Episode 297 — Platige Image — The Witcher

 

Episode 297 — Platige Image — The Witcher

Platige Image S.A. is a Polish VFX company that specializes in computer graphics, 3D animation and digital special effects. It was founded in Warsaw in 1997, by Jarosław Sawko and Piotr Sikora. The studio employs a staff of over 150 artists, including directors, art directors, graphic designers and producers. 

Over its 20-year history, Platige has built an impressive portfolio of short animations, cinematics, commercials and feature films with titles like Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots and The Witcher; Wonderwoman; Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Melancholia; Cathedral, Fallen Art and many others. Their work has garnered numerous prestigious awards and distinctions, such as a BAFTA, an EFA, a Goya Award and SIGGRAPH Awards, as well as nominations for an Oscar, the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

In this Podcast, Allan interviews Platige’s VFX Supervisor Matt Tokarz and VFX Producer Krzysztof Krok about their experience working on The Witcher for Netflix and the fact that Platige owned The Witcher’s IP.

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

[03:01] The Platige Creative Team Introduces Themselves

[03:34] Backstory on The Witcher

[06:07] Preparation and Research for The Witcher

[09:40] The Most Memorable Shots of the Show

[18:49] Working with Netflix

[18:49] The Team Talks About Certain Approaches to Sequences

[26:47] The Most Challenging Sequences and How They Were Approached

 

EPISODE 297 — PLATIGE IMAGE — THE WITCHER

Hi, everyone! 

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 297! I’m sitting down with the guys at Platige to talk about The Witcher and so much more! I’m super excited about this one!

Matt and Krzysztof talk about The Witcher and owning its IP, some of the memorable shots on the show and the company’s creative process.

Let’s dive in! 

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[01:00]  Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[29:12] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!

 

INTERVIEW WITH PLATIGE IMAGE

[03:01] Allan: Thank you, guys, for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourselves and tell us what your titles are at Platige?

Krzysztof: My name is Krzysztof and I’ve been a VFX Producer at Platige for 2 years. For more than a year, we’ve been working on The Witcher.

Matt: My name is Matt and I’m a VFX Supervisor at Platige. I was in charge of planning, quality control and compositing some shots.

[03:34] Allan: I’m curious with The Witcher, how did this project come about?

Matt: Platige is an IP holder and that’s how it started.

Krzysztof: We were involved from the very early stages. We did some magical effects and the magic was the main scope of our work. But during the process, we did many other shots of extension, animation and so on. But the magic was the main thing. We started in the late 2018 before the shoot. 

Matt: It was really tricky because there weren’t a lot of references for portals. There was clear information from the Netflix team that they didn’t want to see anything fancy. They wanted something gentle and elegant, subtle. If you think about the references for portals, it’s hard to find. What was surprising is that we found one great reference and that was Harry Potter. We got inspired by that and started to play with our interpretation of portals. Then, we had to share it with other studios. We weren’t doing all the shots and the other studios shared with us.

[06:07] Allan: How did you prepare for shooting the show in Poland?

Matt: We’ve got a lot of talented artists here! All of them are in Canada, unfortunately. Platige is pretty well known for our game cinematics and our commercial work. The company is the biggest one in the Polish market and one of the biggest ones in East Europe. But it wasn’t easy to find proper artists for this task. The deadlines were tight and the work was intense. We had to make sure there wouldn’t be any failures during the work.

Krzysztof: And the other thing about getting talent is that there aren’t other studios doing such work. It wasn’t that easy to get extra talent. 

[07:41] Allan: I feel like you, guys, have absorbed all the talent. Obviously, you’re doing amazing work! You were involved on set as well. Were there any challenges with that?

Matt: As a post-production team, we weren’t involved with working on set. There was one Producer from Platige on set and he was responsible for advising directors.

[08:34] Allan: What type of tools or technology were you using for this project?

Matt: We’ve modified our pipeline because it was our first time working with Netflix. We had to adapt our pipeline. We rolled out a tool named Playground Glare and it automatically plugged in footage into our pipeline. So we didn’t have to do it manually. It created all the proxies and we could publish them undistorted or import them later into Nuke or Maya. On all other steps, it was the same as we work in game cinematics or commercials.

[09:32] Allan: With it being for Netflix, was 4K your output?

Matt: Yes.

[09:40] Allan: In terms of the contributions you did, what were some of the most iconic sequences or the biggest challenges you had?

Matt: I really liked the sequence at the end of Episode 4. As we were finishing the first Episode, there were just a few shots. Our Art Director had to meet us in the morning and do some final tweaks for it. We were waiting for him and we got a text message that he was in the hospital. I thought it was a joke. I came back in 15 minutes and realized it wasn’t a joke. The Art Director sent me a picture from the hospital. We were really stressed. And we wanted to satisfy Netflix. And maybe because of these circumstances that I really like this sequence. It was actually used in the trailer. Our color correction is really vibrant. 

[11:56] Allan: I hope your Art Director is okay!

Matt: Yeah! Not really. He broke his arm riding a scooter.

[12:07] Allan: With the sequences like that, what’s the typically turnaround time?

Krzysztof: I think it depends on the complexity. We also had an explosion in Episode 5. And each time, it was as easy as it was complicated. When you see the portals (which were subtle) and the explosion, there were some creative and technical processes. It depended on the complexity. But when the production was running at full speed and the team was 30-60 people, as opposed to the amount of people involved being at 150.

[13:14] Allan: With doing certain effects, were there any approaches to build tools or animate processes?

Matt: We were working on the same pipeline for a very long time that we’ve developed for our cinematics. It simplifies the communication between softwares and helps to plan our work in a specific way. People in the studio are used to how we work in the studio. Our department was divided into a few teams. All the teams had their own Producer and Coordinator. We had access to extra talent if we needed it. But the way people were working inside the team, we didn’t write any extra tools. Most of the tools are already written. We didn’t have so many repetitive shots, that we needed to animate them. Even with portals, they’re the same. They just look a little bit different. When we needed to tweak one, we didn’t optimize it in any way. 

[15:06] Allan: And you were mentioning before that it was really difficult to find references for certain things. It was based on the books. In terms of the concept art, was there a lot of visual material out there?

Matt: We’re doing huge research, of course. We saw the pictures and played the video games. But it was hard to adapt it for our needs. As you said, the main goal was to create VFX that matched the books, not the video games.

Krzysztof: It can be misleading at some point. The Director wanted something different from Marvel movies. 

[16:21] Allan: Do you think that there is a protective fanbase for the books? It means you have a lot to interpret.

Matt: Maybe, it’s too early to say. They’re planning to have 7 Seasons. Let’s wait.

[17:00] Allan: Obviously, The Witcher was very well received. How do you feel about the work?

Krzysztof: I think we’ve learned the lessons and it’ll be easier with any other projects. We were just one of the pieces of the puzzle with guys from all over the world. From my perspective, I’ve gained a lot of experience. 

Matt: It was amazing to see how this Netflix machine works. Everything is planned, there are procedures for everything. The work is really intense. On the other hand, we had access to Julian Parry, the VFX Supervisor. So it was great! He gave us a lot of great comments and working with him was a pleasure.

Krzysztof: Yes, things were really smooth. 

[18:49] Allan: With Netflix, I’ve always found that it’s extremely organized and how they work. They’re really professional. In terms of environments, in Episode 4, how did you approach those shots?

Matt: That was actually Episode 5, with the mansion destruction. We are pretty experienced in 3D, with game cinematics. We replaced and recreated everything in 3D, simulated in Houdini.

[20:07] Allan: When it comes to recreating everything in 3D, are you using photogrammetry?

Matt: For the mansion sequence, we had a LiDAR scanner.

Krzysztof: It was hard because we had to have a general idea about the structure without being onsite. 

Matt: For other shots, we received photogrammetry. It is really helpful. It allows us to start somewhere instead of searching for the shape.

[21:07] Allan: Can you talk a bit about the exploding head sequence?

Matt: That’s part of Episode 5. It was pretty tricky. We started from references one of which was from that movie…

[21:42] Allan: Scanners?

Matt: How did you know?!

[21:44] Allan: I’ve done a bunch of exploding heads so that’s my reference movie too.

Matt: It looks a bit old school and cheap. We started to think about how to make it look better. We analyzed how the skull is built. Our approach was scientific. We recreated the actor in 3D. In a few weeks, we wanted to cut the head through the skull. But they wanted to cut it off right above the neck. We were disappointed because we’d done so much research!

[23:06] Allan: Who were the key artists that took ownership?

Matt: All of our teams have their Leads and they were involved with shots. We asked our deformation specialist to help us with this shot. He did a lot of research. In terms of other artists, we had our Art Directors. We also worked with Agata Wacławiak-Paczkowska who helped us with a few sequences. We’re a pretty big studio and there are a lot of projects going on here. We try to involve as many people as we can. There were people who wanted to work on the film too. We were really happy about that, that we didn’t have to convince anybody. People were really involved.

[25:04] Allan: With the Djinn sequence, what were the hardest parts? Can you talk about what you did with that?

Matt: The first sequence with Djinn was the lake shot. We had to create something that was invisibile.

Krzysztof: Distortion based.

Matt: Yes! We had to show how it escapes and how that energy glides over the lake. We simulated it in Houdini and comped it in Nuke.

Krzysztof: There were a lot of 3D passes. Our Director started composting and mixing, and then we had a general idea. We adjusted to that. At the end of the day, it went pretty smoothly. Some effects seem easy but they take a long time.

[26:47] Allan: My final question would be: Is there any particular shot that seemed easy but turned out really difficult?

Matt: I think the two sequences in which we did flying arrows and the shield. We started at the very beginning but they were reshooting the Episode. There were creative decisions that needed to be made. We were also waiting for another vendor. We weren’t sure how many arrows needed to be there. It was really close to the deadline. We had a lot of time to do the shot but we had to wait for the last minutes. We had just a few days. And the exploding head was the second [hard shot]. We had a lot of research and sent a lot of references. We had to change a lot of things in no time. 

[29:02] Allan: I’m very familiar with the sequences and they all turned out so great! Thank you so much for sharing your process! And again, congratulations! I think The Witcher turned out amazing. 

 

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Matt and Krzysztof for taking the time to chat.

Next week, I’m interviewing David Adan. I believe I’ve talked about David’s story before and how he transitioned into VFX later in life — and how he’s become a successful VFX Lead and Cinesite. Now, he gets to work on such cool films. David is actually a student of mine in my courses. I wanted him to come on and talk about his story.

I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!

 

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