Exclusive: How The Wheel of Time’s colorful magic system was made

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 season 2 has finished airing on Prime Video, but you didn’t think we’d stop talking about it so soon did you? Over the course of its second season, Prime Video’s fantasy series — based on The Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan and finished by Brandon Sanderson — reached for bold new heights. The finale, “What Was Meant To Be,” featured a battle scene, and it was magnificent.

Part of what sets The Wheel of Time apart from other fantasy shows is how much magic there is. Where shows like Game of Thrones keep the outwardly magical elements to a minimum, The Wheel of Time has magic aplenty. We see a lot of visual effects on screen as Aes Sedai, Seanchan, and the Dragon Reborn all bring their own unique magical styles to bear.

Last month, we shared the first part of our interview with The Wheel of Time season 2 VFX supervisor Andy Scrase, where we discussed how the show created the damane collar special effects for Egwene’s torture sequence in Episode 206, “Eyes Without Pity.” Now, we’re excited to share the rest of our interview, which dives into how the show’s magic system was revamped for this season. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Priyanka Bose (Alanna Mosvani) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video
Priyanka Bose (Alanna Mosvani) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video /

DANIEL ROMAN for WinterIsComing: The scope and scale, everything in season two is just so much bigger than the first season of the show. What was the biggest VFX challenge you had to tackle? Was there anything that kept you up at night that you had to figure out for this season?

ANDY SCRASE, VFX Supervisor: I think every VFX supervisor will tell you there’s kind of frequency shots that keep you up late at night. But, for me, especially Wheel of Time, one of my personal goals was looking at the channeling and what I could bring to that. I try to look at the book source material, especially…it’s got such a big following. You have to certainly respect the fan base, because it means an awful lot to a lot of people.

In most regards, obviously we have the scripts and then I will go back to the books and see what we can take on board there, and if there’s something that we visually think will work or maybe needs to be adjusted. I’m very, very fortunate that I’ve got a book expert in the form of Sarah Nakamura on the show, who I think has literally downloaded…all 14 books, 15 books into her mind. So she’s a great resource and I refer to her a lot.

But going back to the channeling. I think it’s such an important unique magic system for this show. And there were certain things that I was interested in bringing to it, which predominantly was color. A big thing for me, a big thing for the fans I noticed — because I do keep an eye on fan comments and things like this. I think it’s really important because it’s an integral part to this magic system. It allows you to kind of describe and show without saying about what goes into a weave, because obviously we have our five elemental powers of spirit, earth, fire, water and air.

So I think it’s a really quick, easy way to visually describe sort of what’s been put into a weave to create some sort of One Power effect. And from that, I wanted to bring a visually interesting [element] as well. I’m very much into this being quite literal, the way it’s described as the threads of One Power. So I very much want that thread sort of look to it.

WiC: It’s not just Aes Sedai channeling either this season. You’ve also got some male channelers and you have the Seanchan who each have their own kind of style. How did you go about differentiating those?

AS: A bit of an evolution, you know, and these are based off discussions I have with [showrunner Rafe Judkins]. There are different groups of people who can channel; we’ve got our Aes Sedai who channel, we’ve got our male channelers, we have our damane, we’ve got Forsaken. You don’t really want to break the look too much, your physical look of your channeling. So you want to keep that kind of thready aspect to the way channeling looks. But for me, it was a case of, well, let’s play around with the way it forms around someone or the structure of the channeling.

So with Forsaken — and luckily, I see that some viewers have picked up on this — the fact that Forsaken have kind of gone for like more sort of cleaner, greater geometric look to it. We try and give it a slightly more futuristic look obviously, because our Forsaken for the most part are coming from the Age of Legends and it’s very much a kind of futuristic sort of age. So I wanted to see if we can communicate that through our channeling.

Our damane, again [we] wanted something that felt very different, something that felt a bit sort of rigid, militaristic in a way. And also we have…the damane being captured. So we went for these kind of cages, essentially channeling cages that appear around their arms. Which sounds like an interesting sort of metaphor for our damane being captured and having cages of channeling around them.

So yeah, the case is taking what we have and trying to adapt it for our different people. And then for male channeling…there is the corruption, the black corruption starts to spread through it as well.

Exclusive: The Wheel of Time VFX supervisor on designing Egwene’s damane sequence. light. Related Story

WiC: You’ve worked on a lot of different projects at this point, like The Crown and Interstellar and His Dark Materials. Is there anything about doing  VFX work on The Wheel of Time that sets it apart from the other projects you worked on or that maybe is presenting you with some different challenges?

AS: Yeah, definitely one of the biggest shows I’ve visual effect supervised on, and because of that, that makes it slightly different for me. Some of my previous projects…I was an artist and things like this. So there’s that pressure, not just [with] certain standards you have to try and meet, but there’s [a] certain expectation or pressure from the fan base which is very, very passionate and committed to  Robert Jordan’s books. So, I think it’s just the fact that, you know, that responsibility is on me.

The other thing is that it’s a massive fantasy show. I haven’t worked on too many fantasy shows, and I think for a lot of people who work in visual effects, fantasy and sci-fi especially are really exciting projects to work on because the scope of the work and the imagination and the type of work you work on is so varied and different and creative in a way. Some of the projects you mentioned, it’s all about kind of seamless VFX and the viewer not really knowing…that there was a visual effect there.

In The Wheel of Time we have those moments where we try to achieve that with all the set extensions we’ve done for Falme and for Cairhien, Tar Valon. There are what I call our seamless VFX moments, but then we’ve also got things which are obviously visual effects like our channeling.

It’s really interesting because we have such a spectrum of work within The Wheel of Time and fantasy. So that’s kind of what sets apart and that’s sort of what I was looking for…when coming onto a fantasy show, because of the scope of work, because of the imagination and creation required for it. And you can get to really sort of play with things. I’m kind of excited about being involved with that and then what that kind of maybe entails for the future season as well.

WiC: I wasn’t planning on asking this, but since you just mentioned it…are you working on season 3 right now?

AS: I am working on season 3. That’s about as much as I can say. I think it’s pretty much out there…that we’re also doing season 3. So, yes, I’ve moved on to that. But apart from that, the rest of the information stays on lock and key.

Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video. Copyright: Amazon Content Services LLC and Sony Pictures Television Inc.Description: Dónal Finn (Mat Cauthon)
Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video. Copyright: Amazon Content Services LLC and Sony Pictures Television Inc.Description: Dónal Finn (Mat Cauthon) /

Editor’s note: this interview took place before the season 2 finale aired. As such, we couldn’t ask many questions about it.

WiC: The season finale features an immense battle sequence with presumably tons of visual effects. I know we can’t talk about it too much, but how long did it take to design the VFX for that sequence?

AS: We usually think of an episode as a whole piece rather than sort of sequences, and the sequences finish at different times from each other, depending on the complexity of work or ideas we needed to develop and things like this. I think when we turned over working on the shots…I’m gonna say it was, five, six months for Episode 8. Might actually be shorter than that, sort of five months. I need my producer for this to let me know. [laughs]

But, you know, it was definitely kind of all turned over [in that time frame]. We hand over the shots to our visual effects vendors and then they begin to work on it. And that obviously all happened [in 2023]. I’m very excited for everyone to see…our finale for this season. But yeah, a lot of hours spent on it.

WiC: To end with a fun, easy question: are there any, shows, movies or like visual effects work that you’re particularly enjoying that you’ve been watching lately?

AS: I would say I would love to have watched some television recently, but I’ll be honest, The Wheel of Time has taken up a lot of my time, certainly. [laughs] There’s certain kinds of films I like watching. It’s quite interesting to see…with Oppenheimer recently, because obviously working previously on Christopher Nolan films, I’ve been really lucky with some of the visual effect supervisors who I’ve worked with, learn from. Andrew Jackson on Oppenheimer was doing a lot of in-camera effects, especially for showing this kind of chemical physical reactions for the nuclear explosion. I respect those types of work, where they can do a lot of things through elements and in-camera and things like that. It harks back to the older days of visual effects and I always admire all that kind of work.

You know, there’s things they do on Game of Thrones as well. There’s a lot of, sort of very element based things in there, things that they would photograph. So I always sort of appreciate that work. But yeah, I think some of the work at the moment is on an upward trajectory of what can be achieved. It’s interesting seeing the different kind of ideas that people come up with.

Kate Fleetwood (Liandrin Guirale) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video.
Kate Fleetwood (Liandrin Guirale) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

An enormous thank you to Andy Scrase for taking time out of his schedule to chat with us about The Wheel of Time! You can see Scrase’s work in The Wheel of Time season 2 on Prime Video. Season 3 is currently filming, and is expected to release sometime in 2025.

Next. 10 things we’re excited to see in The Wheel of Time season 3. dark

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