The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf aims to flesh out Geralt's dad, say producer and director

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf aims to flesh out Geralt's dad, say producer and director
PHOTO: Netflix

Meet Geralt’s old man.

Netflix is slowly building a franchise out of The Witcher with a few spin-offs, one of them being an animated movie.

Why wouldn’t they, at this point? The first season of The Witcher, which involved Geralt’s futile attempts to avert the course of his destiny, was a smash hit.

The world beneath Geralt's feet, called The Continent, is rich with history and diverse populace, seemingly primed for stories that stretch far beyond the white-haired witcher’s monster-slaying adventures.

Enter The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, an animated film set before the events of The Witcher. This movie follows Vesemir, a veteran witcher who trained and raised Geralt - only we meet him a long time before any of that happened.

 A time before the Continent began running out of monsters for witchers to slay, and humans still had a reason to not actively hate them.

A time when swashbuckling witchers could pursue coin and lavish lifestyles while effortlessly dispatching nightmarish creatures from the darkest depths of the murkiest forests. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

We recently had the opportunity to speak to producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and director Kwang Il Han about the making of this film and how, surprisingly, Vesemir’s story was planned to be told this way all along.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Turning back the clock

Netflix’s The Witcher is based on a popular series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski, which chronicle Geralt’s journey in a tumultuous land called the Continent.

As such, there are multiple books’ worth of stories and characters who could’ve been fleshed out in a film like this - but according to Hissrich, the creative team decided to give Vesemir the spotlight from very early on.

“We were actually writing it alongside Season One. It has been in the works for that long, so that takes us back to 2018.”

Hissrich knew that the second season would focus on Geralt and Ciri’s journey to Kaer Morhen, and saw Nightmare of the Wolf as a great way to introduce viewers to the castle in its prime.

“The focus became what kind of story can stand on its own, but also, if fans want to watch all of (The Witcher and it's spin-offs) - what would really reward the viewer.

"They come, they watch this standalone anime, and it actually provides them new insight into Season Two.”

The movie serves up a generational family story, which thematically ties into The Witcher rather neatly. Geralt and Ciri have something of a father-daughter relationship, though it has yet to develop in the series.

In the film, we’re introduced to Vesemir’s father figure Deglan (voiced by Graham McTavish), and with him comes the understanding of how witchers work in generations. “We know they live for a very long time.

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So how does their social structure work? How are they a family? And what do they learn from?

How do they pass on those lessons?” Hissrich ponders.

Does that mean Nightmare of the Wolf is a must-watch for fans of the main series?

The answer is a somewhat murky no. You don’t have to watch this film to understand Season Two, but it does tie into Geralt’s adventures in meaningful ways.

“What I think is awesome is that if you watch Nightmare of the Wolf, you will be rewarded in spades in Season Two, because there's a lot that we're planting in the history of Kaer Morhen, in Deglan and Vesemir’s relationship and so on.

"There are so many things that we're planting in that history that will then come back in Season Two, and provide a little extra colour to the story that we're telling.”

Killing monsters

After the Conjunction of the Spheres (an event that will soon be explored in The Witcher: Blood Origin), the Continent became a jumbled mess of creatures from multiple species.

Beyond its intelligent population however, the Continent also plays house to a colourful variety of bloodthirsty monsters, which witchers are trained to slay for a worthwhile fee.

One of my favourite creatures from this world happens to be the Leshy (or if you played the games, Leshen). Imagine my surprise when Nightmare of the Wolf kicked off with Vesemir fending off this hostile forest spirit.

According to Hissrich, the creative team often goes beyond Sapkowski’s books to find monsters for witchers to tussle with in their projects. “The author of the books, he travelled immensely, all over the world.

"And so he's constantly drawing inspiration from fairy tales, especially sort of dark, twisted fairy tales, and mythology and folklore from all of these different places that he visited.

"It's something that we try to honor in the show as well, not just by the monsters and characters that we borrow from the books, but also in the ones that we create ourselves. It is absolutely our plan to continue doing that.”

Hence, one can expect more monsters from popular folklore to pop up in The Witcher Season Two and its various tie-ins.

The process of translating monsters like the Leshy from a written to visual format took a bit of doing from Studio Mir’s end, however. Director Kwang Il-han says, “Artists tend to get more inspiration from the visuals rather than from the writing.

"So as a director myself, I had to gather as much information from the writings as much as possible, and then explain it to the artists.

"I would tell them what the distinctive features of each monster should be, for example. That's how we created the distinctive and unique monsters seen in the show.”

Witchers and bathtubs

On the obvious connection between the series and CD Projekt Red’s popular game trilogy also based on the books, Hissrich is nothing short of enthusiastic:

"To introduce a character that the book lovers, game lovers and eventually the TV show lovers all understand as this sort of older, grizzled, jaded man who has seen everything and is scared of nothing - to see him represented as a young man who is just full of bravado and adventuring and taking over the world.

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"That was part of the fun of this character, is showing this flip side of him.

"It's that idea of like, who was my dad when he was in college?

"I only know him as my very serious dad. But apparently, he drank a lot of beer in college.

"So what was that like?"

Obviously, this isn’t the only connection between The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf and CD Projekt Red’s games.

As seen in the trailer, the movie has yet another scene featuring a witcher in a bathtub, just like Geralt in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. This is very much on purpose, according to Hissrich.

“You have animated Vesemir, and he actually stands up and you get to see his naked animated butt. It’s taking the bathtub scene to a new level,” she says amusedly.

“In Season Two, we introduced the game swords in the show and you know, keep an eye out on the medallion tree too. We really have fun with these easter eggs.”

There’s also the obvious question: why make this film animated, instead of live-action like the series?

Part of the answer is equally obvious: “If I said ‘Oh, there's going to be this enormous battle, and it's going to have hundreds of thousands of people, and monsters and magic, and it's going to be on a mountainside’, someone would just say, ‘No’.”

Pivoting to animation allowed the team to start thinking differently, in the hopes of fully taking advantage of this new format despite Hissrich herself not having experience with it before.

Going to an animation studio like Studio Mir, which has churned out showstoppers like Avatar: The Legend of Korra and more recently, DOTA: Dragon’s Blood definitely helped.

“Of course, Studio Mir was incredible, because they actually pushed us even further. There would be times I thought we had hit the bounds of what we could do. And director Han would be like, ‘Nope, more’.”

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Il Han goes on to describe that while the process of making this film didn’t differ greatly from past projects he’d worked on at Studio Mir, it did cause him a lot more stress.

“This particular project, I had to lead in such a comprehensive manner.

"I had to process a lot of information in a short period of time.

"So I really enjoyed the process, but to be honest, it was a really stressful process as well. I had to juggle the schedule, and the directing, and the art design of the show all together at the same time.

"So it was a difficult or a stressful process to be honest. But then I enjoyed it.”

As for whether we’ll ever see a sequel to Nightmare of the Wolf or more animated projects in this universe, Hissrich says it all depends on fan reception.

“We can talk about doing more, but I want to make sure that this is really appreciated and as great as we think it is. We really want audiences to love it.”

The Continent is always evolving

Things are different for Vesemir at this point in the Continent’s history. It's an ever-changing place and witchers are looked down upon or at best, regarded with a healthy dose of suspicion during Geralt’s time.

Turn back the clock and the world is still full of monsters to kill, which allows witchers to thrive by their necessity.

Hissrich says, “It's quite a good time to be a witcher. One of the fun things about Vesemir’s story is that he is collecting coin, he is traveling all over the continent, he's having these adventures, he’s being a hero, he's meeting women... he seems to be living quite the life and enjoying it. 

"What we wanted to play with is, what happens when the Continent is evolving under your feet? That's a story that was important to us in Season One and will continue in Season Two, because the Continent is always shifting.

"One of the most striking visuals that we get to see in the anime is Kaer Morhen full of witchers, full of young boys training, pre-Trial of the Grasses, people coming back during the winter and training, and stocking up their elixirs, and resting.

"When we come to Kaer Morhen in Season Two, it’s a very, very different experience.”

Fans of The Witcher should view Nightmare of the Wolf as a deep dive into Kaer Morhen, which will soon serve as a very important location in Season Two.

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The movie dives into this witcher stronghold’s dark history, from the brutal Trial of the Grasses that young recruits must endure to the very reason it has become dilapidated and almost abandoned in Geralt’s time.

“The history that we heard of Kaer Morhen… What if there's more to it than that?

"What if we're hearing about it from the witchers’ perspective? What if there's another side?

"What if they weren’t just victims of the humans? I want to see different angles represented in the stories,” Hissrich explains.

Nightmare of the Wolf eventually leads into a spectacular battle at Kaer Morhen, and unsurprisingly, these extended action sequences take time to get right.

Il-han told us, “After doing the storyboarding, we create a certain timeline for each work. And we actually extended the timeline to the maximum for this climax sequence. We put in a lot of energy in creating this one.”

Anime fans will probably be pleased with Nightmare of the Wolf as well, since it doubles as an entry point to the larger Witcher universe. Says Hissrich, “I think that it will appeal to an anime audience. I think it's a beautiful anime film.

"And I think it will appeal to The Witcher's audience as well, who might know nothing about this specific style. And my hope would be that Witcher fans become anime fans and anime fans become Witcher fans.”

The future of The Witcher

The conversation then rolls over to Season Two, and how the creative team plans to continue adapting Sapkowski’s novels for the series.

According to Hissrich, the goal is to stick to the books as closely as possible - but take some narrative license to fill in some blanks concerning characters like Yennefer.

“In the book, she disappears for a very long time, she's blinded, and then she shows up much later, when Geralt needs her to train Ciri.

"I don't think that we can have a character disappear for six episodes, and have the audience be okay with that.”

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Hissrich refers to the main series as, “the mothership,” from which all other Witcher projects are born.

One of these projects is The Witcher: Blood Origin, an upcoming miniseries that explores the very first prototype witcher.

“Blood Origin is a completely original story. It takes place on the Continent, but there are brand new characters that aren't represented in the books or the games.”

She mentions that it's shooting soon.

For now, the goal is to have these spin-offs build on the main story, while also giving audiences a completely different perspective on characters like Vesemir, and groups like the Elves.

We’ll have to wait until Aug 23 to see what Geralt’s dad was like in college, for now. 

This article was first published in Hardware Zone.

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