'Warcraft' Set Visit: From weapons to visual effects, everything's bigger in Azeroth
On a cold day in early 2014, HitFix Harpy was among those invited to check out the set of “Warcraft.” Now I’m finally able to share (some) of that information with you! As a former World of Warcraft addict that occasionally lapses with each new expansion, I was skeptical. After all, video game movies don’t have the best track record. But after spending a day with the cast and crew of “Warcraft,” I think if anyone can break the video game movie curse, it’s these guys.
The “Warcraft” universe is vast, with over a decade’s worth of lore spanning both games and novels. Trying to condense that into a single film would be a fool’s errand so Duncan Jones and his collaborator’s had to pick a story. They settled on one surrounding the King Llane Wrynn of Azeroth, Lothar, and Medivh on the human side and Durotan and Orgrim on the orc side. If you’re a fan of the games, you can probably put two and two together. If not, I’ll let the actors describe their characters in more detail!
Image Credit: Legendary Pictures
Toby Kebbell: I play Durotan, Chief of the Frostwolf Clan. [points to Anna Galvin] And this is my lovely wife, Draka.
Anna Galvin: He’s the Chieftain and I'm his wife, but there's some lovely things that color our relationship. We're very much peers. And there's a great deal of respect and love between us. In the movie I actually can hold sway over him a little bit. He will listen to me. His word isn’t the law, at least behind closed doors for us.
Paula Patton: I play the character Garona. She's a really fascinating character in this world. You have this woman who begins as a slave to Gul'dan, but has had to basically fight/beat her way into having any respect from the orcs because she's half orc, half human. And that's what makes her really fascinating to play. And then she finds herself in the human world. Things change, and she changes. But, the thing about Garona, she never quite fits into either world.
Dominic Cooper: I play King Llane Wrynn. He's a good, solid, nice king.I'm always playing horrible people [so] this is my challenge; to actually play somebody who properly cares about his people and cares about resolving this situation he finds himself in. He's a good man but he trusts — possibly too much — the people around him rather than going with his instincts.
Travis Fimmell: I played Lothar. He's the commander of the Azeroth military. He grew up with the king, is sort of best friends with the king and had a childhood with the mage Medivh, too. [The King and I] sort of reunite with Medivh and there's a lot of conflict between us. You don't know who’s side Medivh is on.
Robert Kazinsky: What happened was, we were shooting “Pacific Rim” and it was a slow day. I was sitting next to Jimmy and Cher from Legendary and I whip out my computer. And WoW pops out. And they’re like ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I was like ‘What do you mean?’ They’re like “You know we're making “WarCraft.” So for two years [I was just] harassing and harassing them. Can I read a draft? Can I read anything? Can I be involved? I'll be the tea boy. Genuinely I would've been the guy who carries Paula Patton's purse in this. At this time I think I've got 470 odd days played on this game. That's over a year and half of my actual life playing this game.
Jillian [Share] eventually swore that I wasn’t kidding. She got me to sit down and do an audition and put myself on tape for Duncan, and Duncan and I hit off, and next thing I know I'm wearing pajamas!
I would've done this film for a packet of crisps. Isn’t funny how life turns out? All those years I've spent playing this game and I'm playing Orgrim Doomhammer. Are you kidding me?
A big part of what we saw on the “Warcraft” set dealt with the state-of-the-art visual effects. Inside a giant soundstage that had been converted into a battlefield between humans and orcs, there was a tent off to the side. Within that tent was more technology than you could shake a stick at. Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer walked us through the basics. Each actor that would be enhanced in post-production was wearing the now instantly recognizable mocap suits — gray pajamas covered in balls and visual markers. But instead of merely capturing movement to build up later, the cameras were showing the visual effects team everything IN REAL TIME using Simulcam. As the sea of orc extras butted up with their human foes, crude outlines gave the director and others an idea of how far out they needed to be to make enough “room” for each other.
According to Duncan Jones and the cast, the technology is mind-blowing.
Image Credit: Legendary Pictures
Duncan Jones: In some ways there are things which have technically been difficult to achieve the way we planned, but then you get pay offs in other areas. The technology is really on the bleeding edge there are things which are not going quite the way you want, but then there are other things like, oh, my God, that worked so well and we end up using it more. But, it's not all VFX.
Anna Galvin: [Our characters are] all so real and expressive because of the advanced motion capture. It captures the performer's actions with such integrity and detail that it's going to heighten the world and make it more real than fantasy. I think it will blow the minds of people who are a fan of Warcraft.
Toby Kebbell: With the motion capture, our characters are so vast — especially mine — it's like puppeteering. We have to stand so far apart [due to the size of the orcs]. It [takes some] getting used to all of that. That’s the reason my stride is so much bigger.
Robert Kazinsky: It's very difficult when you're doing something that's in your imagination. Every time I've playing anything in the past, whether it's when you put in your fangs or when you put on your costume or whatever it might be, there's something that gets you into character. I'm putting on pajamas. So then, you've got to find this other place within yourself. A kind of physicality of how you move that gets you into character. But it still doesn’t quite feel real because you're in pajamas with this silly thing in your head.
But then, one day, Jeff from ILM, he brings in the first test. It was something that we shot before Christmas as a camera test, and it's [almost] rendered fully, like. I’d never seen anything like it. I've never seen CGI of that detail. I looked to Orgrim's face and I was like, “Holy hell!”
Anna Galvin: When we first started working as Orcs, they'd have a screen facing us on this gray stage. And we'd have all the balls and our little polyester jammies on. And we'd be able to see ourselves animating our characters, not their facial expressions. But [once we got] on set, there's a device that the producers and directors have access to. And they show it to us as well. So, if we shoot a scene--let me see if I can explain this.
For instance, if we shoot a scene in a tent, and we rehearse it and they shoot it with a couple of cameras, and then we leave the tent, and they shoot an empty plate of inside that location, we go to what's called a volume space where we do the virtual. We completely recreate that scene that was shot in the tent. But it's just capturing all the motion capture. Then they can translate that in real time onto this little monitor device that has the location where we're meant to be, the tent, and our avatars are there moving around. So then they can play it back and show it to us. That's gobsmacking as a performer to see that. It's awesome because my biggest challenge is to be faithful to Draka and show her dignity coupled with her warrior skills.
Toby Kebbell: We're on a real time set with all the performers. We're real actors. It becomes that way.
Dominic Cooper: I do love these epic pieces but I've always felt slightly removed from the animation I think — and the difference in this is that eyes are alive in this. We can always read eyes. And you can read eyes in actors. It's why film is so incredible because you're there with them in close up. And with this [technology] they are using, you can really see the actors who are playing these huge beasts. You can feel them and know what they're thinking and understand their intention. And I think that will [make a bid] difference.