Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil and SFX supervisor Ondrej Neirostek tell us about bringing The Wheel of Time’s magical world to life onscreen.
The second season of The Wheel of Time is in full swing. With the latest episode, “Damane,” the show’s epic fantasy world has expanded in dramatic ways, including the introduction to Falme, a coastal city which looks like nothing that has yet appeared in the series.
We spoke to the show’s production designer Ondrej Nekvasil and SFX supervisor Ondrej Neirostek about designing some of the season’s most iconic sets, from the White Tower to Falme. Read our exclusive interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
DANIEL ROMAN for WinterIsComing: The White Tower is a really prominent setting this season. How did you approach designing that set?
ONDREJ NEKVASIL (Production Designer): When we started working on the White Tower during the first season, there was really the longest discussion to get the final look of the tower. And the reason for that was actually we were starting with some kind of futuristic designs. We were testing some strange, strange designs, like very high fantasy designs, almost like an elvish tower or something like that and it still didn’t look good…still it looked kind of like a luxury skyscraper or a hotel or something like that. It wasn’t there still.
And so we were going back to a different approach and we were saying, “Okay, they are building the tower for centuries,” and instead of thinking they have one design for the whole thing and they built it at once, what about if they built it [over] the centuries? Because we are saying it’s actually an old structure and it was built quite long ago.
And instead of a building that is one design, we are saying, “Okay, they do have limestone, and limestone is giving that tower the white color.” So this is the material for the White Tower. And after that, they are adding the pieces and they are building that as a kind of normal palace, having the lower part for the for the novices and for the places like the kitchens. And they have an upper part for the warders and they have a top part for the Aes Sedai.
So it’s kind of like instead of having one general design of the symmetrical building with specific details, we are saying actually that they are adding the spaces [onto] each other [over] the centuries. And that’s the way the tower looks.
Regarding the style of the carving and the details, there was really a lot of influence [from] all around the world. I think that the most important was the Indian and the Persian influence there. And that was the way the stones are carved and the details there.
What was also important was that we age it more now than the first season. And we were thinking…let’s do it like really a space that people are living and the only light source is the open flame. And that’s actually the work of Ondrej [Neirostek] and his team, they’re doing all these types of flames and torches and stuff like that.
ONDREJ NEIROSTEK (SFX Supervisor): As you say it’s a complicated building, you know, that White Tower. And it’s got a secret doors, it’s got a secret corridors. So whenever we get somewhere else [that’s] underground, you know, we wanted [it] to look bad and ugly…and so we tried to make it always look different, that the garden will look fresh, and there are styles of those flames which are in some parts of the White Tower, and the other parts got different lighting.
WiC: How was your approach different for something like the White Tower where you’re mostly building those sets versus Falme, where you have an actual city that you are presumably building off? What kind of considerations do you have to have when you’re working in a place like Morocco as opposed to a closed set?
NEKVASIL: Well, one consideration of course is that you have to accept the key things like the color of the rocks and color of the buildings. And after that, the texture of these rocks because that’s something you couldn’t change. But also, for example, very specific for Morocco was the style of the pavement there, because it was kind of cut out slate stones and it was really typical for all the streets there. So we were kind of like, “okay, we are working with this combination of the color and the specific cut of the rocks and the specific pavement.”
And after that, we kind of add in our details, our shutters and our graphic and our flags and you know, banners and all of that stuff, which is actually turning that city slightly out from Morocco into our world, into Falme. And that was the biggest challenge, because we don’t wanna say, “okay it’s Morocco,” we wanna say, “Okay, no, it’s Falme. It’s a walled city on the ocean and it’s a really specific city.”
That’s kind of a big combination between the art department, special effects helping us to create like an atmosphere in the streets, and the visual effects creating these big scopes and helping us to connect all these paths together.
WiC: What was your favorite thing or the thing you were most excited to work on this season?
NEIROSTEK: Well, the end of the season is something you should be looking forward to seeing. It’s an amazing finale for the show.
I like the beginning as well, I like the battle in Atuan’s Mill. I like the set of Atuan’s Mill itself, I really love that place, what Ondrej created and… all the locations which we visit, you know, there is a location in Italy which we were shooting. And you feel that you are somewhere else, you know, you feel like you are on the other end of the world, while you are in Italy, that the landscape is different and you’ve got this great garden full of olive trees, and even the courtyard looks different than what we build here in the studios.
NEKVASIL: And for me, in the first season we introduced the Way Gate in two places, and in this season we had a possibility to introduce it in more spaces which is showing the possible ways how the Way Gate could look… one’s a part of the city, one’s in the forest, and one’s in some very spectacular place.
It was very nice for me because it was kind of showing the Way Gate is a very specific structure which could be built everywhere, and it could be incorporated into architecture like in a city or it could be completely the only structure in the middle of nowhere, like we will see at the end of the season.
WiC: Final question. I wanted to ask about designing the arches, which we saw in the third episode of the premiere block. What were some of the inspirations that you used for designing those structures, keeping in mind the sort of sequence for Nynaeve that was going to happen there?
NEKVASIL: What [we] were working with was the idea that the rocks or the stones which are creating the arches are very ancient and very old. And at some point, they decide to string them up and they did it with the metal structure which is kind of going all around them. So the structure is not the design, it’s actually also practical because it’s holding the stone together, otherwise the stone will crack.
There was a discussion about whether to build all the arches complete. At the end, only one is complete. And two of them have a missing part, which was a result of the long discussions about the look of the arches.
But in general, the idea was actually it’s a very basic shape, but the stone is so old that they add these metal… like a bar around that stone that’s actually holding them together. And after that, we did a lot of tests [for] how to make it bright and light and all of that. And yeah, that was the process with the arches, the key one.
NEIROSTEK: Yeah, we were trying to light them with light effects, but it didn’t really work. So the result is helping visual effects work and creating their way to make them their own.
NEKVASIL: It’s very tricky, because there are all these arches and stuff like that. It’s always like how to be kind of specific and not look like I don’t know, Stargate or something that you saw before. When we did these tests with the light inside the archway, it wasn’t a good solution. So we went with the visual effects, creating that kind of sparks going around them. And as I said, it’s a solid structure and the idea was really like, the stone is so solid, so old, that it’s very hard to hold it together, so they make that texture around which was holding the stones together.
A huge thank you to Ondrej Neirostek and Ondrej Nekvasil for stopping by to tell us about their work on The Wheel of Time. There are three more episodes left to go in the show’s second season, so expect plenty more of the duo’s spectacular settings and practical effects work ahead.
New episodes of The Wheel of Time premiere Fridays at 12:00 a.m. GMT on Prime Video.
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