Bringing The Magicians' White Lady to Life
When Emma Dumont got the call that she had booked the part of The White Lady on The Magicians, she knew she’d be playing a magical resident of Fillory, the show’s Narnia-like alternative world—but she didn’t quite know the work that would go into it. “[Co-showrunner] Sera Gamble told me that The White Lady was going to be a half-woman, half-deer kind of creature,” Dumont tells mental_floss, “and of course I'm thinking that I'm going to be doing a lot of running, with visual effects done in post. I didn't actually know that I would physically be turning into The White Lady in real life. That was a surprise, for sure.”
The White Lady has been heavily featured in ads for The Magicians, which returns tonight for its second season (but you won’t catch a glimpse of her until a few episodes in). The task of creating the stunning creature—who grants a wish to anyone that can successfully track and capture her—fell to Mastersfx’s Jason Ward, special effects makeup coordinator, and his team.
Two months before The White Lady had to appear on camera, the Mastersfx team began discussing the creature with Gamble and episode director Chris Fisher. They described The White Lady as “half-human, half-doe with antlers and hooves for hands,” Ward tells mental_floss. In the script, she was “an albino doe” with a “subtly muzzled” face and “milk-white” skin with “fur-covered antlers on the top of her head.”
Artist Sarah Pickersgill, who created the chosen concept art of The White Lady, had a clear idea of what she was going for early on. “The design was heavily inspired by photographs of a variety of albino humans and animals, particularly albino fawns,” Pickersgill says. “I also drew inspiration from the actress’s features and physique. We were very fortunate that Emma was cast to play The White Lady—her slight features and wide-set eyes were the perfect canvas for the doe-like prosthetics.”
After tweaking the design slightly (adjusting antler size and hair pattern, for instance), the team got to work. Around six weeks before The White Lady was due to appear on camera, Mastersfx created casts of Dumont’s body—a first for the actress. “I had never, ever, not once had prosthetics put on me,” Dumont says. “According to Jason, this is what they call extensive effects. I had, like, every body part except for teeth.”
They began by casting her lower body from the waist to the floor, followed by her arms and hands, each time holding a particular position for a long period of time. “I had to have my hands in the Spock symbol,” Dumont says, “and when I got my lower body cast, I was standing with my knees slightly bent.” Dumont’s upper body was cast next, and then, finally, her head. Though she expected that to be the scariest part, the Mastersfx team walked her through every step, and Dumont almost enjoyed it.
“Getting your head cast was the most peaceful, I would say, out of all of them,” she says. “It's almost like you're in like a sauna by yourself. You obviously can't see anything, and it gets very, very warm inside. And it’s one person's only job to watch your nostrils to make sure you’re breathing—they take a lot of safety precautions.”
Once the casts were done, Ward and his team used them to sculpt the prosthetics out of clay, then created molds from those sculptures. “For durability, the legs, chest, and hand appliances were cast up in foam latex, while the face was cast in silicone,” he says. “The silicone allows for a more skin-like translucency and flexibility. It also gave the final makeup a more elegant finish. The finger hooves were made of a semi-rigid and translucent dental material called Flexacryl and the horns were cast in a lightweight rigid foam for Emma’s comfort.”
Applying the prosthetics was a time-consuming process; Dumont says she’d have a very early morning call time, but sometimes wouldn’t end up on the set until 10 hours later. She watched movies and TV in the trailer while prosthetics were being applied. “At one point, I was describing every episode of Black Mirror, in detail, to the effects artist,” Dumont says. “We had that much time.”
The facial prosthetics, ears, horns, and hand hooves went on first, followed by the chest piece. Next, her entire upper body was painted and covered with glue; Dumont held an electrode while the team used a flocking gun to cover her with hair. “The flocking gun is an excellent way to apply large areas of short directional hair quickly,” Ward says. “It uses an electrostatic charge to disperse the hairs evenly onto any surface. Applying it by hand would have been too time consuming and wouldn’t have [given] the same sense of natural growth.” Fur-covered leggings with extra muscles built in completed the look.
“The sheer length of the application proved to be quite grueling and was probably the most challenging part of the whole process,” Ward says. “Although the makeup appeared deceptively simple, it had many small, time-consuming elements that resulted in the makeup taking eight hours to complete. There was little forgiveness when it came to hiding edges and every last detail needed to be accounted for.”
Still, the end result was worth it: Though Dumont had observed every step of the process on the way to becoming The White Lady, the first time she saw herself in the complete costume left her speechless. “I didn't recognize myself,” she says. “There were no cracks, no holes. Every single thing was perfectly blended into my skin, down to my little hooves. Every detail was flawless.”
The cast and crew had similar reactions when she stepped out of the trailer and onto the set. Arjun Gupta, who plays Penny, was blown away by Masterfx’s work. “It was the easiest acting I have ever done because I didn’t for a moment have to imagine that I was in another world,” he tells mental_floss. “I have to set the scene for you: We arrived at Burnaby Park, which is one of the most beautiful parks you will ever be in. It’s so lush, a lush forest—and it was empty ... And then Emma came in.” While it wasn’t the first time Gupta had seen the character—producers had concept art lying around, and he’d been present for a makeup test the day before—“I still wasn’t ready for it in full,” he says. “The guys at Mastersfx are out of control. They did a phenomenal job.”
Dumont, a ballet dancer, recognized that movement was important to the character. “I really tried to have an animal-like quality to her movements, because she obviously wouldn't move like a human would,” she says. “Even though she’s a deer, I would say I made her movements more similar to a cat, just because she's so mysterious and you never know what she's going to do. I definitely watched a lot of videos of deer and how they move—there's a lot of like picking up their hooves and putting them back down, and their heads are always cocked to one side.” According to Gupta, Dumont’s physical performance “brought another level of otherworldliness” to the scene.
Now Dumont is appearing on bus stops, billboards, and subway ads all over the country as The White Lady, which has proven to be a little surreal. “It's pretty wild to see myself—but I'm so unrecognizable [in costume that] I don't even think I recognize myself!” Dumont says. “Like, that is The White Lady and I am me … It's a total disconnect, but it’s still really cool.”
Season two of The Magicians begins tonight at 9/8c on Syfy.