Creating Environments for Netflix's The Witcher in Substance

Timothee Maron talks about finding a job as a 3D Artist, explains how he got to work for Netflix, BBC, and Eon Productions, and goes into detail describing the process of working on texturing and lookdev for The Witcher series.


My name is Timothee Maron and I am a CG Generalist specializing in Lookdev/Surfacing. 
I am currently working at Framestore London as a Junior Generalist Technical Director in the Episodic and Advertising department.

I studied CG Animation & VFX at ESMA Montpellier (France) where I graduated with a Master’s Degree. I also had the opportunity to do 2 internships during those studies, which were crucial in my learning journey. One of them was at Unit Image (Paris) and the other one was at DNEG (London).

I have been very lucky to contribute to a lot of projects even though I have been working in the industry for less than 2 years. My most famous projects are James Bond: No Time to Die, The Witcher (season 1), Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, The Crown (season 4), A Christmas Carol, and a few years before that there were Love, Death & Robots (season 1) and God of War cinematic commercial.

Working as a Generalist

The role of a Generalist definitely varies a lot from studio to studio and even more from one industry to another but let us talk about my case.

My main task/skill is lookdev, but I can also be doing modeling, texturing, lighting, or even compositing, it all depends on the needs of the projects. I can be doing a lot of things from hero props, characters, and creatures to full environments and from VFX (live-action) to full CG projects.

For example, I can be doing texture/lookdev of an asset and then do lighting on all the shots involving this particular asset, or build an environment from scratch and then assemble the entire scene, light, and comp all the shots within the sequence.

Sometimes I also do only lighting, only lookdev, or only texture. The life of a generalist is by definition very diversified and full of challenges. Being able to work on very different projects, timelines and teams is an amazing opportunity to learn as a junior artist. And in my opinion, this is a very rewarding position that allows you to be more involved in the final result.

Getting Hired by Framestore

Getting a job at Framestore was really straightforward. Three months before I graduated, I posted my graduation reel on LinkedIn, and I got contacted by Framestore’s recruiters the day after. One interview and a month later, I was signing a contract with them to start right after my graduation day.

I have always been very impressed by the work Framestore is doing so I am really happy to be a part of it now. I thought some student, graduate or junior, might be interested in seeing my graduation reel, so here it is:

I want to emphasize to all graduate/junior level 3D creators how important LinkedIn is in our industry. If you have not already, post your work out there and get noticed!

First Projects

My very first project was BBC’s A Christmas Carol mini-series. I was in charge of doing texture/lookdev for the building you can see in the picture above (the one on the right) as well as texture/lookdev of this ripped jaw you can see below. Later on, I took care of lighting for the shots containing the building. Definitely a great start and experience, which allowed me to learn Framestore’s pipeline and workflow.

The main challenge was getting used to Houdini. Here at Framestore Episodic and Advertising (a.k.a. IA), we use Houdini and Arnold for everything lookdev and lighting-related. That was a big challenge for me as I had never really used Houdini except for relatively basic FX assignments at school. Almost 2 years later, I am totally in love with it and do all my personal projects in it.

Working on The Witcher Series

The Witcher was my second project at Framestore, right after A Christmas Carol. I knew people who were working on it as I was seeing the scenes from The Witcher on the screens of my colleague's computers and I was really happy to become a part of the project. I joined relatively late in the process compared to the full production timeline. I was in charge of creating, updating, and improving the texturing and lookdev of the assets.

I spent most of my time doing asset texture and lookdev for different environments. The main one being this one:

I worked on the ramparts, castle grounds, walls, tents, part of the bridge, rocks, and ruins. The shot was assembled and lit by one of our CG leads on the show, David Watson.

Everything was textured using Substance Painter as we relied heavily on smart materials and shared our work amongst the asset team to speed up the process and tie everything together.

I had a chance to work on a few other environments, like this swamp where I did the ground texture and lookdev using a mix of Substance Designer and Substance Painter for the texturing part, while lookdev was done in Houdini/Arnold:

I broke down the process by making different versions of mud and dirt, like a fresh wet mud near the water, a very dry one, a mossy one, etc. Then in lookdev inside Houdini, I used a mix of masks blended together with attributes painted directly in Houdini to drive different shaders and variants. Leaves, branches, and rocks have then been scattered on top.

Also, I worked on texturing of the castle walls:

The main albedo textures of this castle were already done. I was in charge of improving them for this specific closeup shot as well as creating additional textures, roughness, and id for compositing needs. Adding details on an asset with an enormous scale like in this case was a big challenge. Any repetition in textures becomes immediately noticeable but you have to feel the scale. Furthermore, this castle was built hundreds of years ago using surrounding rocks which was a very important story point that needed to be told by its surfacing.

This scale and size also added a few more technical challenges, it has more than 40 UDIMs. At that time you could not paint across UV tiles in Substance Painter and with its shape and surface being very flat you had nowhere to hide the unwanted seams. I remember spending quite some time making sure all those textures and materials could tile and blend correctly.

Apart from that, I was in charge of lookdev and textures for this box of mind-controlling earworms:

Here I used a different approach compared to the other assets I worked on, as a real-life version of it had been made for the shoot, so we had to recreate and match it in CG.

And lastly, I was responsible for a few more small things here and there, like this tavern:

I had fun painting a lot of snow details but unfortunately, it ended up being seen only on this faraway shot. Well, at least it made it to the final edit.

The Witcher was definitely a great show to work on with a lot of different assets and challenges. Episodic work means tight deadlines but this definitely allowed me to learn to be more efficient and sharpen my eyes, finding what looks good, really fast.

Thank you for having read this interview, I hope you found those insights useful! And thank you to Framestore’s The Witcher team.

Timothee Maron, Junior Generalist TD

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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