Exclusive: The Wheel of Time VFX supervisor on designing Egwene’s damane sequence

Madeleine Madden (Egwene al'Vere) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
Madeleine Madden (Egwene al'Vere) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

The latest episode of The Wheel of Time, “Eyes Without Pity,” was one of the show’s darkest installments yet. After being captured, Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) is enslaved and tortured so she can become an obedient servant of the Seanchan empire. This is a crucial part of Robert Jordan’s novel The Great Hunt, and the show went all out adapting it. The Seanchan enslave women who can channel, dubbing them “damane” and treating them as living weapons rather than people. The nature of their enslavement is entirely magical; damane are fitted with a collar, called an a’dam, which links them via a magic leash to their handler, called a sul’dam. Any pain a sul’dam feels her damane will feel twice over, and if a sul’dam chooses she can inflict agony on her damane through their bond as punishment. To depict this onscreen, The Wheel of Time team used creative VFX, costuming, and some exceptional acting and writing. We spoke with season 2 VFX supervisor Andy Scrase about what went into creating this sequence, from the show’s unique take on the damane collars to the effects used to depict the magical damage Egwene endures.

Madeleine Madden (Egwene al’Vere) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
Madeleine Madden (Egwene al’Vere) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

The Wheel of Time VFX supervisor explains the expanding damane collar

While the link between a sul’dam and damane is reliant on magic, the collar which damane are forced to wear is what gives their sul’dam control of them and their powers. The TV show gets inventive with the look of the collar; instead of a simple band to be worn around the neck, the collars now magically expand into a metal plate which rest on the damane’s shoulders. Scrase joined The Wheel of Time partway through filming of season 2, replacing the show’s season 1 VFX supervisor Julian Parry. By that time, the overall look of the damane collars had already been established in terms of the costuming, but there was still plenty to be done to figure out how to visualize the magical formation of the damane collar extension onscreen. “A lot of [the collar design] is based off the scripts, and discussions with [showrunner Rafe Judkins] and things like that,” Scrase recalled. “By the time I joined the show about three quarters of the way during the shoot… our collar had been established already through [costume designer] Sharon Gilham, who created this kind of very sort of solid metal, ornate plate that went over the shoulders and chest which was borne by the collar.”

"So the collar itself, the ring piece going around the neck was obviously the start of it. And once that’s attached to someone, it spreads out essentially, the sul’dam spreading their control over a poor unsuspecting damane. And so because of that, going from the collar to the fully grown piece…it was a case of talking to Rafe and going back to the Seanchan kind of being an army and things like that. So he wanted a very sort of mechanical look at the way it forms, which is why you see it kind of form in chunks. And then also with regards to the collar just before it forms, we also had the spirit channeling — because it’s connected through spirit channeling — the spirit channeling itself actually kind of flows slightly ahead of the formation of the collar. So it almost acts like a schematic that sort of draws out the shape of the collar, and I thought that gave it a kind of quite sort of rigid plans and militaristic mechanical feel to it. And it’s just an interesting way of using the One Power and the way that it is tied into this particular sort of ter’angreal."

A damane in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
A damane in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

The collar is only part of the equation, though. In The Wheel of Time book series, the collar is linked to a bracelet the sul’dam wears at the end of a leash. The TV show went a slightly different route. While we do see Egwene’s sul’dam Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones) use a long chain at times, it’s just to drag Egwene around. The actual “leash” which gives the sul’dam control over a damane is magical rather than physical. “That then leads on a little bit to the connection between the sul’dam and the damane,” Scrase explained. “Obviously in the books it’s the leash. And in this instance, our leash is very much a thread-based one through channeling, spirit channeling, that connects from the collar to the bracelet itself.”

"And in most parts, what we have is that [as] that connection forms, you almost see it like an electrical current flowing from the collar to the bracelet. We always kind of show that, especially at the start, to show this connection between damane and sul’dam."

Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

How The Wheel of Time designed the visual effects for Egwene’s torture sequence

Once a damane is collared, her sul’dam has complete and utter control over her. We saw this bond put to horrific use in “Eyes Without Pity.” Renna uses it to inflict pain on Egwene. The a’dam also automatically hurts Egwene whenever she tries to touch a weapon or take off her collar herself. To make that agony visible on screen, Scrase created an effect which the creative team referred to as the “collar shake,” where the collar vibrates around Egwene’s throat while appearing slightly out of focus. “That was kind of based off a bit of visual experimentation,” Scrase explained. “How do you portray this pain and suffering being inflicted through a collar onto the damane? Almost like a kind of cattle prod in a way, or to keep them under control.”

"I didn’t want to go for any sort of electrical shock look, but this kind of vibrating feel to it coupled with the sound that [sound editor Matt Skelding] and his team did, I think gave quite an interesting look, the “collar shake” as we called it. And then also on the sort of surrounding environment, [surrounding the] collar shake to portray this sense of pain on the damane. And I think it’s pretty effective. There’s also a kind of long exposure photography I used for references in several different moments during the show, and that is kind of one of them, that got a really cool look from long exposure photography, this sense of motion."

The combination of sound editing and VFX was ultimately what allowed the “collar shake” effect to work onscreen, but it went beyond that. According to Scrase, pulling this pivotal sequence off required broad collaboration between many different departments:

"That coupled with the sound and especially the acting from [Madeleine Madden] who I thought was really great in Episode 6. All those different elements come together. And for me that’s how VFX works really well. It’s not about VFX by itself…my favorite part is about how we work with all the other departments both in post and on set. What we can do on set, we’re working with the lighting and camera work and the different SFX, art department…and then we move into post, obviously we’ve got the editorial and sound department. And so I think what, we’re all sort of small cogs in a machine and when you’re clicking, it gives some really good sort of content."

The Seanchan in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
The Seanchan in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

You can read the rest of our interview with Andy Scrase about The Wheel of Time season 2 next week. In the meantime, you can see his work in the first six episodes of The Wheel of Time season 2, streaming now on Prime Video. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Next. The Wheel of Time proves its mettle in “Eyes Without Pity”. dark

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