On Friday, a day after the release of The Witcher‘s trailer and the reveal of its December 20 release date, key crew-members from the Netflix production starring Henry Cavill rose to the stage at Lucca. There, they discussed the tireless work that brought this story from the pages of Andrzej Sapkowski‘s novels to the big screen. Though phones were once again not allowed, our partner from Witcherflix was able to take notes the old fashioned way. We’ve gathered the panel’s highlights below.
The first panelist to rise to the stage at Lucca was Executive Producer Tomek Baginski. Baginski has been with the show from the very beginning. In fact, it was him who pitched The Witcher to Netflix about four years ago, after directing cinematics for the franchise’s video games. Back then, the story was pitched as a single movie based on the short story The Lesser Evil. Throughout the years, the project evolved into a series, with plans in place to complete the eight-book saga in seven seasons. Baginski has been close to the project through its various iterations, serving as an important link between Netflix and author Andrzej Sapkowski, and helping manage the production as an Executive Producer throughout the filming of its first season.
The next two panelists serve as leads in The Witcher‘s art department and were incremental in creating the look and feel of the show. Production Designer Andrew Laws was in charge of the team that created The Witcher‘s sets and props, as well as the prosthetics and special effects teams that created the show’s monsters. Meanwhile, Costume Designer Tim Aslam, who had previously worked on Starz pirate drama Black Sails, was tasked with creating the show’s costumes including over a thousand sets made for extras and close to 200 for the main cast.
The panel featured a Q&A with Baginski, Laws and Aslam that proved each of them was given free rein to do their jobs and contribute to the creative vision of the show. The guidance of showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich was important in unifying that vision, as mentioned by Laws: “We rely on the showrunner to interpret the dense source material. We also rely on writers who give us a road map. Everything happens in honor of the source material to serve our way of storytelling.”
“I had a discussion with Lauren first,” Aslam explained when asked about deciding the look of the show’s costumes. “The style in the show is mainly based on Gothic influences, from medieval to the times between the 1830s to the 1890s. We’re also influenced by high fashion, which Lauren loves. There are also ethnic eastern influences.” This variety lends itself to The Witcher‘s world, The Continent, which is divided into many countries. “We tried to have a cohesive look for every different kingdom.”
Aslam also discussed the visual trope of “dirty peasants”, which he chose not to commit to in his costumes. “There are nuances for the different levels of societies, like the Cintran nobility or the lower classes. You would think in a show based on medieval societies that the clothes of the lower classes wouldn’t look fresh. But it’s not true that everyone in medieval society was filthy. They were cleaner than the people in later periods, they washed their clothes. But we’re still in a fantasy show, so the dirt on the people’s clothes is there, but it’s more subtle.”
Throughout the panel, all three stressed that creating a believable, immersive world was an important goal. As such, the team avoided CGI as often as possible, favoring practical effects and filming in beautiful locations. “We wanted to ground it in a real environment,” said Laws. “Almost everything you see is a real environment. We used special effects very carefully. It’s so important for the audience’s experience.”
The dedication to practical effects was also carried into the show’s fantastical elements. “Monsters are a big part of the world,” Laws said. “It’s exciting to create each element of the monsters with its own influence. There is a symbiotic relationship between our monsters and the environment they live in. All elements influence each other.”
The panelists were then asked about the biggest challenges in producing the show, and this is what Baginski had to say: “The most challenging moment was almost every day. I remember at one point the trebuchet which appeared in the trailer was broken. But it’s hard for me to point out one single moment. A thousand people worked on this for months. Everything was special.”
Unfortunately, Baginski did not address the controversy surrounding the Nilfgaardian armor (you know the one) and neither did Aslam.
At the end of the panel, each of them was able to say a few words in conclusion. Baginski was first. “It has almost been a ten-year journey with Andrzej [Sapkowski, series author]. I wanted to adapt the books almost since they were published. Now Lauren became the key person. She does great work. Andrzej is consulting. I had a very, very long conversation with him. We’re very happy with the TV show right now.”
“It was a long journey for me as well,” said Laws. “Eleven months, from start to finish, creating this universe. It’s never enough time, but we’re still producing very fantastic things. It was a Herculean task to adapt this dense material, but it was a real honor for me to create this.”
“My work lasted from August 2018 to June 2019,” said Aslam. “We started with researching. We had little time, but sometimes it’s very beneficial as you have to be precise. Lauren helped clear our path. We had discussions. She helped with decisions and helped us to speed up [the process]. This is when you have the best creative results.”
With every new interview, it becomes clearer that the team behind The Witcher is quite passionate about their project. With eight novels to adapt and seven seasons already mapped out, The Witcher is set to dominate our screens this coming December 20, and we simply cannot wait.