Development for the visual effects in the second season of The Witcher began straight after delivering the first, with Cinesite’s team once again working alongside production VFX Supervisor Dadi Einarsson and VFX Producer Gavin Round.
Having created the opening shots from the first season, the Kikimora battle, Cinesite’s team was again tasked with creating the season’s important first shots.
The first episode picks up where season one left off, opening with a long aerial shot travelling over a scorched forest, through fields littered with dead soldiers and horses and ending close up on Tissaia surveying the scene. Two separate passes had been shot which did not quite meet. Drone photography and Steadicam plate needed to be joined together and in order to close the gap 2.5D set extensions with reprojections and a full 3D terrain were required. The team also added a full CG scorched forest, crowds of dead bodies and horses, created using Atom.
In the first season of The Witcher a massive crevasse had opened up the earth. In the new season we see more closely the impact of the deep fissure, with characters both standing inside it and looking down into it. In one of Cinesite’s most dramatic shots, Ciri demonstrates her power by creating another, larger crevasse. The camera travels along the crack and up into the air as the chasm opens up into the distance, unzipping the earth. As the ground separates, dust, debris, rubble, bushes and grass all tumble in. This was achieved using a Houdini simulation and much of the original plate needed to be replaced.
Some of Cinesite’s most complex work features at the season’s climax. Ciri shatters a monolith, then weaponises its bullet-like shards, which turn into a cloud of razor-sharp projectiles flying towards the witchers. Both the CG shower and the witchers’ quen power protective shields were created as VFX.
Next, Ciri creates a portal through which three horrifying basilisks appear, one blue, one black and a final white one, each increasing in strength and power. Cinesite’s concept team worked closely with the production to develop the look of the creatures, whose anatomy includes snake, bird and reptilian features.
Cinesite VFX Supervisor Aleksandar Pejic asserts, “This creature had everything: fur, feathers and scales. It required both groom and displacement, which is rarely the case, and its movement needed to combine a range of very different creature characteristics and anatomies; it also had to fit the action which had been shot. Our task was helped greatly by some beautiful previsualisation, fantastic fight choreography and the convincing performances by the actors and stunt people. Dadi had a stunt team on set in green suits to simulate the basilisk, which not only helped the actors but gave us invaluable reference for timing and lighting.”
Cinesite created many more sequences throughout the series, including delivering the Chernobog creature which battles Geralt in the sixth episode, and Aretuza, a magic academy for women where much of the action takes place.