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NYCC Interview: Andy Scrase Talks VFX on ‘Wheel of Time’

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As The Wheel of Time turns, our Age of New York City Comic Con draws to a close. In October, we had the privilege of screening the eighth episode, “What Was Meant To Be,” and the finale, followed by an interesting chat with some of the creative minds charged with bringing the beloved book series to the screen. In roundtable interviews at NYCC, we sat down with The Wheel of Time  VFX Supervisor Andy Scrase to chat about everything from the Robert Jordan adapted world. He pulled back the curtain on the magical world of The Wheel of Time’s visual effects. 

We started by diving into Scrase’s personal history with the books and how they’ve influenced his take on the show’s visual tapestry. He shared his expert insights into the art of channeling and representing the threads of power on screen. He talked about bringing episode 208  to life and shared some details on how they achieved the cohesive look. We also delved into the monumental task of bringing the show’s VFX to life and how it has kept up its pace. 

The interview with Wheel of Time VFX Supervisor Andy Scrase

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. There are light spoilers for Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time ahead.]

Ayla Ruby: “You’ve said previously in other interviews that a lot of the VFX stuff comes from the books for you, that’s where you start this visual language from. And I was curious if you had a relationship with the books before coming onto the project, if you were a fan before, what that was like, what your experience was like?”

Andy Scrase: “I knew of the books, I had not read the books. However, obviously, I’m working my way through the books. And I think the size and scope of Wheel of Time hit home with me almost instantaneously when I had the audiobook and saw that it ran for something like 26 hours or something like this. So I knew there was obviously going to be a lot of material there, and there certainly is. Robert Jordan goes into a lot of description and it’s a really interesting story to look at, this repeating of ages and things like the Age of Legends and stuff like this.”

“So, for me, in visual effects, it’s really interesting because fantasy and Sci-fi work, I think is probably the pinnacle of creativity in visual effects, because there’s just such a length and breadth of different possibilities you can do. And the books are always a great starting point, I’m very lucky that I’ve got Sarah Nakamura on the show who’s our book expert, who I can always refer to when I’ve got questions.”

“But at the same time, you also evaluate, well, is what’s written there, is that going to look visually interesting on the screen? There’s several different kinds of portals and gateways and things that exist in Wheel of Time, and there’s quite a few times I’ve noticed that Robert Jordan describes it as a white flash of light. So obviously I feel I can’t really do that for every single gateway or portal within the show. So, I was trying and tweak it and come up with something that’s a little bit different or relates to some other aspect of the show.”

“But I’m really, really lucky in the fact that there’s just so many different creative challenges in the show that it’s certainly not boring. It’s probably one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on.”

Book Review: The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

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On what favorites are in The Wheel of Time books and not on screen

Interviewer: “Is there anything from the source material that you really wanted to be on the show that you haven’t been able to put in there yet?”

Andy Scrase: “I don’t think there is yet. There’s obviously season two, it’s my first season. I was able to put on the books quite a bit and there were certain creative challenges as well, but the Heroes of the Horn, I was very eager to still give a kind of, I don’t know, mystical fog moment. Because obviously, it was described quite thoroughly in the books about the blowing of the horn, but I had obviously another moment in the show where earlier on there was a fog created by the white cloaks to invade the city.”

“So it’s all about trying to take what’s there in the books and tweak it, make it a little bit more individual from each other. I just mentioned about the portals and gateways and things like this. But no, I think for the most part, we’ve always managed to get what we wanted from the books in there. And then there’s just sometimes where what’s written in the books is the same… We can’t really convey, such as Perrin with his wall fishing. It’s much more of a visual, almost hallucination in the show. So, in those instances, I’ve kind of had to take a different approach.”

On the magic of channeling

Interviewer: “Was there anything that you really wanted to bring to the screen from the books, but it’s like it just couldn’t do it? And then what’s one of the things that you wanted to bring in? You’re like, yes, you pulled it off.”

Andy Scrase: “It’s probably everything that revolves around channeling for me, it’s such an important and unique magic system to the show. And I had certain challenges where there was a certain look established for season one. And when I joined the show, that was kind of one of my first priorities was the channeling and what I could do to improve that. There’s a big expectation on it. There’s a lot of intricacies. We’re taking threads and weaving them and things like this. So I think that where I am with the channeling is kind of a very good starting point and everyone seems to have reacted quite positively with it, with this idea. Because as I’ve said, I’ve been very literal with the interpretation of threads of power, but the colors, bringing those in was a really important decision I felt because, it’s a way of describing the different elements that they use, especially in weaves.”

“It’s very important to the fan base, as I found out from doing my early research, and then just talking about it to Rafe [Judkins], we came to the decision that we could do it. But I think we always needed to be a little bit careful that it didn’t become too overbearing and too saturated. And I think even in the books, it’s described as being tinged with color. So I think there isn’t anything I’d say that I haven’t done before, it’s in the books. But it’s more a case of working what we have now even closer towards how some things are described. And I think the channeling is one of those. I’m really excited about how we go on and develop that and bring more nuances to it and more levels of detail and subtlety. Yeah.”

On strikes, the Wheel of Time season 3 timeline, and growing the world

Interviewer: “Two-pronged question. Obviously, there was a strike. You had started on season three. So the first prong of that question is, I’m wondering if it impacted your timeline. But two, the thing I’m really most curious about as a fan is that you are constantly sort of expanding this universe and growing it out. And I’m curious about the challenges or the thought processes around not being able to create new things for the same place, but for creating new places with new things constantly, if that makes sense.”

Andy Scrase: “Yeah, it does. So I think with regards to strikes that are happening, it sort of doesn’t affect me because I’ve got a big challenge with The Wheel of Time and the fact there’s a lot of visual effects involved the show. So, I have a lot of different objects I guess, objects, things, places, magic creatures that I have to research and look into and things like that. So my time is completely full without any sort of possible disruptions happening. What was the second part of your question? Sorry.”

Interviewer: “The second one was, I’m just really curious because you’re creating, obviously book three. Season three is going to be book four, a little bit of book five. These characters are moving around constantly. They’re going to new places, your world and locations are expanding. So instead of being in a singular place where you get to create new material for that place, you are having to build new worlds each time you go through a season. So I’m curious about the challenges of having to… Some shows, they’re in one place and you build for that, but this is like, you building multiple worlds for the same show. So I’m curious about the challenges of that and the power.”

Andy Scrase: “I personally wouldn’t call it a challenge. I call it an exciting opportunity more than anything because you move around so much. It means for me, working on the show and for the VFX vendors, they’re always involved with something new. Therefore, the motivation for the show, the excitement for the show is constant, it keeps going and going and going because we have all these new things you work on all the time. And for someone who is kind of artistic, it is incredibly, creatively satisfying in that regard. And I’m very lucky with the other department I work with on the show, we all work very much as a team. From that we can all create the imagery, create the places for the magic. Yeah, it’s certainly not a challenge. It’s something I kind of embrace more than anything because the books themselves have got such a huge amount of material in there that I think it’s going to keep us very busy.”

Interviewer: “I was going to say, you don’t feel overwhelmed by that. I would feel slightly-”

Andy Scrase: “No. No, it’s great when you can kind of have all these creative, I want to say briefs required, but it’s almost kind of within the hundreds of different types of things we’ve got to go there and create. And for me, that’s just so, so interesting and satisfying. You’re never going to get bored of it.”

The Wheel of Time Season 2
Ragga Ragnars (Bain), Ayoola Smart (Aviendha), Maja Simonsen (Chiad)

On which came first, passion for the sci-fi/fantasy genre or the grounded work

Interviewer: “You clearly have a real passion for this. What came first, your passion for this genre or did working get this genre and this type vision, spark a passion in you for this sci-fi fantasy and the visual?”

Andy Scrase: “Bit of both. I’ve done a mix of shows over the years, as an artist and a lead and as a visual effects supervisor from sci-fi, to things that are more grounded and real. We are recreating things from the real world and there’s no sort of stylized or make-believe components of that. I was always on the lookout for a fantasy show because as I said, for some individual effects or for me, it’s the pinnacle of creative challenges because of what that involves. And your imagination has to be certainly flexed and made use of.”

“So, I think it’s extremely easy to get passionate about the project because of my desire to work on a fantasy show, because of the creative possibilities of it. And with The Wheel of Time, because it’s massive, it gives you so many different opportunities with the things you can work on, that just came together. And as you can tell, yeah, I quite enjoy working on the show.”

Interviewer:  “To piggyback on that, the show shoots in the most amazing scenery. I want to do a road tour of everywhere the show shot.”

Andy Scrase: “I’m pretty sure we could arrange that.”

On balancing the digital and the real for worldbuilding

Interviewer: “When you’re doing special effects, on top of that, how do you find the balance of not basically, erasing everything that’s real to create a digital environment, but to build upon that, to enhance the…”

Andy Scrase: “For me the visual effects is at its greatest strength is when you are complimenting and working with a real-world object or location that’s shot in the camera. And then we build and expand on that. It’s certainly when I’ve had the most successes, like as a visual effects artist and it’s a sort of desire of Rafe [Judkins], that we shoot in places where people can interact with the objects and stuff like this. But then visual effects step in and we then help open up the world and bring in maybe the more spectacular moments of it. And that for me, is what visual effects is about.”

The Wheel of Time Season 2
Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and Lan (Daniel Henney) in The Wheel of Time (Prime Video)

On the finale’s episode-long siege & filming in Morocco

Ayla Ruby: “So in 208 there’s this big battle and Brian [Shows] alluded to it a little bit and said you could talk more about it. Can you talk about what it took to actually bring that to the screen? How long did it take to shoot any details?”

Andy Scrase: “The battle in general?”

Ayla Ruby: “Yes.”

Andy Scrase: “I mean, the majority of that was shot in Morocco over the period of about, I think two months. We were there shooting in, I would say, about four or five different locations around Morocco. I think the biggest challenge about that was for Falme, that was shooting at several places around Morocco. So the high sea wall was shot in Essaouira, which is obviously on the west coast of Morocco, then the front gates and the center of the city. The streets are shot in  Ouarzazate, and even Ouarzazate, that was spread over two different locations.”

“So, the biggest challenge is taking all those different places and bringing them all together to try and make it a very coherent and gel-together city where you don’t recognize it has been shot in all these different locations. And, part of that is down to the work that Andre, our production designer does. And as I said, then I work in conjunction with that and help to sort of fill in the missing pieces, so to speak.”

Where to watch The Wheel of Time

Seasons 1 and 2 of The Wheel of Time are now available to stream in full on Prime Video. Season 3 is still in development and if our interviews with The Wheel of Time team are an indication, it will be just as exciting as the first two. 

Are you excited for the next season of Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time series ? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

For all our past NYCC coverage, including more interviews coming this week, check out the NYCC tag

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews:

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