The artists at Cinesite London created over 250 shots for all eight episodes for the Netflix fantasy series The Witcher. The London studio, led by VFX Supervisor Aleksandar Pejic, worked closely with production supervisor Julian Parry to create the horrifying monsters Kikimora, Striga and the fire-breathing dragons. The team also crafted the epic battles and the spectacular fiery, climax sequence.
The Netflix show is set in a medieval fictional world on a landmass. Based on a book by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, the story follows a solitary monster hunter. Cinesite created the opening battle sequence of the first episode, where Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) fights a massive arachnoid known as the Kikimora in a dark swamp. They carefully matched the movement of the Kikimora to the planned moves of the fight choreography, in order to create realistic interactions with Geralt.
The Cinesite crew dug deep into researching the movement of insects in order to visualise the movement of the dangerous, eight-legged screen creature. “Keeping the legs looking tidy, not covering Geralt, yet still functioning realistically in a fight scene was key,” explains Aleksandar Pejic. “Too much action and the viewer would just get lost in a frenzy of legs! The animators also had to be careful with the Houdini water simulation. Moving a leg too quickly might cause an aesthetically unpleasing splash, so finding the right balance whilst still fully interacting with our hero was a complex task.”
In helping to create the vastness of a battle sequence, Cinesite also created 10,000 Nilfgaardian soldiers to fight the Cintrans for later in the series. They filmed around 20 extras to use as a reference as infantry and on horses, with a range of armour and uniforms. They were captured with 360-degree photogrammetry and motion capture cycles. This gave the team scale, lighting, texture and movement reference. They were later replaced with Cinesite’s crowd agents and CG horses.
The 3D team at Cinesite also created the Striga creature for episode Three, in another fight with Geralt. Cinesite’s artists researched a wide array of reference material for the thin, haggard, zombie-like creature, from horror films including The Grudge, Mama and even some scenes from The Ring. “Striga needed to have an otherworldly feel but not be supernatural. She had to conform to real world physics but at the same time she had to be able to interact with the environment in some unusual and interesting ways,” says Pejic.
Netflix has recently announced a second season of The Witcher. Season 1 of the show is available to stream on Netflix.