Creating CG sorcery on Netflix’s The Witcher
How Framestore used Nuke to navigate rapid production schedules on episodic TV shows like The Witcher
Fantasy: as an audience, we’re fascinated with it. From whole new worlds built on myth and legend to roguish tales and mighty quests, we can’t get enough of storytelling that transports us beyond our own reality.
Enter The Witcher: the latest, if not newest, franchise that’s arrived on our screens and streams, just in time to sate our appetite for the other-worldy. Stoic, solitary Geralt of Rivia leads the charge in this epic tale, slaying monsters with might and magic, amidst a backdrop of political turmoil and moral ambiguity. It’s fantasy at its finest.
Despite having a provenance that spans back over thirty years—first with a best-selling book series from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, then with a hugely successful trilogy of video games from AAA juggernaut CD Projekt Red—The Witcher owes its emergence in the global zeitgeist to the success of Netflix’s recent adaption of the franchise.
Of course, bringing a whole new world to life—in this case, The Continent, with all its characters, creatures and oddities—requires no amount of first-class CG to make it stand up to the big screen. As one of several visual effects houses to work on The Witcher series, Framestore can attest to the sheer amount of shots needed to do justice to a franchise beloved by fans for years.
Happily, Foundry’s compositing tool Nuke was on hand to help. As a member of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance, Nuke is proven to meet the technical and workflow requirements needed in the post production and delivery of Netflix Originals.
We caught up with Pedro Sabrosa and Owen Braekke-Carroll, Framestore’s VFX Supervisor and Compositing Supervisor, to explore how the team used Nuke to quell the chaos that often comes with episodic productions such as The Witcher.
A monster project...
“The Witcher had a huge range of VFX needs; from large environment builds, creepy monsters and creatures to magical effects,” Pedro tells us. “Framestore did all the large environments and a lot of magical and environment effects.”
Working across all eight episodes, Framestore delivered on the show within a year. “[This] seems like quite a lot,” Pedro comments, “but there was a huge variety of work for the 300+ shots and long lead times for large asset builds and FX development.”
Such variety often comes with the territory for episodic productions such as The Witcher, and presents its own unique challenges, as Framestore was quick to find out. “Expectations for TV work has gotten really high,” Pedro tells us. “That means on a project like this you have to work in an agile way to get through the workload in the timeframe needed but still maintain a high quality of work.”
To support their efforts in adjusting to this rapid way of working, Foundry’s compositing tool Nuke has been a constant for Framestore in helping the team realise their awesome creative vision amidst tight deadlines and increasing quality demands.
“Framestore has been using Nuke in our Integrated Advertising/TV pipeline for around a decade,” Pedro comments. “[It] plays a key role in all our projects.”
...deserves mighty tools
As the show’s Compositing Supervisor at Framestore, Owen Braekke-Carroll is well placed to provide further insight into how exactly Nuke helped the team manage complexity on The Witcher.
“We used Nuke across all our shots[...]; work that ranged from 2D-based digital matte painting extensions of cities and cliff edges to fully-CG cityscapes with FX pyro, and all sorts of magical effects in between,” he tells us.
“One of the biggest benefits of Nuke on a project like this is the ability to improve and speed up workflows across all steps of the production,” Owen continues. “I used Nuke to create Matte paintings and then passed these down the pipeline as live assets, lighting setups and 3D geometry in the same way. Using Nuke's ability to work with a wide variety of inputs natively lets creative decisions be made right until the last moment—and once they're locked, rolled out across whole sequences easily.”
Despite the extraordinary aesthetic of the world Owen helped create, he still has a favorite sequence. “I was always particularly fond of the work we did on the massive Aretuza location and its neighbouring Tower of Gull,” he tells us. “I think it's a fantastic combination of striking plate photography and great art direction, which ended up producing some really nice, natural final images. In addition we got to get a little closer to the front of the building's edifice and really show off the asset and texture work up close.”
Such detailed, breath-taking vfx work needs a powerful hub by which artists and supervisors can see the status of any work in progress, whilst keeping a finger on the pulse to ensure projects run as smoothly as possible. Happily, Foundry’s review tool Hiero works as part of the Nuke ecosystem to ensure a consistent review process across post-production teams. Owen explains how the Nuke workflow improved his team’s efficiency: “Nuke’s integration with Hiero helped us pass assets across the pipeline, enabling us to share the same grade or colour workflows directly from the edit through to comp/lighting.”
Combined, Nuke and Hiero pair perfectly for Framestore’s composting and review efforts, especially in the face of rapid production schedules that are par for the course with episodic content. And with the market and audience demand for this type of content ever-increasing, it’s unlikely that things will slow down anytime soon.
Pedro Sabrosa understands the importance of finding tools that can keep pace: “We incorporated Foundry’s products when it became clear many years ago that the company was committed to developing and maintaining tools that served the ever-changing needs of our industry.”
This sentiment reflects a central tenet of Foundry’s philosophy. We remain committed to helping studios like Framestore slay their post-production nightmares in support of the outstanding artistry that goes into shows like The Witcher.