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The art of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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The art of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The art of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt builds on ancient foundations.

Arjan Terpstra

12 Aug 2022 ⋅ 4 min read

Knights and kings. Peasants and mages. Elves and monsters. The Witcher is every inch a fantasy story. A dark fantasy, perhaps, filled with nightmarish monsters and gory fights, but still: a fantasy.

CD Projekt RED, the studio that made The Witcher video games, had an intriguing assignment: to visualize the spectacular Witcher fantasy world as imagined by writer Andrzej Sapkowski. How did they translate his epic tale from the book pages to a computer screen?
WitcherGeraltYennefer
© CD Projekt Red

Geralt and Yennefer fight a foe. Available as art print from our web store. See this page for details on size, pricing, and finishes.

Origins



To understand the power of Sapkowski's Witcher stories, we have to look at its origins. Sapkowski used the same base ingredient as other fantasy writers: the historic romanticism of the nineteenth Century.

This gave us Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, but also The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in later Centuries. They're epic tales of noble knights and damsels in distress, with the occasional mage or druid thrown in for good measure.
Queen

Romanticist artists in the 19th Century were enthralled by the Middle ages, that seemingly supported their Victorian morals and ethics more than modern times did. It led to much rose-tinted painting, like this one by Frank William Warwick Topham showing Ivanhoe bowing to the queen before a jousting duel.

Sapkowski did not use Medieval England as a template, and strayed from the romantic view on nobility and courtly love evident in "Western" fantasy. Instead, he looked at the darker patterns of Eastern European history, when wars were endemic, and happiness scarce.

His world is a ravaged world, full of looming peril. Death is never far away, especially with the Wild Hunt present: a band of specters roaming around on undead horses. The only ones able to challenge this Wild Hunt are the story's heroes: the Witcher Geralt of Rivia, a monster slayer for hire, and his mage friends Yennefer of Vengerberg, Ciri, and Triss.

Darkness



Sapkowski may have penned an epic series of Witcher books, but how would they transfer to a game? How would the artists at CD Projekt Red strike the right balance between story and gameplay, and decide on how "dark" dark would be?

This is where concept art comes in. Concept artists visualize what a game's development team needs to know to build a game, and are pivotal to finding a game's aesthetic.

To do so, these artists looked at the sources that inspired Sapkowski.
WitcherFiend
© CD Projekt Red

Geralt meets a foe in the woods. Concept art made by Mark Madej for The Witcher 3. Available as art print from this website. Follow the link for details.

The towns and places in the Witcher world for instance all stay close to Sapkowski's Polish roots. A city name like "Novigrad" for example, means "New Town" in many Slavic languages, and is used in-game.

The in-game Novigrad is a purely fictional place, but the name meant the concept artists could leverage many attributes of historic towns that thrived in countries like Croatia, Hungary, or Poland.

Telling details are in the architecture: the half-timbered houses are typical of late-Medieval buildings in Germanic and Slavic countries, a construction popular in places where timber comes cheap, as was the case in the densely forested regions of Eastern Europe.
WitcherNovigrad
© CD Projekt Red

Concept art for Novigrad Port, used in the development of The Witcher 3. The building styles are consistent with Eastern-European building styles used in late Medieval and early modern times.

Eastern European aesthetic



Sapkowski also leaned much more on folklore than his fellow fantasy writers, especially German and Slavic folklore. In doing so, he introduced menaces like the Rusalka, Striga, and Vodyanoi to his readers.

This made for easy research for the concept artists: as many artists were themselves of Polish origins, they would have imagined the shape of specific monsters from their bedtime stories.

There's the Nekkers for instance, small scavengers who hunt travelers in groups, and the Crones, three witches who collect people's ears to help them "listen to the woods." There's the Rusalki, water nymphs not unlike sirens and mermaids in appearance and behavior, and the Vodyanoi, fish people who board your ship when you least expect it.
WitcherNekkers
© CD Projekt Red

Water Hags, Nekkers en Drowners are common monsters in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s world. Image available as fine art print though here.

It's this dark and Eastern European aesthetic that inspired not only the makers of The Witcher games, but also artists that designed the Netflix series, and others.

Tribute art



Take this tribute artwork by the artist Nekro, called "Linked by Destiny," who reimagined Geralt of Rivia in digital art reminiscent of late-Gothic, wooden statues.
Linked by Destiny (2020), detail
© CD PROJEKT RED

Linked By Destiny by Nekro, detail. Please see the product page for availability and pricing.

"Haunted" by the artist Christopher Shy takes a different approach, and takes its inspiration from the ominous, haunting atmosphere that The Witcher has. Shy's art looks as if we get to see a slice of his subconscious interpretation of the game's hazards.
Haunted - Christopher Shy
© CD Projekt Red
Or take "No Gods nor Masters" by Chris Beerens, who takes us back to the woods where every haunting The Witcher monster originates. It's a beautiful artwork that gives you a completely new take on the appearance of Geralt, the monsters, and other cast members of Sapkowski's books.
No Gods Nor Masters
© Chris Berens/Cook and Becker

No Gods Nor Masters, a The Witcher-inspired work by Chris Berens. The art is available as part of our Witcher commissioned works collection.

Each artistic take is different, unique, and yet all share the same dark roots: those of Eastern European history and Slavic folklore.

The Witcher 3 Fine Art Prints and Notebooks

Sometimes there’s monsters, sometimes there’s money. Rarely both. That’s the life.