Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) interviewed the BlizzCon 2014 Warcraft Movie Presentation panelists: Duncan Jones (Warcraft Movie director), Chris Metzen (Co-producer/writer), Bill Westenhofer (visual effects supervisor), and Rob Kazinsky (Orgrim/actor).
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Presentator: Welcome to the Warcraft Movie Presentation
Hardwick: Hello everyone. I am Chris Hardwick and I’m hosting your panel today for the Warcraft movie. Legendary Pictures. Thank you, thanks for the points, no I don’t give points.
You guys it is wonderful being here. I will see you tonight at the costume contest but for now we’re here to talk about the Warcraft movie.
So first of all we just want to sort of highlight– these are actual set pieces, props, costumes from the film. They bought them down so you can kind of see where it’s going and what direction everything is headed in and even up close this is amazing.
So I want to start by introducing a few people out here who are going to talk to you and give you the details that I’m sure you want to hear. Please welcome Director of the Warcraft film Duncan Jones, Blizzard Senior VP of Story and Franchise, Chris Metzen and Bill Westenhofer, Visual Effects Supervisor on WarCraft.
(Note: people walk in on the stage wearing real Stormwind armor and weapons.)
Duncan: Hey, how is it going?
Hardwick: You could just shove them out of the way. Hey, nice to see you. Hey, how is it going?
Duncan: Wow! Sorry I’ve got to take a picture of you lot.
Hardwick: You have to take a picture…
Duncan: That is amazing!
Duncan: Hi everyone.
Hardwick: Hello. Who do we miss?
Hardwick: Where’s Chris? What did we miss?
Duncan: He’s on his way.
Hardwick: Chris Metzen, is he in the bathroom? Cause that’s really embarrassing! So, let’s talk about how you came to be involved with the film and then we’ll sort of shift into how the hell do you translate this into a movie.
Duncan: I’ve been a WarCraft and Blizzard, in a more universal way, fan for a long time. I have played Lost Vikings. Started off with Orcs and Humans; and played through the early RTS games bouncing back and forth between Warcraft and Command & Conquer; and then you know I started playing some other online role-playing games, and then World of Warcraft came out.
And then the clan that I was in, we actually left that game and joined World of Warcraft and it’s a phenomenal game so that will stay with me for a long time. When I heard that Sam Raimi was working on a Warcraft film I was so excited and at the same time so jealous that he get to do that; and fate just found away to give me the opportunity to take over.
Hardwick: Did you ever envision when you first started playing that this could ever be a movie or you think the world is too expensive? What do you focus on and how do you make the film?
Duncan: I think in some ways anything can be a film if there’s a good idea as a kernel for it. I mean David Fincher made The Social Network (2010) and I think the fact that, I don’t think anyone when they first started talking about the idea of making a film out of Facebook. It’s like how do you that? It’s a ridiculous idea and then he made a great film out of it because he had a story that he was able to build from.
World of Warcraft has a different problem and it’s that it got so many stories, it’s been going for 10 years and Warcraft itself has been going for 20 years; and I think, our challenge was to actually drill down and find a story that will work as a single film… because there’s so much to do with it, so many great characters, so many storylines; and we started, we went right back to the beginning, right back to the start and looked at what was the original story in Orcs and Humans. And it was about these two peoples that were in a conflict that was absolutely unavoidable.
Hardwick: And so, at what point did you decide and how did you decide to start pulling that story together? Oh! Is this is Chris?
Duncan: There he is.
Hardwick: Hey! Welcome, should we start over?
Metzen: You guys weren’t talking about the story now, were you?
Hardwick: What happens? You have a watch on your arm Chris what the hell?
Duncan: Welcome, we were just talking about the Warcraft movie.
Metzen: Of course you were.
Hardwick: We were making fun of you and now you are here.
Metzen: My ears are burning.
So we were just sort of talking about like how do you translate this into a movie and what were the first steps? How did you begin– who did you break ground on the process?
Duncan: Well, there was a pre-existing project that Sam Raimi had been doing and it was in my opinion very human … very Alliance-centric; and there was I think an approach that in my opinion didn’t put the Orcs in the best light.
And as in the game — where you can choose which side to be on, I thought it was very important that we made a film which allowed you to be on either side of the conflict, release and followed through heroes from both sides. So in our case it was following Lothar’s story and Durotan’s story; Durotan of the Frostwolves, and again how did these two heroes find themselves in a conflict that you would hope that they would be able to avoid but they just can’t.
Hardwick: So you are essentially almost making two movies right? Cause you are making it from the side of the Alliance and the side of the Horde. So how are you balancing that throughout the process?
Duncan: On a narrative level there has been an incredibly long history of war movies; but telling a story where you really allow the audience to empathize and feel for both sides is unusual in war movies alone. Let alone fantasy films where normally the monsters are portrayed as villains; and in our case the Orcs were a group that we wanted to really allow the audience to care about.
Hardwick: So really the ultimate race ??? And also it’s kind of scary because you as the Warcraft community, I’m going to say you are a very passionate group.
Hardwick: So I mean, talk about the pressure of, you do not want to piss these people off. So how…?
Metzen: Don’t do that.
Hardwick: You don’t want to do that, and obviously I think one of the most difficult things when you’re translating a game into a film I think it’s even more intense than translating a literary work, because when you play a game, like you are emotionally connected to that game in a very specific way and if it’s not translated in a way that represents how you connect with the game, then you get mad and then you go the Internet and you swear a lot at people who may or may not deserve it.
So how are you staying true to what you believe is the essential qualities of Warcraft and how do you think you are going to represent this for the fans?
Duncan: Well I think, the most important thing is for us to be able to work as closely as Chris and Nick and Wei Wang (Glowei) who is an amazing concept artist would allow us to — I mean they have a lot of work to do on the projects that they are working on; but we needed their input and advice and guidance. We needed them to be our Yodas and to really make sure that we were always on the right track.
And so Chris we were always trying to bring you in as much as possible and we got you guys up to the set.
Metzen: You know it’s pretty interesting, I think we might have talked about it a little bit in last year’s panel. When we got into this whole racket: “Let’s make a movie,” it’s equal parts: you’re terrified, but you are excited — because we all sure love movies and wouldn’t it be amazing one day if they have this perfectly visually distilled version of your story on a big screen.
Suddenly my non-geeky parents and siblings can go: “Oh! Hey! I get it… I get what you spent your entire adult life doing…”
(Audience and panel laughs)
Metzen: Ok. What the hell was that again? (Don’t worry about it)… but it’s equally terrifying. What if you get it wrong? What if it’s just off?
What if it’s off by 30% not 80%? Right? What if it’s almost argh… you know, there’s a lot of anxiety about that, you know, I’ll tell you what. Duncan just said it. The day he walked in the door we had tried a few different routes on this film and our comfort level was never great. “You know maybe it will work,” “Oh God what are we doing?”
This guy walks in the room, he sits down and the words that I was longing to hear (but had stopped believing I’d ever hear). He says: “This movie has to be 50% Alliance, 50% Horde. I see this as red and blue”–like he said — “It’s Durotan. It’s Lothar,” and I’m going like ‘gasps!’.
I fell into his dreamy eyes and I’m like “I love you man, please make this!” … and he did; and it’s so rad.
So where I was going was the presumption of how we as game developers, the level of relationship that we thought we would have with Legendary, with Duncan has been unprecedented, right? I really feel like you guys have listened and heard us in our values.
You know, we had to make the decisions we’ve got to make, we’ve got to compress this giant story into what? 2 hours or you know, less than 2 hours? I’m not, that’s not a…
Duncan: No secrets from you. (Laughs)
Metzen: I’m not revealing anything about the film, right? Still in progress; but you got to distil so much of this world into this very tight form and I feel that this man and his team have done such a good job … that we are in such a good hands; and when I say we, I’m not talking about Blizzard right? I’m talking about us: the people that loves these ideas.
Metzen: I believe we are in such a good hands guys.
Hardwick: That’s a very interesting point that you brought up about condensing this entire world because (I mean) part of the addicted quality of the game is being immersed, it’s like you’re in this immersive world that you know, all of a sudden 12 hours go by — so how do try, or 12 weeks or 12 months.
Metzen: … or just 12…
Hardwick: You have to pee sometimes…
Metzen: Bio break.
Hardwick: … and then, so how do you make the film? Like what are some of the challenges to making the film feel that immersive because you have not just a visually expansive universe; but also the mythological universe. I mean, like there’s so much; but at this point you must be an expert of all the mythology of this world.
Duncan: I manage to surround myself with people who are even more expert in Warcraft lore than the people of Blizzard. So I have Bill Westenhofer is my VFX supervisor. So he and I knew that we needed to find a team who were going to be able to deliver on the world building on the visual side of it and of course on the Orcs.
By the way, if you want to see a little bit of what we’ve made and how much faith I have that we are going to deliver for you. Upstairs there is a screening room, if you haven’t had the chance to go there yet, go there later on. We’re showing…
Metzen: Have any of you guys seen it yet?
(Audience screams in response)
Metzen: Would you recommend to your friends that they go see it?
(Audience screams in response)
Duncan: Go see for yourselves what we have done. There are some shots that will show you where we are going and there’s a particular shot where we show you where we think we have managed to get the Orcs, and I think you are going to be very happy.
Metzen: Can I riff on that, just…?
Duncan: Yea, yea
Metzen: Mind me…? You brought it so you don’t mind me talking about it. A couple of months ago, Nick Carpenter and I went up to Legendary to meet Duncan. We had some stuff to talk through. And he proceeded to show us a shot, you know the movie is still being edited — final graphics are still dropping in all the time from ILM; but there’s one shot that… can I tell them what it is?
Duncan: Yea, yea
Audience: No, don’t spoil it.
Metzen: No it’s a shot not a scene; I’ll tell you the scene. There’s a scene I’m just going there man. You’ll love it. Trust me.
It’s a scene where the worlds going to hell and Durotan is in his tent with his pregnant wife and he’s sitting in the dark and he’s looking into the shadows and everything is burning down and Draka’s there sleeping, and she’s just in pain and he’s just looking off into the depths of the (???).
And he plays this shot and Nick and I, I think I had no verbal response. I literally jumped into Nick’s lap and started just “Oh my God!” Because we’re looking at this shot of this, I didn’t see an Orc… it’s perfectly Orc, but it’s just a universe of depth and weariness and emotion in his eyes. I wasn’t looking at a creature “holy hell!” what am I looking at? It just took me straight into the animus of the story, just a breathing living person, a dad, a husband and then I’m like “Oh dude I know exactly how he’s feeling”. And then I’m like “wait a minute I’m looking at an Orc. Oh my God! What you do to me?” So it’s just a proof of the level of visualization that ILM is ultimately shooting for. You guys have to go upstairs and check this thing out, it’s going to blow your mind.
Hardwick: So basically what we know about working with you is that you touch people a lot when you get excited.
Hardwick: Two examples, Metzen puts his hands on you… “Yeah! He’s very excited.”
Duncan: He either hugs you or he hits you so either way you know what’s going on. Who wants to get hugged?
Hardwick: Bill you should know did the VFX for Life of Pi, so
(Audience screams and applause)
Hardwick: So like that approach to very realistic looking effects I think, is essential for a film like this so can you talk a little bit about how you started to tackle this?
Westenhofer: Absolutely, I mean, we knew early on that the Orcs had to really resonate as much as the humans in the film, and that the technology was advanced to the point where the ability was out there.
We went to motion captures. We are using real actors, captured on set. We started working with ILM; I believe some are here so I want to give a shout out to Jeff, Jason and Howe. You guys are doing an incredible job– but it was, Duncan told me early on he said he wanted to make this as much feel like as much as filming live action as possible which is a daunting task.
This has, half the film is with creatures that aren’t really there. The WarCraft world is something that doesn’t just exist out there it’s got a style and a certain look that we had to help bring differentiation. So we had to sort of and find a away to make it feel like we were shooting a live action set.
So we went to the top leaders in motion capture in the world and got a– it took a lot of pain and effort to put motion capture cameras on set. You know usually when you do motion capture you would do it to the side in a controlled environment. We wanted to get down to the nitty gritty or Orc actors right next to our human actors and have them interplay. Chris saw the result of some of that and there’s a magic that happens just in the real performance– you see the emotion that our actors project.
You see it in their face and you get that genuine thing. You know it’s got that feel of a live and action film movie. The camera follows the Orc around in a very organic way.
It’s really, really exciting you know, and I’ll say too: how do you know that we are taking care of this for the fans? I am one. I started playing, my friend Kevin put me on Warcraft II from way back when and I have been hooked ever since. I started playing World of Warcraft in the alpha test. I did have a tiny moment of conscience: I am an Alliance player.
Westenhofer: So I had to say, can I really do justice to the Orcs? You know, it’s just the enemy; but I’d say that–
Metzen: Horde where you at? Just a second.
Metzen: Just checking. Sorry man.