Wheel of Time’s Production Designer on Creating a Future That Looks Like the Past

Wheel of Time’s Production Designer on Creating a Future That Looks Like the Past

As fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time stories know—as do viewers of Prime Video’s series adaptation, thanks to a startling season one flashback—its setting only feels like the past. Despite its lack of machines and technology, The Wheel of Time takes place in the future, thousands of years after a magical battle “broke” the world and decimated its advanced civilization.

The fallout from that fraught history reverberates in The Wheel of Time’s second season, which drops its fourth episode (of eight total) on Friday. With a glimpse of season two’s expanded setting now established, io9 got a chance to talk to production designer Ondrej Nekvasil about how he envisioned a world that’s still very much in the rebuilding process.

“We are saying that what was the past actually looks like a future for us. Because the Wheel is turning, we are coming back to that future and we have to go through all these periods of time,” he explained. “Our story is set in the moment which we kind of [compared to], in our world, as being like the 16th or 17th [or 18th] century. There’s no gunpowder and no shotguns, which is very important for our story. They only have weapons like daggers, bows and arrows, and crossbows. Certain people do have the [magic] One Power, and that’s very important for [the story]. But in general, what we were looking was actually to create a world which we can compare to [our own] world.”

Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

Nekvasil continued, explaining that filtering Wheel of Time’s future through its past presented its own challenges. “We are trying to create the futuristic world, but not in the way of sci-fi or, I should say, like our contemporary futurism,” he said. “Meaning that we don’t have glass skyscrapers and steel skyscrapers and high tech-ish things. We have very specific and very grounded spaces, which we are looking for and which we are making: ‘Okay, this is our style of the the world before the breaking, before everything had to start [again] from zero.’ They left that civilization and had to build the new one.”

Viewers got a glimpse of Wheel of Time’s futuristic-looking past in a season one episode that flashed back to a key moment just before the battle that broke the world. From what Nekvasil said, we’ll be seeing more of that setting in season two, as the story builds to a potential repeat of that devasating history. “It will be more and more visible in the season that we are kind of jumping between these two wars,” he said. “But that’s kind of the impressive part, that actually whatever looks like a future is actually the past. Regarding whatever is made, whatever is manufactured, it’s always the combination of what was possible to manufacture in the 17th or 18th century in our world, and that’s possible for them as well. So they can have windmills, but they don’t have engines and trains and stuff like that. The world which you see is our world before the technical revolution.”

As you might guess, considering how important color is to the powerful women of the Aes Sedai—a sisterhood of magic users who divide themselves into chosen specialties, or “Ajahs”—that specificity spilled over into the production design. Season two devotes a lot of screen time to scenes that take place in the White Tower, the headquarters for the Aes Sedai.

Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

“Every Aes Sedai belongs to a certain color, and we tried to show that in the different rooms—for example, the green room of Alanna, or the red rooms of the red Ajah. In the set, there’s slightly more of these colors depending on where we are,” Nekvasil said. “But in general we were trying to [show that] each city or each country [uses] a specific type of materials, a specific type of texture, and a specific type of color. We [made a lot of] color charts and texture charts; for example, the White Tower [is notable for] limestone and some carved details into the stone; for Cairhien, it’s more like a sandstone and gold. These are the combinations of the set and location that we are trying to create, not only the color itself, but also the texture and the patterns are different [in each setting]. That was very important for us for the second season, because we travel and we are jumping from place to place; [as the season continues], you will see that we are jumping even more between the different places.”

One setting we get to visit in season two is the palatial home in Cairhien where Moiraine, Rosamund Pike’s character, grew up. We even get to see her childhood room, which Pike herself helped the production designer bring to life.

“Regarding the whole city of Cairhien—we always looked at mixing the styles and the influences and making them a melting pot to create our world,” Nekvasil explained. “For Cairhien, it was a kind of combination between European medieval architecture, French architecture, and Japanese culture as well. [You can] see that in the furniture when she’s entering the rooms; the room itself looks European. [But] the design of the windows and the furniture is kind of turning into the Japanese style. Regarding her room, there was much more actually in the room than was visible and featured on the screen. We came with some ideas, I spoke with Rosamund about her ideas, what she wanted to see there. And some of the [contents of the room] actually came from her, and some came from the set decorator. It was a mixture of ideas we put on together and we placed [them] there. And I think it was kind of good, because that was the first moment that you were thinking about Moiraine apart from the Aes Sedai—[instead, you see her as] somebody who had a childhood and who went through that childhood and had some memories for that.”

New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two arrive Fridays on Prime Video.

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