When The Magicians returns this January they’re going on a quest to bring magic back, and to do that they’re sailing the seas. I visited the set last year — here’s what I learned about that beautiful new boat, the new season and more.
One of the coolest things about The Magicians is the endless amount of magic, even when magic is dead. The end of season 2 saw our favorite magicians dealing with the loss of magic not only in Fillory, but Earth as well.
In order to restore that magic to the rest of the world (and all the other worlds) Eliot, Margo, Quentin and the entire Scooby gang have to set sail aboard a wonderful ship called the Muntjac. I also boarded the Muntjac to take a sneak peek at what we’ll be seeing on screen later next year, and let me just say: It’s magical.
Our first glimpse of filming on the Muntjac came earlier this year when they debuted footage at San Diego Comic-Con:
The majority of filming is now complete for The Magicians season 3, and I can finally share the amazing things I learned about the Muntjac and what you can expect in the episodes ahead.
‘The Magicians’ Muntjac set visit report
When our group first drove onto the lot for The Magicians season 3, I was thrilled to explore the newest, most majestic set first: The Muntjac.
If there was ever one set to fully capture the essence of The Magicians it would be this one. Book readers will be quick to recognize the Muntjac as the vessel that helps take our favorite magicians on a quest to bring magic back. With portals no longer a thing and not everyone able to travel like Penny, they’re going to have to travel the old fashioned way.
Stepping onto the set was surreal. Built on the space that used to hold Julia’s apartment, the Muntjac is massive. From the outside you’d notice nothing but a bunch of plywood walls and a cement ground, but once you step through the doorway into the boat you’re greeted with a set that could only ever be on The Magicians.
The dark wood that surrounded everything could have made the space feel small and claustrophobic, but instead it felt cozy and warm, with the (albeit fake) candlelight highlighting all curves and twists of the Muntjac’s roots. The furniture was definitely fit for a king, and there was a sense of magic floating in the air.
And that’s just one angle! Behind us was even more of the ship’s interior, with roots sprawling from the Heartwood, desks covered with royal decrees and Fillorian tapestries, and of course a booze bar which you can see photos of below.
As a Magicians fan it was absolutely surreal standing there, and I hope you can see the epic magnitude of this ship the way I was able to feel it.
So how did the crew of The Magicians come to make this fictional boat a reality? We spoke with producer/director Chris Fisher and production designer Margot Ready to find out.
Fisher explained exactly how they managed to find the boat, and the practical uses for everything on set:
“First things first, we had to find a boat and buy a boat. That was most of our hiatus, boat hunting. [We had to] find a big ol’ ship we can buy and turn into an actual magic ship. There is an actual boat, a practical boat we used for outside shots, we bought in Washington state.
Long story short, we found this beautiful boat and we had to come up with an idea of what the boat looked like on the inside and I think it was John [McNamara] and Sera [Gamble] from the get-go, they were like ‘the inside of the boat should be magical, it can be as big as you guys want it to be.’
We knocked down Julia’s apartment, pushed the set to the very very edges of what we can do [with the space]. We had to leave some space on either side for lighting.
The light, when we shoot the set, comes through these portholes. We all kind of threw our hands up in the air, said ‘this is imposible, what do we do?’ We turned it over to the wonderful Margot, who came up with this beautiful set and blew us away with drawing after drawing.
If you take a look at the steps they take you up to the top of a real boat. When we’re shooting on the boat out in the sea, or wherever we take it (rivers, lakes, all over Vancouver), we’re shooting with drones and hand-to-hand or even platforms, ship-to-ship with cranes and stuff.
All of a sudden the characters for some reason will come downstairs [and] you see them practically go down, open this tiny door I can’t even fit in, and all of a sudden you come down these stairs and boom. You’re in this place. It sells the magic of the show and that anything is possible, and through even the smallest doors in life they can open big adventures. Some of the big meta things about our show are really epitomized by this set.”
As for the creative and story-telling aspects of the set, Ready shared how her team made this beautiful boat a reality.
“What I think is really fun about this is we knew from the outset that doing a boat for The Magicians is not going to be just a boat. It’s going to be a boat that’s very magical and creative and also totally original.
In the spirit of our show, Fillory being a magical place as well, this boat is actually a living creature. This tree, we call The Heartwood, is referred to as a she. It creates the boat, so very much the challenge of the design was to always be aware that this is always a living entity as well as a boat. It’s a functional boat and it’s a tree with a spirit.
The tree has a core, a heart to it, that the light changes and pulses to the mood of the boat. We’ve seen that a couple of times practically already in the season, that when the boat gets excited [it changes]. It communicates, not like a Close Encounter experience where you sort of know what the tree is saying, but at times people get a sense of the mood of the tree.
The design challenge that was really fun was to always evoke the tree as well as the boat. We know it’s made of wood, so sure, it’s a tree but also the roots are going into the floor and the curls [painted on the floor] represent energy coming from the roots to make the boat.
The branches actually kind of arc down into the ribs [of the boat] and then we have a floral pattern down the ribs, the idea being that closer to the tree is the most tree like and that kind of disappates into the rest of the boat, but you still have arches that remind you that it’s breaking out into a tree again. And later, when we go to Elliot’s chambers, the King’s Quarters in the back, you’ll also have moments where you’re reminded about the tree.
The Heartwood is kind of like a spirit. We have a lot of things in Fillory that have [magic], you know there’s Dryads and all sorts of living things and this tree is a spirit.”
The way they built this set truly made it feel like it could come alive at any point, which we’re sure made it easier for the cast to act and play along with the story. The atmosphere was warm, the wood felt real and we can’t wait to see how it all translates on screen later this year.
Of course, the Muntjac isn’t the only set we got to visit on this tour.
We got to see a little bit of a scene being filmed in the Physical Kids’ cottage, and while I can’t tell you exactly who was filming (though you might be able to spot a blonde Alice somewhere in the photo below) we can say that this season is going to be even crazier than the last.
One of the things I loved most about the set of The Magicians is that most, if not all, of them were filled with this haze/smoke that was barely visible in the dark, but made any sort of light illuminate the space it lit.
You’ll notice this when you watch the show and see light streaming in from windows or portholes, and while I know several shows in Hollywood (or Vancouver) employ this effect for lighting it made our tour that much cooler.
That, and this was my first ever set visit so I was just fanboying the entire time seeing light pour into the Muntjac and the Physical Kids’ cottage, which is a place I wish I could actually study magic in. Just look at it!
Other amazing sets of this tour included Dean Fogg’s office and the library, both of which will continue to play an integral part of the series this season.
The Library, which is far smaller in real life than it is in the Netherlands.
The most obvious thing I took away from this set visit was that everything about The Magicians is made with love. From the scripts, the stories, the sets and so much more it was clear when I saw it all in person. The attention to detail is impeccable (even with the sets we just walked through and didn’t spend time in you could see the intricacy of it all) and the dedication to story-telling is tangible.
The actors love their job, the creators love it, and from what we experienced the crew were all amazing and friendly and they certainly seemed to love it too. There was a family energy on these sets that brought everyone together and when you combine it all you don’t just have a show, you have an entire world tucked away in a soundstage in Vancouver.
It’s no wonder this show emits the kind of energy it does – when you put this much hard work into a series and have the freedom to play with author Lev Grossman’s amazing universe, it really is magic.
Stay tuned to Syfy on January 10 when The Magicians returns for season 3! Want even more of a sneak peek? Be sure to check out our interviews with the cast and creators of the show from our visit.