Adapting the Warcraft universe into a feature film is, to put it mildly, no easy task. The Blizzard Entertainment franchise has been around for over twenty years and includes Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, World of Warcraft, and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Those titles, which range from online RPGs to real-time strategy games to digital collectible card games, have spawned comics, novels, fan fiction, cosplay, and much more — all of which populate BlizzCon, Blizzard’s annual convention. The characters, creatures, and lore of Warcraft encompasses different species and stories all with their own unique origins, so much so that WoW champions might not even play Hearthstone, and vice versa. Even for someone loosely familiar with the universe of Warcraft, a film adaptation seems downright daunting. Luckily for us, there is a true Warcraft aficionado at the helm: director Duncan Jones.
Jones, known for his work on the incredible sci-fi flick Moon and his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Source Code, is taking on his biggest project yet with Warcraft. In order to condense the lore into a gateway for Warcraft fans and novice viewers alike, he chose to focus on the beginning of the series, and the high-fantasy world of Azeroth. The universe is filled with two main rival factions, the Alliance (comprised here of human lords, ladies, and warriors), and the Horde, an unstoppable army of orcs, giant creatures who entered Azeroth through a mysterious dark portal. Their arrival kicks off the titular war, and those who have played the games usually have very strict allegiances to one side or the other. (Even non-players should recognize Warcraft‘s most beloved war cries, “For the Horde!” and “For the Alliance!”) And in Warcraft the film, Jones assembled a cast of players to populate this world and make it their own, including Dominic Cooper (Agent Carter), Rob Kazinsky (Pacific Rim), Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand), Toby Kebbell (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Four), Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Travis Fimmel (Vikings), and Anna Galvin (Draka).
Nearly two years ago, Nerdist and other members of the press were invited to Vancouver, Canada to speak with some of the cast and crew, explore the massive practical sets, watch a scene being filmed, and learn all about the making of the film. With the first trailer released today at BlizzCon, we thought it was only fitting that we share some of what we learned about Warcraft on our set visit. (Plus, the embargo lifts today.)
Warcraft is very much a human story
And no, we don’t mean that it’s all about the Alliance. Warcraft wisely tells the origins of the Alliance vs. the Horde war from both sides. The two lead protagonists of the film are Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a stoic warrior for the Alliance, and Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the fierce yet morally conflicted Chieftain of the orcs’ exiled Frostwolf clan. And though war stories often only focus on one perspective, Warcraft is very much about both sides of a struggle for power and ownership of Azeroth. “There are three factions,” said Dominic Cooper, who plays the human king Llane Wrynn. “And you are unsure. It begs the question, who is responsible? Who owns this land? And who should we back? And are we always backing the right person immediately?”
The two sides are dealing not only with outside threats of human and orc, but internal power struggles from friends and foes alike. Not everyone is who they seem, and not everyone has their people’s best interest at heart. “What’s really great is the wise decision that Duncan [Jones] and everybody made was [that] the Horde aren’t villains in this,”Rob Kazinsky, who plays famed Orc warrior Orgrim Doomhammer, shared. “There’s no evil here. There’s just different motivations for us. And I think and I hope that people will really be like, ‘I don’t know, man. The Horde — I like them, [I like] that Durotan. You’re going to be torn between these two sides in two regards.”
Caught between the Alliance and the Horde is Garona, played by the delightfully badass Paula Patton. Garona is half human and half orc, and was raised amongst the orcs. She’s a survivor, a fighter, but she’s also in the middle of this brewing war. Throughout the course of the film, Garona “finds herself in the human world. And suddenly, they warm her heart. Things change, and she changes,” Patton explained. “But she never quite fits in, in either world… The interesting thing that you’ll see as you watch the movie is how she transforms within that world… and how she finds her place, if at all.”
Though we were not privy to specific plot details (movies like this are always cloaked in secrecy), loyalty and motivation are definitely major themes of the story. No one is purely good nor bad, and many of the actors we spoke with admitted that their characters go through major arcs and transitions. Kazinsky’s Orgrim is defiantly against the humans, but does he stay that way? Are the friends and allies we grew up with truly looking after our best interest, or does power destroy even the closest bond?
Toby Kebbell in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The orc motion capture is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before
By now you’ve seen the images of Warcraft‘s orcs in action, but the process of creating these creatures was much more than just your run-of-the-mill motion capture (though, is motion capture ever run-of-the-mill?). The actors playing the orcs don the usual attire — silly, pajamas-looking skintight clothes with little balls to track motion – but in Warcraft, the motion-capture is recorded and roughly rendered in real time. So while we watched an epic battlefield sequence, horses and all, we got to watch the orcs charge forward in real-time, and witness their characters being sketched out on screen. The software that they use “tracks and solves the actor’s motion, and also… retargets the actor’s motion onto the character’s skeleton. So we get to test it for real-time display. It’s kind of a game-level version of the character, basically.” They also render the background and the live-action set pieces, with the digital mo-cap orcs on top. It gives more of “a feeling of the real integration of virtual and physical worlds.” Everything feels that much more real and three-dimensional.
And according to the actors themselves, this kind of motion-capture work truly helps them create and portray these characters. Toby Kebbell, the lead orc protagonist, is no stranger to the world of motion-capture, and was a bit of a touchstone for the other actors. After working with Warcraft‘s movement choreographer Terry Notary on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Kebbell said portraying orcs was an even deeper challenge. With the Apes films, the actors had something to base their performances off of, but with orcs, they had to start from scratch. Not only did they put on those fun mo-cap pajamas, Kebbell, Kazinsky, Patton, and Galvin, and the other orcs were built into giant mech-like cages that elevated them to hulking orc stature.
“[Terry Notary] starts with the absolute basics of literally breathing, standing, sitting, standing again, and then walking, maybe running, but really digging deep and being repetitive so that it becomes natural,” shared Anna Galvin. “And he’ll use the same terms all the time. Sink into your first, which means sink into your first position, which is becoming rooted to the Earth and orc-like and getting your breathing right before you even–way before they’ve said, ‘Action.'”
Kebbell agreed, adding, “He has a thing where he says, ‘You’re selling out,’ which is where you’re doing the version that is comfortable. And the horrible thing about doing this, like doing all these movement animal being beasts, is the uncomfortable version is the best version.”
Kazinsky especially was worried about creating Orgrim with motion-capture, especially when you’re in “pajamas with this silly thing on your head.” But when he finally saw a near-final rendering of his character with all the effects, “it didn’t look like it was mo-cap. It didn’t look CGI. It looked like somebody was wearing really high-class prosthetics.” He added, “What I was astonished by was that every little tick, every–however subtle–what I did came through on his face. That jazzed me up like you couldn’t believe. I was seeing this thing, and it was real for the first time. There was Orgrim Doomhammer on the screen, and I’m controlling him. And I was like, ‘Man, that’s just like–it’s real. It’s real. This is a real thing.'”
The Sets and Weapons are Almost Entirely Practical
While on set in Vancouver, we were taken on a tour of the facilities, which included a massive orc clan village in Draenor, a battlefield the size of a football field, a truck filled with practical weapons (which we took turns wielding with reckless abandon), and of course, the Throne Room. In addition to the motion-capture adding to the look and feel of the Warcraft universe, Duncan Jones insisted on using practical effects whenever possible. And while Orgrim’s infamous Doomhammer is too large for Kazinsky to carry in all his scenes, they do bring in the real deal for certain shots — to Kanzinsky’s utter delight. “Sometimes when the hammer’s in an actual shot, I’ve had to smash things, and they’ll get the hammer. They bring in the real Doomhammer. And there are a lot of Easter eggs in terms of the weaponry and armor design. A lot of that stuff I have, you know, Lionheart Executioners, and Ashbringers, and all of the orc weapons.”
… Robert Kazinsky Is a Huge Warcraft Nerd
Ok, we knew this part already. But man, Robert Kazinsky is a HUGE Warcraft nerd. He has over 450 DAYS played, apparently lost a girlfriend over his gaming habit, and has several max-level characters.
*Chants* One of us! One of us!
When speaking about the weapons and locations from the film, Kazinsky was visibly elated as she shared what it was like to be a part of this world. “The first set I saw was Goldshire Inn–Lion’s Pride Inn. And they were shooting a scene in the middle of there, and–it might actually have been a sex scene. [And] they had so many little Easter eggs in there that I got excited about…. Anyone who has played the game has probably been to the Lion’s Pride Inn once or twice. I’ve been in the Throne Room. Like, I’ve spent a LOT of time in that particular room. And then, going into that Throne Room and being like, ‘This is it. This is the Throne Room. This is, I think, Seer’s Quest. This is everything. This is–‘ I mean, I’ve killed Wrynn before, you know… for the Horde.” Yes, Rob. For the Horde!
He added that it’s been wonderful to see his love of the game culminate in this film, because “you play a game online 18 hours a day for a year and a half of your life, you tend to be a bit of a loner. You don’t meet people or work with people often in that respect, and I didn’t. But, here I am, and I’m working with people that share that passion, and being able to share that passion with people has been the best part of this game for me.”
Kazinsky isn’t the only Warcraft fanboy working on this film, though. Director Duncan Jones and his producing partner Stuart Fenegan are both massive fans of the series. Every detail, every painstakingly crafted costume and set piece, the characters and the story, all stem from their love of Warcraft. And with so many moving parts, it would take a couple of fans to really do it right. Dominic Cooper shared that Duncan was so calm throughout the whole thing, it lifted a bit of the pressure off the cast. After all, there are so many expectations with an adaptation like this. People have been playing the games and living in the universe for over two decades. What if they mess something up?
Adapting Warcraft Is Daunting, But the Cast is SO Excited for This Movie
Like we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to take into account when you’re adapting something like Warcraft. The cast and creators were understandably a little nervous to take on something so beloved. Cooper, who is no stranger to extreme fandoms, admitted, “It’s quite a frightening thing to embark upon, just because you feel I suppose in some ways a responsibility just to get it right, because you’re aware that it means such a great deal to so many. And to be part of that, I feel so privileged.”
But how do you market a movie like this? Anyone who has played the game definitely has set expectations and biases, but anyone who hasn’t played might feel overwhelmed by all the lore. Resident Warcraft expert Rob Kazinsky shared that he hopes people will look beyond the fact that this is a computer game movie. “If we can get people to come and see this, then the second film is already there. And it’s a beautiful story, it’s epic, if you know what happens. If we get a chance to tell that story, it’s impossible to be disappointed with where we’re going to go.”
We may still be in the dark about many of the story details, but honestly, in the day and age of plot points being spoiled in trailers and TV spots, we’re ok with a little mystery. From what we’ve seen and heard so far, it sounds like the movie is at least in the right, passionate, die-hard fans’ hands.
Stay tuned for more of our set visit coverage from Warcraft, let us know what you’re most excited to see in the comments below, and don’t stay tuned our breakdown of the brand new trailer on today’s Nerdist News!
Editor’s note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.