Warcraft: the highs and lows of making gaming's biggest ever film

A bloody welcome to Azeroth

Hordes of Warcraft fans were ecstatic in May 2006 with the news that their favorite video gaming franchise was coming to the big screen. Then, the film entered development limbo, with Sam Raimi at one point attached to direct, and a final six-month delay caused by the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

A little over 10 years after that initial announcement, the film has arrived.

Directing duties fell to Duncan Jones, the brains behind sci-fi films Source Code and Moon. A long-time Warcraft fan, Jones picked up the axe and ran directly into Azeroth to make one of the largest fantasy epics ever committed to screen.

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"I'd been a Warcraft fan all my life," Jones tells TechRadar. "I'd played since the very first Warcraft: Orcs and Humans game, and I thought it was a fun universe.

When World of Warcraft came out you really could be a hero in anyway you wanted. That felt like it gave me an in on a fantasy film I'd never seen before.

"I don't think these kind of opportunities come around that often."

Being such a fan, little research was needed for the job. Jones' supporting crew was full of Warcraft fans and he had a good knowledge of the story he wanted to tell.

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Blizzard, the developer of the Warcraft video game series, was also heavily involved in the project from start to finish.

"I think the reason it hadn't been made was because [Blizzard] were so specific about what they wanted the film to be. I found myself fortunate as what I pitched was very much in sync with what they wanted the movie to be."

Reign of Chaos

Chuck Roven, producer of Warcraft, also praises the efforts of Blizzard being so involved in the film adaptation.

"They were a true creative partner right from the beginning," says Roven. "The concept was a collaboration so when we had a script we made sure we had their input."

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Jones adapted the screenplay with the help of Charles Leavitt and based on the game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

Blizzard went further, though. "They helped us in terms of how we initially did concept art of how the characters would look," says Roven, "then the special effects – we're talking to them every day."

Much like Avatar, a big focus is being put on the tech that has gone into making Warcraft a reality.

Azeroth - the Orcs especially - were made using a new type of motion-capture technology that you won't have seen in film before.

"I had never done a film where over half the movie involved motion capture," says Roven. "I think we even upped the game there, a little bit.

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"With motion capture and the voluminous visual effect shots you're doing as much, if not more, creating in post-production than you are during production."

Jones was impressed by the tech he was given access to, but wants to assure all viewers that a lot of the film was shot on location and not against a green screen.

"I wish we were able to put out a disclaimer before the film is out," he says. "If you're in close in an environment, everything around it is real. Most of our assets in visual effects went into the orcs.

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"They had incredible detail in them. We wanted to put as much live action around them so the visual effect artists had something to work with to make them feel real. The VR motion capture was really pushing the technology."

Industrial Light and Magic – a company founded by George Lucas when he began work on Star Wars – took the reigns of the effects technology within Warcraft.

"We met up with Jeff White and Jason Smith who worked on the Incredible Hulk in the first Avengers movie at the time, what they had learnt from that experience had led them to believe there was a breakthrough to be made in facial motion capture technology."

Legendary effects

The new motion capture technology for faces included two cameras, rather than the usual one that is used on other film productions.

"As fantastic as animators can be, the nuances of how the face moves to try and replicate that identically – and it has to be identical – that just slips," explains Jones. "But when you get the facial motion capture technology right it's perfect and it looks real."

As a player of the game, Jones wasn't afraid to litter Warcraft with references for the fans (keep an eye out for the Murloc).

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Jones even managed to sneak an Easter egg past potentially the biggest Warcraft fan on set.

"There's a thing called of a meeting stone in WoW," says Jones. "These big menhirs where all the characters meet up to go on big adventures, we managed to sneak one of those in.

"It's quite prominent in frame, but Rob [Kazinsky, who plays Orgrim] didn't even notice it. It was good to sneak one past him. The thing is to put things in there that are additive to the fans of Warcraft but don't detract for the people who know nothing about it."

With a name of Warcraft: The Beginning, you can expect there to be a franchise of films coming if this one manages to be a financial success.

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Roven believes it will happen. "If the movie is successful we're going to want to expand on it," he says. "It's possible it's these characters but in the future or it could be many years in the future.

"The one thing about Warcraft is they've got a lot of canon."

As for Jones, he's willing to return too if the opportunity arises.

"There's a story that Chris Metzen and myself had talked about for three films. This would be the first and there'd be three altogether – then I'll have felt I've done what I wanted to do in Warcraft.

"But we'll just have to wait and see if the appetite will be there."

  • Warcraft is in cinemas from May 30