In order to bring Netflix’s The Witcher Season three to life, Vine FX was brought on as a visual effects provider with a combined team of 40 artists across production, 3D, FX, and compositing.

The scope of work ranged from building CG assets and environments to the creation of magical spells and enhancement of blood for key sequences. Vine FX founder, Michael Illingworth, served as VFX Supervisor, joined by Laura Usaite as VFX Executive Producer, Pedrom Dadgostar as CG Supervisor and Alesja Surubkina as Lead Compositor.

“Our work on The Witcher has been some of the most technically demanding that we’ve ever produced,” comments Laura. “Without spoiling the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it, some of the environments we’ve built are genuinely breathtaking and a real credit to the team.”

The wood for the trees

Gritty realism and in-depth history formed the backbone of The Witcher when it first aired in 2019. From swamps to castles, farming villages to empires, the show draws its source material with an almost unprecedented faithfulness to create some of the most believable fantasy landscapes on screen. Season 3 takes that history and runs with it.

Vine FX was given the reigns for a 700+ frame shot in Shaerrawedd forest — the remnants of a once-magnificent elven palace and a location vital to driving the narrative. Which is an elusive statement, but you know: spoilers.

Shaerrawedd is a huge landscape. A dense, mythical forest that needed to be usable from any angle and match live action footage filmed in on location in Wales. Not only that, but the sequence is crammed full of fighting, with arrows flying and fast paced action in almost every frame. The shot itself had almost every aspect of VFX required within it, from set extension to magic and prop enhancements. All with a constantly moving camera.

“We worked with a reference LiDAR scan for scale and distance,” says lead compositor, Alesja Surubkina. “This helped with the placement of CG trees, horizon line, and sky position that was projected onto a sphere around the ruins.”

By taking this approach, Vine FX was able to match lighting shot on location before augmenting and extending the set digitally. Alesja developed the final look of Shaerrawedd first, ensuring consistency between all shots in the sequence. One slip, and the whole illusion of a real, continuous world would fall apart.

“We developed a template and pre-built a grade, combining all depth passes into one,” Alesja elaborates. “By using Python we linked depth information with metadata to get accurate depth of field animation.”

To bring added detail to the scene, some areas around the ruins were covered in digital fog, ensuring that the end scene would appear visually consistent in tone and texture from any shooting angle. Manipulating fog placed in this way would, normally, be difficult, especially on big 360 degree spinning shot.

“We created another sphere with a cut up alpha channel that covered the mist areas,” Alesja continues. “This approach removed most of the position guesswork and allowed our compositing team to adjust the look just by modifying intensity parameters.”

For the set extension, Vine FX used 124 types of tree and scattered hundreds of iterations around the scene inside its environment sphere. By creating the 13 custom models based on the style of the Welsh native trees, the team was able to continue the forest on into the deep background, giving that sense of grim depth and shadow that The Witcher is so well known for.

Building worlds

A key highlight from the project was the creation of Vuilpanne Castle, a full CG asset of a major landmark in the series.

The castle was created using a combination of software, including Maya, ZBrush, and Houdini, with VFX artists using a variety of techniques to bring it to life. The result is a digital creation that blends with practical sets, adding to the overall realism of The Witcher’s world.

Seamless magic

Vine FX’s work on The Witcher Season 3 brings an authentic sense of realism to the world of magic. The team’s attention to detail and creativity is evident in every shot — like a heart being pierced by a sword, and stones turning into gems. This ability to seamlessly blend practical and digital effects has created a world that’s not only fantastical but believable.

“We created a variety of assets, including enchanted objects and creature work, as well as CG forests and castle ruins,” says Pedrom Dadgostar, CG Supervisor. “What we wanted to achieve was to create something artistically pleasing, yet realistic, by breaking reality. I think we’ve done that — the visuals are stunning and maintain the look and feel of the series.”

“We’re particularly proud of the work we’ve done on The Witcher,” adds Michael Illingworth, Vine FX founder and VFX supervisor. “The team here has come up with an innovative workflow to ensure consistency across diverse shots, which is a real testament to their skills and commitment to the project. We’re really looking forward to seeing how our shots come together in the show.”

Jon Creamer

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