As The Witcher has grown beyond its first season and expanded with not only multiple seasons but prequels, too, the team behind its visual design has had to expand its ambitions as well. In particular, it’s had to think a lot about the history of the world and how it influenced the way things like fashion and architecture evolved on the Continent. That could be as simple as the material utilized to make swords in one time period or as large as a ruin in the main timeline that was once a beautiful structure in the past.
For Andrew Laws, a production and concept designer on the series, all of those details are vital for making The Witcher universe feel like a real, lived-in place. “A lot of the time, you don’t get to see all of [the details],” he explains. “But I think it has an effect on the eventual outcome of the final product.”
This became especially important with Blood Origin, a prequel set 1,000 years before the main timeline. Laws, who worked on both shows, says that the idea of introducing the elven world, which was more prevalent during that period, had actually started in season 2, but it became much more pronounced with Blood Origin. And it’s most obviously seen in the architecture of the world.
“That architectural language has been continuous.”
“By the time we got to Blood Origin, there was already the beginnings of the language that we wanted to explore deeper,” explains Laws. “But we also knew that the language was something we would continue to see more of in The Witcher itself. You see a lot of that particularly in the Shaerrawedd at the beginning of season 3. That architectural language has been continuous. It’s interesting from a design standpoint to look at not just what a ruined civilization is but also what it was like in its prime. How you see a ruin, and your perception of what it might have looked like, versus what it actually was, and what maybe is missing from the modern view of it.”
Another example is Aretuza, one of the most iconic locations in The Witcher universe, a sort of academy for budding mages. Though you’re not really told the history of the building explicitly, you can see it in the design. It’s an elven structure that was taken over by humans, who continued to add on and build.
“So there’s a cross of the two languages,” says Laws. “And that’s one of the things that I really liked about the idea of Aretuza: there’s an evolution of the architectural language. The mainframe of the building is the elven structure, but within that, the human element has brought in its own language. So there’s a juxtaposition of the original elven arches versus the more Roman arches in the main courtyard of the building. It’s fun to play with that evolution.”
The team thought about weapons and armor in a similar way. Nick Jeffries, an armorer on the show, says the weaponry in The Witcher is generally based on the late medieval period of our world. That includes both the style of the gear but also the materials used. So long as they fit within that time period, “we’re good,” he says. So when it came time to work on Blood Origin, he had to shift things backward — but with some caveats.
“For the prequel, I pushed the design back while also keeping in mind the technology they would have,” he says. That means that while the weapon designs are generally based on the Bronze Age, they’re built with steel because elves had access to that technology. “There’s definitely a design style of an earlier time, but with the caveat that we used materials and methods that, in our world, weren’t invented yet.”
For Deb Watson, makeup and hair designer on both shows, exploring history in that way was a creatively freeing experience. “It pushed me to be more avant-garde than I would’ve been in the [main] Witcher world,” she says of working on Blood Origin. “We were taking the rules that we learned about in our Witcher world, but then breaking them, pushing them, and thinking about Blood Origin as a time before. So we wanted to have the roots of Witcher looks in Blood Origin. As if there had been a memory blank, but certain things had filtered through.”
“We wanted to have the roots of Witcher looks in Blood Origin.”
You can also see evolutions throughout the mainline Witcher series that happen on a much smaller timescale, as characters can change dramatically from season to season. Most infamously, the bard Jaskier (Joey Batey) took on a much darker look starting in season 2, with new rockstar hair and a red trench coat. Though it’s not quite as jarring, season 3 features a similar makeover. Istredd (Royce Pierreson), a mage and archeologist who had an appropriately bookish look in the show, now has long flowing hair and an equally flowing coat. And according to Watson, the choice originated with the actor himself.
“Midway through season 2, Royce had said to me, ‘I’d really like to have longer hair,’” she explains. “And we looked at the story points and the time within the story and talked with [showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich], and she said there’s not really enough time in our story to explain the fact that his hair is longer. But he was dead keen on it. So he said, ‘What about season 3?’ And then of course season 3 came up, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘So, about that longer hair, Deb.’”
It may seem like a small shift, but just like the history imbued in the architecture and swords, it’s one meant to help tell the story in a natural, visual way. “There was something with Royce that I always wanted to break out from that season 1 look,” adds costume designer Lucinda Wright. “He was very restricted. Now he’s grown up: that’s why he has the flowing coat and the leather trousers. He’s matured.”