“Wizards,” premiering Aug. 7 on Netflix, marks the culmination of Guillermo del Toro’s animated “Tales of Arcadia” triptych of TV series that includes “Trollhunters” and “3Below.” The DreamWorks Animation production follows wizard trainee Douxie, voiced by Colin O’ Donaghue, on an epic adventure that sees him and friends Jim (Emile Hirsch), Claire (Lexi Medrano) and Steve (Steven Yeun) travel in time to Camelot, among other wondrous worlds.
“Wizards” introduces the domain of magic makers, complete with a flying castle, even as it includes the realms of aliens and trolls. The first episode alone required more than 1,000 VFX shots. “We are ambitious here and push well beyond the limits of daytime TV animation in certain areas,” del Toro says. “We were trying to keep the entire world visually cohesive, and VFX was crucial to take the scale jump.”
Visual effects supervisor Greg Lev and compositing supervisor Brandon Tyra, who worked on all three series, talk with Variety about how it all came together.
On delivering del Toro’s vision
Brandon Tyra: Guillermo was always telling us to push the quality and realism. The concept has always been stylized characters, but with more realistic-looking textures and lighting. With each series, we’ve tried to [make] the lighting look more cinematic and behave more according to physics and realism. We had the freedom to do what we wanted, but it’s a balance between knowing when to break the rules and when not to. What helped was studying his films and how he struck that balance.
How technology has improved since “Trollhunters”
Tyra: We started creating the VFX with a variety of software initially. [VFX renderer] Arnold, which takes advantage of physically based lighting and rendering, enabled us to push the effects toward more realistic-looking images. By the time we got to “Wizards,” Houdini became the main VFX package, because it was easy to customize to the needs of each show.
On creating the world of ‘Wizards’
Greg Lev: The challenge was in developing a new language for the magic. Troll magic is energy-based, with self-illuminated tendrils and particles that provide a grainy look. “3Below” was alien-based and had light-based technology called serrators, which used digital squares to build objects like weapons, communication devices and holograms. “Wizards” is a brand-new smoke-based language. There are runes within the magic that subtly hint toward what kind of spell it is.
Tyra: It was a big challenge because it was about figuring out how to put the language we had developed into the shots. With the flying castle, things felt miniature. We relied on atmospheric effects such as 3D cloud volumes to layer in the atmosphere. We needed the castle to fly at the right speed and line up with the animation — making sure the cloud wasn’t going too fast or the castle wasn’t flying too slowly. It was about striking a balance between animation and effects. We wanted that pilot episode to be pretty spectacular-looking to start the journey and introduce the world.
Favorite VFX effects
Tyra: We tried to personalize the magic for each character. Douxie had a magic bracelet that could conjure any number of spells. But the rock guitar is Douxie’s ultimate weapon — his ax — and is used to battle Morgana in an epic face-off. The combination of magic and music was cool. It’s still by far the coolest magic thing I’ve ever worked on.”