At Lucca Comics & Games, badtaste.it had a chance to sit down with three of the masterminds behind the production of Netflix’s The Witcher: Executive producer Tomasz “Tomek” Bagiński, production designer Andrew Laws, and costume designer Tim Aslam. In two interviews published separately, they talked about the challenges in creating a production of this scale, the show’s use of practical versus digital effects in monster design, and how fantasy elements influenced the making of the costumes.
Tomek Bagiński: “I had dreamed of bringing the books to the screen since they were published”
At this point, Tomek Bagiński should need no introduction. He was the man who originally pitched The Witcher to Netflix about four years ago, yet he had been involved in the franchise for a far longer time, having directed cinematics for The Witcher video game of 2007. Throughout the show’s first season he has overseen the production as an executive producer, while also staying close to the sets.
Tomek first came into contact with The Witcher a long time ago and has pursued the project of bringing the books to the screen in various iterations: “It’s a very long story so I’ll try to summarize it. It was a journey of almost ten years, since I first met Sapkowski. I had dreamed of bringing books to the screen since they were published. We started working with Netflix two and a half years ago, when Lauren became a showrunner.”
Witcher author Andrzej Sapkowski has been full of praise for the show, which he expects to replicate the success of Game of Thrones, if not surpass it. As Bagiński explains, he has been involved in the production from the start but has taken a more backseat approach to viewing episodes in advance: “We have always worked with Andrzej, using him as a consultant. He doesn’t want to be too involved because he likes to be surprised by the series, but we know he is very happy with the result so far.”
Filming of The Witcher’s first season lasted six months from October 2018 to May 2019, and it wasn’t all pomp and glory. When asked about the biggest challenges, Tomek said: “I won’t talk about the budget, but I can say that every day has been a challenge. Every day we found ourselves faced with complicated moments, several adventures happened including some I just can’t tell! But in the trailer you see an enormous trebuchet: know that we have broken it, and this is just one of the accidents that have happened to us! It was a very difficult project, with thousands of people involved for eight months. It is difficult to indicate a special moment: there were special moments every day.”
With the second season likely aiming for a 2021 release, Bagiński hopes that some of these challenges can be overcome but admits that others are likely to persist, in part due to The Witcher’s massive scale: “It can never be simple, because if it were simple to achieve we would not get this quality level.”
Andrew Laws: “We have worked with visual effects to extend the setting, but almost all the environments are real”
Andrew Laws has been instrumental in creating a believable Witcher world serving as the lead production designer. He worked on the show for eleven months, first scouting the locations for shooting and designing the sets and later overseeing the show’s props as well as the prosthetics and special effects teams.
Andrew explains that creating a realistic setting has always been at the core of his work: “We decided from the beginning that the characters would be at the center of the series and that we would refer to them all the time. We wanted our world to be realistic and to connect with a real setting. We have therefore worked with visual effects to increase and extend the setting, but almost all the environments are real. Otherwise the story would not look realistic and the contact between spectator and history would break. We resorted to visual effects carefully to avoid alienating the public and the characters.”
He expects that bringing practical effects to the forefront will resonate with the audience as it’s something rarely done in fantasy productions: “The goal is to get a very visceral and concrete feeling, in which the characters are very important, the audience must feel that they are with these characters. Obviously the monsters are the part with the greatest digital effects but many have a practical and a digital part. Look, it’s a very different approach and quite fresh compared to what you would expect.”
Speaking of The Witcher’s monsters, the released footage only showed us a few select glimpses at their expected designs, but Showrunner Lauren Hissrich hinted that there’s much more to come. According to Laws, all of these creatures and their design will reflect the environment they’re living in: “Monsters are part of the fabric of the world in which the series takes place, they are an integral part of it. But every different element of this world influences the rest, so for us it is interesting to work on the design and creation of the environment in which these monsters live, due to the symbiosis that exists between these elements.”
Tim Aslam: “The style we have chosen is quite Gothic, and we have applied it to all aspects of the show by studying fashion”
Tim Aslam, who many of you may know from his fantastic work on Starz’s Black Sails was responsible for designing The Witcher’s costumes. Like Laws, his work on the show was an 11 month commitment which began with researching, drawing designs and gathering material before working on the actual costumes.
The books obviously served as a starting point for all costume work, however Aslam primarily relied on showrunner Lauren Hissrich to interpret the source material and write a storyline that would provide them with a creative roadmap: “I discussed it with the showrunner at the beginning: it’s a fantasy series, it’s not really medieval. The style we have chosen is quite Gothic, and we have applied it to all aspects by studying fashion (which Lauren knows well) and the influences for the clothing of the various ethnic groups.”
While fantasy may be the main focus, this doesn’t mean that costumes won’t take other considerations into account: “Obviously fantasy is the frame but compared to the sometimes very exaggerated costumes used in fantasy productions, we remained very down to earth. You have to consider that this type of work does not allow you to do exactly what you want, you have to keep in mind that a costume will perhaps be used for action scenes, so some frills may be unnecessary if not harmful. The actor must still be comfortable and the costume must allow him to perform movements he has to do.”
For The Witcher, Aslam and his team had to design a gigantic amount of costumes including over 1000 variations for distinctive groups like noble- and common folk, as well as mages, soldiers, elves, dwarves, and dryads. We cannot wait to see all of them on screen in December but in the meantime have a sneak peak at what some of the main characters will wear, in this fantastic gallery from Witcherflix:
The creative process between the different departments is a very integrated one and costume design can only work in close collaboration with production design. As Tim would be the first to admit, this sometimes comes down to very banal factors: “Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m not going in the right direction but by talking to others I understand it. Truly, if a room is green, the character cannot be dressed in green”
As the hype from Lucca settles down, The Witcher is now only about one and a half months away from release. The wait has been long, but we expect more promotional content to air in November, including IGN’s behind-the-scenes feature. Bear with us and keep an eye out for other interviews, and an analysis of what we learned from The Witcher’s trailer. That will be coming next!