Based on the books of the same name, the series follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of a magical organisation searching for the reincarnation of the Dragon, a powerful individual prophesied to save the world or destroy it.
Framestore’s studio in London delivered 520 visual effects shots across the eight episodes in the series, lending their skills across pre-production, environment and effects simulations. Framestore Pre-production Services (FPS), led by Visualisation Supervisor Michelle Blok, helped to define the methodology behind the complex shoot, and assisted in look development to bring directors Sanaa Hamri and Thomas Napper’s visions to life.
City of Falme & The Ways
The Wheel of Time Season 1 finale “The Eye of the World” ended with the forces of good barely surviving the Dark One’s might, and a fleet of mysterious ships with red sails appearing at the Western shore. These ships were rebuilt for the second season, summoning an armada of CG vessels with flowing sails, heading towards the harbour in the city of Falme.
Shot on location in Morocco, Falme plays host to the epic battle in the Season 2 finale. The environment team recreated the city in CG, to be able to destroy it during the battle. “We built the city procedurally, using Houdini to texture the surfaces,” clarifies VFX Supervisor Patricia Llaguno. The stone walls and walkways formed an interesting backdrop for the close-up shots, and for the wider landscape, identifying features such as the city walls, were created digitally and composited in. “Some of the settings, like the very top of the tower, were built as set pieces on location and then composited into their final location later,” says Llaguno.
The team also had the challenge of building a fully CG environment for The Ways, a dark, cavernous area outside of reality. For this environment, the team worked from the plate footage - shot against black using a small set piece - and created the setting digitally, compositing in a dark, rocky cave with many layers and pathways, delicately rotoscoping the actors in.
The One Power
The fantasy series centres around channellers, who are able to connect and channel the magic of the One Power. Re-imagined from the first series, Framestore’s artists developed a new look for the magical powers. “Because the channellers use nature to drive their powers, we wanted to create something that wrapped around the characters like a silk thread, as they draw power from the elements around them” explains Llaguno. “It’s a feeling of connectivity - they’re all spiritually connected to the One Power, and to each other.”
The magical setting of the series also allowed Framestore’s artists to propose ways in which the powers behave. “There’s a phenomenon called ‘The Slicing’ which we haven’t seen yet in the series, where Rand battles Ishamael and has various force fields thrown at him,” adds Llaguno. “The team developed a set of rules for how Rand’s powers could gain charge from those, or deflect them away from himself.”
In the climactic season finale one of the characters, Mat Cauthon, summons legendary heroes of the past to fight in battle. The team had to explore what this might look like, and how to best capture the footage. “The storyboards showed that the camera had to pan down from above, drawing level with Mat as his past life versions appear,” explained Blok. “Doing the previs for the key beats of the scene helped us establish the camera angles and movement, as well as some concept development for what the actual effects simulation could look like.”
Enter the Dragon
Elsewhere in the epic final battle Moiraine - newly reconnected with the One Power - summons a large fiery dragon. First seen under water, it rips through the ships in the harbour, winding around and crushing them, causing the enemy soldiers to abandon ship. The sequence went through previs and techvis with FPS; Working from storyboards and models, FPS’s previsualisation presented a way of shooting set pieces of such a large scale. “Previs and techvis were essential in establishing the shoot methodology,” confirms Visualisation Supervisor Michelle Blok. “We made sure to provide a really solid foundation for the visual effects teams to build on.”
“The dragon is described in the books as being made purely out of flames,” says Llaguno, “but the battle where it’s summoned was shot in bright and sunny Morocco - the sky was almost white, which would have made it hard to see. We took that idea and developed it into having an element of magma and lava - almost crafting a skeleton from it, so we could flesh that out with fire and flames.” Framestore’s artists also had to invent how the creature would move - as the flames encounter wind resistance they lift back and reveal some of the magma-like body. “It’s a big creature, with a serpent-like body that was somewhere near 120 metres long, so it couldn’t be quick and nimble, but it could bend and wrap itself around the tower” continues Llaguno. “We really had to fine-tune it through the animation and modelling to end up with this enormous but graceful creature.”
The Wheel of Time S2 premiered on Prime Video on 1st September.