VFX SHOWREEL SPECIAL EFFECTS IN ‘’THE WITCHER’’
„It’s not a superhero movie” was the first bit of direction that we got from The Witcher’s showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. The producers wanted the effects to be grounded in reality and based on physical phenomena, as the world of The Witcher was meant to look raw and believable. Our VFX team, supervised by Mateusz Tokarz, aimed to deliver unobtrusive effects, seeking to balance the impossible with the recognizable.
The Netflix series wasn’t our first encounter with Geralt. Between 2007 and 2015 our studio produced cinematics and trailers for the video game trilogy that made The Witcher a globally recognizable brand. It was also Platige who pitched a live action adaptation in the first place, considering making either a feature film or a series. And while we weren’t the sole VFX studio to provide visual effects for The Witcher—which wouldn’t be possible on such a huge production—we were among the ones who did most of the heavy lifting. The entire VFX work on the show was supervised by Julian Parry, known for his achievements on Camelot and Vikings.
Platige effects team was brought on board early, at the pre-production stage, with the task to establish the look of The Witcher’s magic.
“Everything supernatural we’ve created sprang from two words: subtle and elegant. That’s how the showrunner described her idea of magic. It was crucial for us to make the spells look remarkable and convincing.” explained Rafał Sadowy, Art Director at Platige Image.
Developing the effects started with gathering references from nature, including fire, water, tornadoes, atmospheric discharges, or mirages created by hot air bending light above the road. Our artists combined real world phenomena and substances to achieve a fresh new look. A good example of this approach is one of The Witcher’s magic portals—a blend of liquid surfaces and spiral clouds often seen in satellite imagery.
“I believe that the fact we’re based in Poland actually predisposes us to work on this type of shows,” said Mateusz Tokarz, Platige’s in-house VFX Supervisor. “On the one hand, we have chilly winter and nostalgic autumn, while on the other, spring is beautiful and optimistic. We didn’t have to look far to find inspiring weather phenomena, which were supposed to be the basis of The Witcher’s magic,” he added.
It took a while for inspirations to become concepts, and for these concepts to be brought to the screen. Rough ideas were discussed with the producers, and after establishing the general direction, conceptual artists started creating various renditions of every effect. After getting their vision approved, our artists were able to finally start creating the CG imagery.
“Our work had to pass the exam on multiple levels—get approved by the director, the showrunner, the producers. This process may seem arduous from your point of view, but it really wasn’t. It’s simply how it works,” added Tokarz.
Magic was just one of the areas where Platige Image’s expertise was required. Our studio did numerous complex shots, and also applied simple fixes, adjusting Renfri’s pin or adding blood splatters. One of the hardest effects to pull off was the exploding head. With gore effects, we needed to strike a balance—avoid making exploding guts look absurd or overly realistic and disgusting. Just like with every other effect, our team started with gathering references. In this case, they studied the famous head-splosion from Scanners and the face-destroying grenade blast from Elysium.
“Our head was featured in episode five, which was one of the most VFX-heavy chapters, so we got help from our deformation specialist Rafał Kidziński. He analyzed sutures of the skull and a variety of extreme cases of rash and reddening to make it look just right,” said Mateusz Tokarz.
Another obstacle to overcome was the fact that the scene was shot with an anamorphic lens, which distorted the image, adding lateral blur and vignette. Both are natural and desirable cinematic effects, but nonetheless make VFX harder to composite into the picture. Distortion mapping and reference material were used to properly reshape the CG visuals and seamlessly combine them with live action footage.
Effects created by our artists are part of every episode in the series, and even though the development on the conceptual stage started early, the bulk of the work had to be done only after the principal photography. With a six-month unchangeable deadline, this meant an average of three weeks to finish any single episode. There were, however, exceptions, when an effect appearing relatively late in the story was needed ASAP as the scene was selected for the trailer.
“That was the case with the Shan-Kayan tree from the ending of episode four. It was the first big sequence we did, and we made it in a very short time because of the trailer. We were also brought to help with Yennefer’s transformation, which wasn’t supposed to be our effect—this, to us, was a true vote of confidence from Netflix,” said Mateusz Tokarz, Platige’s in-house VFX Supervisor.
The six months spent on making The Witcher magic were a demanding time, but our team managed to deliver every shot ahead of the deadline and at the same time improve workflow. With the involvement of their pipeline department, we have fully automated file processing, making every bit of data received instantly cataloged and converted to useful formats. With this solution in place, and the basics of The Witcher’s visual language already established, our VFX artists are ready for more.