'The Witcher' Monsters and Magic
January 22, 2020

'The Witcher' Monsters and Magic

Cinesite London delivered over 250 shots across all eight episodes for Season 1 of 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.

Based on the book series of the same name by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, the Netflix show is set in a medieval fictional 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. Cinesite’s artists were tasked with creating the opening battle sequence of the first episode, where Geralt of Rivia fights a massive arachnoid known as the Kikimora in a dark swamp. 

Cinesite artists conducted research into the movement of real-life insects to create a realistic and coordinated style of movement for the eight-legged creature, which needed to be dangerous but precise. They carefully matched the movement of the Kikimora to the planned moves of the fight choreography, in order to create realistic interactions with Geralt.  

“Keeping the legs looking tidy, not covering Geralt, yet still functioning realistically in a fight scene was key” explains Pejic.“Too much action and the viewer would just get lost in a frenzy of legs! The animators also had to take into account 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.”

Another early battle sequence filmed on a hillside outside Budapest required the creation of 10,000 Nilfgaardian soldiers fighting the Cintrans.  Approximately 15–20 extras were filmed as reference and captured with 360-degree photogrammetry and motion-capture cycles, as infantry and on horses, with a range of armor and uniform.  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 also created the Striga creature and the golden dragon for the series.  The horrifying Striga features in Episode 3, 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 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 ,” expalins Pejic.  

The production built a prosthetic costume, which was worn by the stunt crew for most of the action shots.  Cinesite’s team stepped in to augment and improve the prosthetics, but also to create the creature entirely in CG for some more physically demanding shots, which needed to intercut seamlessly with the prosthetic version.


Another sequence at the climax of the series involved the creation of a fire, spread magically by a key character, engulfing a nearby forest.  This effect was generated 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. 

Netflix has recently announced a second season of The Witcher. Season 1 of the show is available to stream on Netflix.