Led by VFX supervisor Aleksadar Pejic, the studio’s London team delivered digital demons and more in more than 250 shots across all eight first season episodes.
Cinesite has just shared with AWN a VFX breakdown reel highlighting their work on Season 1 of the hugely popular Netflix fantasy series, The Witcher. The studio will begin work on Season 2 once the series resumes production post COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Based on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series of the same name, the Netflix show is set in a fictional medieval world on a landmass known as "the Continent.” It follows the story of solitary monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and Cintran princess Ciri (Freya Allan), who find their destinies tied together.
Led by VFX supervisor Aleksandar Pejic, Cinesite’s team in London completed over 250 shots across all eight Season 1 episodes, creating horrifying monsters, epic battles and a fiery, spectacular climax sequence. Geralt's standard, understated growl, 'Hmmmmmm,' was captured in-camera onset.
Near the start of the first episode, Geralt battles the Kikimora creature in a dark swamp. The Kikimora, a legendary creature from Eastern European folklore, appears in the series as an enormous spider with a humanoid torso and head. Research was conducted into the movement of real-life insects to help create a realistic and coordinated style of movement – dangerous by precise -- for the eight-legged creature. It was important the scene didn’t devolve into merely a frenzied chaos of struggling legs.
Cinesite carefully matched the Kikimora’s movement to the planned fight choreography moves, creating realistic interactions with Geralt. The water they both stand in, as well as the leaf-litter and surface debris, were all created using Houdini; the Kikimora’s legs required a realistic sense of resistance while retaining the speed needed for combat.
Another early battle sequence, filmed on a hillside outside Budapest, required the creation of 10,000 Nilfgaardian soldiers fighting the Cintrans. 15-20 extras were filmed as reference and captured with 360-degree photogrammetry and motion capture cycles, as infantry and on horseback, with a variety of armor and uniforms. This provided the Cinesite team scale, lighting, texture and movement reference; they were later replaced with Cinesite’s crowd agents and CG horses.
Cinesite’s 3D team also created the Striga creature, and the golden dragon. The horrifying Striga, featured in an Episode 3 fight with Geralt in an old Gothic castle, is a haggard, zombie-like creature with deadly fighting skills.
The production built a prosthetic costume which was worn by the stunt crew for most of the action shots. Cinesite’s team augmented and improved the prosthetics, but also created an entirely CG creature for some more physically demanding shots, which were seamlessly intercut with the prosthetic version.
Another sequence during the final episode climax involved the creation of a fire, spread magically by a key character, engulfing a nearby forest. This effect was produced by creating a CG forest and dividing it into sections, which were further subdivided into even smaller clusters. Burn simulations were run on each cluster incrementally, reducing the overall render time and allowing the fire to spread from cluster to cluster in a convincing (although magically accelerated) way.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.