Cinesite has just shared a VFX breakdown role with AWN that highlights their work on season 1 of the hugely popular Netflix fantasy series The Witcher. The studio will begin work on season 2 as soon as the series returns to production after the COVID-19 pandemic is turned off.
Based on the book series of the same name by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, the Netflix show takes place in a fictional medieval world on a land mass known as "the continent". The story follows of the lonely monster hunter Geralt von Rivia (Henry Cavill), the sorceress Yennefer von Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and the Cintran princess Ciri (Freya Allan), who find their destiny linked.
Led by VFX supervisor Aleksandar Pejic, the Cinesite team in London completed over 250 shots in all eight episodes of season one, creating terrible monsters, epic battles, and a fiery, spectacular climax. Geralt's normal, reserved growl, "Hmmmmmm", was recorded in the camera.
Just before the first episode begins, Geralt fights the Kikimora creature in a dark swamp. The Kikimora, a legendary creature from Eastern European folklore, appears in the series as a giant spider with a humanoid torso and head. Studies on the movement of real insects have been conducted to create a realistic and coordinated style of movement for the eight-legged creature that is dangerous and precise. It was important that the scene didn't just turn into a frenzied chaos of fighting legs.
Cinesite carefully adapted the Kikimora's movement to the planned combat choreography movements and created realistic interactions with Geralt. The water in which they both stand, as well as the foliage and surface remains, were all made with Houdini. The Kikimora's legs required a realistic sense of resistance while maintaining the speed required for combat.
Another early battle sequence that was filmed on a hill outside of Budapest required the creation of 10,000 Nilfgaardian soldiers fighting the Cintrans. 15 to 20 extras were filmed for reference and recorded with a variety of armor and uniforms using 360-degree photogrammetry and motion detection cycles as infantry and on horseback. This provided the cinesite team scale, lighting, texture, and motion reference; They were later replaced by Cinesites crowd agents and CG horses.
The Cinesite 3D team also created the Striga creature and the golden dragon. The terrible Striga seen in a fight in Episode 3 with Geralt in an old Gothic castle is a gaunt, zombie-like creature with deadly combat skills.
The production built a prosthesis that was used by the stunt crew for most of the action shots. The Cinesite team expanded and improved the prosthetics, but also created a fully CG creature for some more physically demanding shots that were seamlessly linked to the prosthetic version.
Another sequence during the climax of the last episode involved the creation of a fire that was magically spread by a key character and devours a nearby forest. This effect was created by creating a CG forest and dividing it into sections that were further divided into even smaller clusters. Burning simulations were performed incrementally for each cluster, reducing overall rendering time and allowing the fire to spread from cluster to cluster in a compelling (if magically accelerated) way.
Dan Sarto is the editor and editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.