures...from little baby hatchlings to beasts the size of 747s. According to Pixomondo CEO Thilo Kuther, it was a long and arduous process figuring out how the dragons should look and move, and the team had to think from the inside out to make them as realistic as possible. That’s where a chicken came into play.

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“When they got bigger in Season 3 and 4, there was a lot of, ‘So if a dragon is this big, how can it lift itself up? What is it? Is it a bat? Or is it a bird? Is it an eagle?’ And the amount of energy that went into these discussions is beyond belief,” Kuther said. “That’s why they went to a Trader Joe’s and bought a chicken, and took it apart, and said, ‘So, how does that work?’”

Kuther said they also took hints from bats and birds, watching YouTube videos of them flying as inspiration. However, once the dragons grew to their full size, things started to change. It was no longer a tiny bird-like creature, but rather a massive being whose every breath meant seeing shifting tendons, rolling ribs, and the ever-present threat of a fiery attack. Since there aren’t any birds that were big enough to mimic that kind of movement, a flightless animal had to step in and take its place, and that would be the mighty elephant. This was especially evident in the season 7 scene where Jon Snow touched Drogon’s face.

“That’s why they looked at elephants, where there is rougher and harsher skin, but then you have, around facial areas, their skin is softer, and when you touch it with your fingers, it would actually give in,” Kuther said. “When they shoot it, they usually have a cushion where you can touch it and press your fingers in, so we’re taking that information and applying it to the skin.”

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Game of Thrones is currently in the middle of production on its eighth and final season. The dragons are already at full size, meaning Pixomondo won’t have to worry about changing them that dramatically...but there is the issue of Viserion, who’s looking a lot more dead than usual. It’s unclear how being a wight will change his behavior—but if they need inspiration, I guess they can read about what happens to a chicken with its head cut off.

[Gamespot]