There are always lots of factors involved when making a TV series. You’ve got casting, writing, and location scouting to name a few, and if you’re adapting something like Robert Jordan’s fantasy series The Wheel of Time, special effects are also a factor. Magic plays a strong role in the series, and Amazon will have to find the right talent to make it work onscreen.
The magic in Robert Jordan’s fantasy series is hard to describe, but we’ll give it a go. In this world, all around you, there is a limitless energy source known as the One Power; not everyone has the power to see it, much less make use of it. The ability to control this power is known as channeling. By tapping into this unlimited energy, the channeler draws it into their being and tames it. Then, they can channel the power through weaves and threads of magic, controlling five different elements: water, earth, fire, air and spirit.
Making this look good onscreen will be a challenge for any VFX studio. And professionals have messed up in comparable situations before. Think of M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which also features an elemental magic system. There was a lot wrong with the film, but one of the most glaring issues was the lack of realism when it came to the depiction of “bending.” The magic system in The Wheel of Time bears some similarity to bending, and no one wants to see it adapted as poorly.
Fortunately, it sounds like the visual effects for Amazon’s series are in good hands. It was revealed back in April that Cinesite, an award-winning digital entertainment studio with over 25 years of experience and work on hundreds of film, TV and streaming productions, is working on The Wheel of Time. This is great news for fans, as these are the same pros who breathed life into films such as Avengers: Endgame (2019), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and The Revenant (2015).
Cinesite has also done work on all eight films in the Harry Potter, plus on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and seven films in the James Bond franchise. as you can see, this is no bit player, but a special effects powerhouse working all over the world.
A little background on the studio: its head office in London opened for business in 1994, and expanding and growing beyond the local market over the next two decades. In January 2014, Cinesite announced its opening of massive studios in Montréal, which included a feature animation division.
In July 2015, Cinesite announced its acquisition of Vancouver-based visual effects facility Image Engine, known for its work on stuff like Jurassic World (2015), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and District 9 (2009). In March 2017, it acquired Vancouver-based animation studio Nitrogen Studios. German VFX studio TRIXTER in August 2018. Currently, divisions of Cinesite and its partner companies employ more than 1,200 people.
Alongside our skilled artists and engineers, we work closely with filmmakers and studios to achieve the impossible, whether through complex visual effects or conceiving and realizing entire animated films. We tinker, mold, and craft to blow things out of the water – sometimes literally. We make this magic happen from our studios in London, Montreal and Vancouver, and since 2015 we have also welcomed the VFX masters at Image Engine (Vancouver) and Trixter (Munich and Berlin) to the Cinesite family.
Image Engine may be the the most interesting for Wheel of Time fans. This particular studio specializes in character and creature design, as well as animation, digital environments, VFX supervision, and concept art. The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins has claimed he wants to do as much work in-camera as possible, but when the story involves channeling, massive armies of Trollocs and more, some post-production CGI is inevitable.
The people at Image Engine are up to the task. In 2010, the company was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for their work on District 9. They also experience working on high-end television like Game of Thrones, which may be the most obvious recent touchstone for a show like The Wheel of Time.
About two weeks ago, Cinesite released a new reel showing off their work. As expected, there was no Wheel of Time footage, but you can get an idea of the quality of their work, from the detail of dangerous monsters to the beautifully crafted landscapes. And it won’t be long until fans see their work in action on Amazon’s The Wheel of Time series.