Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series finally comes to life
“The environments for The Wheel of Time were so important for this show. From the beginning, Rafe [Judkins, showrunner] wanted to stay as true to the books as possible. He wanted to accurately portray the world of The Wheel of Time as envisioned by Jordan.”
Outpost VFX Supervisor, Roni Rodrigues, emphasises the role of environments within the 2021 adaptation of Robert Jordan’s 1990 fantasy novels, led by Overall VFX Supervisor Julian Parry and VFX Producer Jakub Chilczuk.
“Some of the fans have been fans for a decade or longer, so the writers and exec producers wanted to give the audience the sense of feeling a part of the show, of already knowing the locations such as Dragonmount and Tar Valon, the home of the Aes Sedai.”
The Wheel of Time original series follows Moiraine, a member of the all-female Aes Sedai, as she travels through many dangerous lands to find the prophesised Dragon Reborn. The Amazon series features Rosamund Pike, Josha Stradowski, Zoe Robins, Marcus Rutherford and Barney Harris in this fantasy epic.
Outpost’s environment team created large-scale, full-CG environments that would play an important role in the series. Iconic environments such as Dragonmount, the White Tower and surrounding city of Tar Valon were created using the books as a reference point.
"So when we started working on the asset, we relied on a lot of back and forth between our artists and the showrunner, finding what works and building on top of that,” CG Supervisor, Ben Hart-Shea recalls.
“None of it could have been made without full collaboration between all departments. For example, with Tar Valon, the set designer created the concepts which were then built by the set builders and the intricate details added by arch-designers and set-dressers. Once the sequence had been shot, the LIDAR scan team came in to do the scanning and photogrammetry for every inch of the set. It took 7 whole days to get the scans simply because of the level of detail put into each location.
“When we were sent all this information, we then converted it into a digital world with all the accuracy and texture for us to build upon. So from start to finish, it was a full collaborative effort,” says Rodrigues.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was selling the scale of Tar Valon," explains Giorgio Pitino, Outpost's 2D Supervisor on the show.
"We took as much influence from the books as possible with regards to the size and location of the city, but the plates weren’t shot for that purpose and so we had to adapt it in a way that made it feel the size it was meant to be.”
“The plate itself needed work for us to achieve scale too, for example the existing ripples in the water from the plate were an instant give away and made the city feel a lot smaller. So we ended up rebuilding the water, reducing the size of the ripples and rebuilding a few other things that were dwarfing the city,” adds Hart-Shea.
To further build a sense of size, the team paid particular attention to the minute details of the scene, Pitino elaborates: “in comp we also added a few touches which helped us to sell the scale, such as depth hazing and cueing. It’s not something you would recognise immediately, but unconsciously your brain will pick up on things that indicate how big or small something is. It was our task to unpick that and think about what we needed to add or remove to make the city look as big as it needed to be.”
Besides creating large-scale environments, Outpost were also tasked with a range of FX work such as creating lava, melting rings and CG fireballs.
“Another big sequence for us was the battle sequence on Dragonmount – a pivotal scene depicting the origins of the Dragon Reborn. The sequence involved creation of the whole mountain environment, CG weapons, blood and gore, as well as wire removal,” says Rodrigues.
“The fight takes place on Dragonmount and so the environment needed to be covered in snow. Practical snow was used, but there were some sections that needed topping up. The set designers had LIDAR scans of the whole set, so they were able to send those to us and we procedurally scattered some snow on top. We then had to bake the CG landscape of Dragonmount in the background and layer that with snow too. On top of all this we had the fight scene where the actors had props, so CG created weapon assets and blade extensions as well as blood,” Pitino adds.
“It was a long creative process because the whole scene takes place in a 180-degree arc but from a storytelling point of view we’re on a mountain. So we had to try to work out how to convey the convex surface of the mountain while giving us enough room for the fight sequence. We decided to have the battle take place in one of the estuations of the mountain, so you feel like you’re embedded into it; that was a challenge from a layout focus, but it looked great on delivery,” says Hart-Shea.
“Our role as VFX crew on this project, as with any other, is to support the showrunner in their storytelling. The collaboration between our team, the on-location set designers, directors, producers, Julian Parry and the production VFX team and Judkins was what enabled us to visually tell Robert Jordan’s story and remain as true to the books as possible, honouring both the fans and the source material,” concludes Rodrigues.
Series one of The Wheel of Time is available to stream on Amazon Prime from November 19th.