Jay Worth, 5-time Emmy nominee, brought his visual effects expertise to SyFy’s The Magicians for Season 2. Will Emmy recognize him again?
Syfy just announced that The Magicians will be back for a third season. If you love magic, sexy magic, mystery, and dragons, then this is the show you need to be watching. The show is filled with effects and magical plots that will keep you entertained for weeks. Visual effects supervisor Jay Worth oversees much of that visionary ambiance and magical atmosphere. Don’t be surprised when The Magicians receives some Emmys love in visual effects when the nominations are announced!
I caught up with Jay Worth who joined the show for Season 2 to add more visual magic to the SYFY hit. This season saw Worth creating a dragon and a baby demon, both of which he found challenging and fun.
How does it make you feel when you hear the comparisons of The Magicians being called Harry Potter for adults?
It’s great. It’s a nice high bar to go for and a compliment to be compared in those ways.
There were some great visual effects in the last episode. There was the dream sequence which was daring but it worked.
I came in on Season 2, and there was a bit of catch up for me coming in. At the same time, it was a huge opportunity to work with John McNamara and Sera Gamble and the crew up in Vancouver. We got to refine some things from Season 1. It was a lot of fun. The creatures effects were a lot of fun to do, the baby caker demon and the dragon were the two highlights in terms of effects.
Pocketworlds and the castle were larger effects and those were fun to do and build from scratch. It was fun to find new rules and doing simple things like the spells on the show in a creative work.
The rainbow bridge was another highlight of being able to read something on and execute it in a cool and specific way.
You came in from Season 1. What approach and expectations did they have?
A lot of it was how to take it from a behind the scenes plan and how to streamline this from a creative aspect. The way I’m able to set up the show is I had a person on set who was invaluable in that they were able to execute the vision that we had. My in-house producer, Curtis Krick was also invaluable.
The great thing is because I’m independent, we can the shots to anyone in the world that we feel is the best fit for the specific shot. We definitely used a large crew up in Vancouver for Canadian dollars and for proximity to production, but then we were able to use IOP out of Sweden, and they did a lot of the baby caker demon and dragon.
We found a company in Toronto called Mavericks and they did the castles and Fillory, as well as some of the more complicated ones. It freed us up to specialize and get exactly the right artists on the shots.
This season had a lot more magic compared to Season 1.
It was a good challenge.
You talk about highlights, so there was the smoke monster which was great to watch during the heist. You have the dragons and the castle, the White Lady. Can you tell us what you loved about those?
On a show like this, that is effects focused, the effects need to be a good seasoning and not a meal. It’s really always going to what John, Sera, and what the actors are trying to say in this moment and how we’re trying to support that rather than having the effects drive it. We did a lot of deep diving into how should this behave in terms of spells and magic and how is interacting with the person. How much interactive works? We set up specific rules just from a technical standpoint on how things would track to hand and body movements so it really felt like each of the spells were integrated into the sequences and connected to the actors so there was more connective tissue.
I loved doing the caker demon that was so wonderfully described as this lava creature with little bits getting pulled out of the fire and trying to figure out how it goes into someone’s back and then envelops this tattoo. That was probably one of the most challenging sequences in terms of how it was described and then how it’s executed.
Having a creature go into someone’s back but not have it look bloody or gory, but have it look magical and organic was just a fun challenge in terms of how it ended up looking and the effects that we landed up at the end of the day.
What was the evolution of the design like for that?
A lot of it was about talking to John and Sera. They said, “We want it to be this lava baby.” We had some concept art, but we really did model it on the movements of a baby. The arm movement, the way the tail kicked. You immediately looked at it, no matter what you knew, you still knew it was a baby in some way shape or form. I think that’s what the process is. It was about going to the writers and what they wanted it to feel like.
With the dragon, they wanted it to be ancient, but something we’d never seen before. We wanted to give her a different texture and attitude and characteristics, and how to carry that through in terms of sheen and eye shape. We started with Asian sensibilities with tendrils and whiskers coming off while still keeping her feminine so she was able to be a full character. That’s always part of the fun, trying to nail what the writers are trying to nail.
What were some of the harder effects to create?
Sometimes, it’s the little things. OK, there’s a tear in the universe? What does that look like? Does it crack? That one we had a lot of rounds, and it ended up being simple, we made it look like a crack in the ceiling.
The shade hole when they’re in the underworld. How many strands do we have and do make it feel like it’s a negative space but it’s been cut out? Some of those that don’t have an “It’s a creature.” note, those take longer to try to nail down exactly what we’re going for.
Sometimes the magic spells are the same when they don’t work out. When the elements are getting crushed and the ball is getting mushed, that was a challenge. There are these specific beats because, in that, someone is doing a spell, then there’s an orb, and the energy needs to go into the elements, and the elements have to go into the air and circle. When there are multiple layers that need to be told visually, those ones can be a challenge in finding the tone and with pieces, people haven’t seen before.
It’s not like there’s a reference point for people to go back to. Those can be fun, but it’s always a good challenge.
Is there any scene that turned out differently to how you envisioned?
Definitely, that one where we brought Alice back. Initially, when we talked about it, it was a sphere that was going to be crumpled, and then it was going to be a crumpled sphere. Crumpling metal is challenging and it’s hard to make it feel like it has weight and it’s being sucked from the inside.
We had large orbs on the day and crushed those, but we ended up changing that entirely because the story wasn’t being told, we couldn’t get convey what we needed to. We revised that and we had to use a different methodology.
How did you get into the field of visual effects?
I’ve mostly been working with J.J Abrams for the past 12 years. So, this is my second show outside of the JJ world. My main influences have been JJ and being on those shows and finding a way to tell stories from an organic standpoint, visually and having it be intricate, but not the focus. The mindset is how would we have done it in the 80’s and relying a lot on my connections with production designers, makeup people and have all the people work together.
I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s so I grew up with E.T, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I remember watching Jurassic Park and realizing the whole game had changed in terms of what was going to be required and expected. That really excited me.
I got in through a friend of mine, Kevin Blank who I’ve been friends with since Seventh Grade, he was the effects supervisor of Lost and Alias for all those seasons. I called him one day, and he was actually looking to crew up. Six weeks later, I was on the set of Alias for season five as an Effects co-ordinator.
You’re also doing effects on Westworld. That’s a whole different genre.
Yes, but the thing is, I still approach them the same way. Even with that, there’s a way I push certain shows and visuals to try to take them away from the expected.
On Fringe, I had specific rules. I said, “We’re not having blue energy and were not having a watery circle that serves as a portal.” I just wanted to push it away from the traditional visuals that was traditional sci-fi to try to create something more unique. If you have a creative portal to an alternate dimension, I thought it should be rectangular and white, and energy is being sucked into it like a vacuum. They thought that was cool, and were all open to that.
Even on this, we tried to push away from that in terms of energy and visuals. There was the character with the wand, the lightning coming out of that was really organic and to have it feel like actual lightning than to have it feel like a plasma wand. I think grounding things in reality helps.