Not even a level 103 raid boss could keep the hordes (and alliances) of eager Warcraft fans from descending on Anaheim today for BlizzCon. While people were losing their minds over the Pixar-meets-Team Fortress action of newly announced FPS Overwatch, the highlight was definitely the panel about Legendary’s hotly anticipated, Duncan Jones-directed Warcraft film, which was moderated by our own Chris Hardwick. Special guests Jones, VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer, Blizzard SVP of Story and Franchise Development Chris Metzen, and eventually actor Rob Kazinsky were all in the house to talk about bringing the sprawling franchise to life.
A longtime Blizzard fan and World of Warcraft player, Duncan Jones was thrilled to be working on the project. “When I heard that Sam Raimi was working on a World of Warcraft film, I was so excited and so jealous that he would get a chance to do that. Then fate found a way for me to take over,” he said. Jones had his work cut out for him. “There was a preexisting project that Sam Raimi had been doing, but it was very human-centric, very Alliance-centric. It didn’t put the orcs in the best light,” Jones recalled. “I thought it was very important that the film allowed you to be on either side of the conflict.”
Evidently, Jones was just what the doctor ordered. The story centers on Lothar and Durotan, who are heroes of the human and orcs respectively, and how they find themselves drawn into an inescapable conflict. Clearly, an even-handed storytelling approach was of paramount importance. Chris Metzen recalls when Jones first boarded the project that they had already tried a couple different routes on this film and their comfort level wasn’t great. “This movie has to be 50% Alliance, 50% Horde.” Those were, evidently the magic words as far as the Blizzard team was concerned.
The film wrapped production back in April, but they are toiling away with the extensive VFX work required. Still, Metzen couldn’t help gushing over an early cut. “There’s a scene where the world’s gone to hell and Durotan is in his tent with his pregnant wife and he’s sitting in the dark, looking into the shadows, and Draka is sleeping; he’s just looking off into the distance,” Metzen excitedly recounted. “There is just a universe of depth in his eyes. It took me straight into the animus of the stories. A breathing, living person. A dad, a husband. Then I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m looking at an Orc. What did you do to me?!'”
With such a massive world to bring to life, staying true to the source material was important to Jones. “The most important thing is to be working as closely with [Blizzard] as possible. We needed them to be our Yodas,” he said with a laugh. “We have so many special effects. It’s Avatar and Lord of the Rings at the same time,” Jones explained matter-of-factly. The VFX are being approached with a very naturalistic approach, according to Westenhofer, who has been playing since Warcraft II and the World of Warcraft alpha. Still, as an Alliance player, he feels a little guilty. “Can I really do justice to the Orcs? It’s the enemy,” he said. “Out of respect for all of you who have ganked me, we’re delivering some really good Orcs.” The Horde players in the audience cheered.
The VFX work is quite impressive, but so are the practical effects. Anchoring the panel on either side was a collection of Horde and Alliance armor that would make any cosplayer turn green with envy. Of the massive sets, Metzen mentioned a very special day on location for him: “I got to stand in the middle of the main street in Stormwind. There’s the mailbox. There were tears in my eyes.” As a former Alliance player myself, I feel you, bro.
They also confirmed a variety of characters; much of the casting was already known, but it was cool to see some of the character renders like Rob Kazinsky’s Orgrim and Dominic Cooper’s King Llane.
Lothar is our Alliance lead and will be played by Vikings star Travis Fimmel. In Metzen’s mind, Fimmel is a bit younger than he’d pictured Lothar as being, but the actor brought a tremendous amount of depth to the role. Additionally, Ben Foster will be playing Medivh, a human magus charged with guarding mankind from the Burning Legion. Though the slides went out of order at this point, Rob Kazinsky will be playing Orgrim, Daniel Wu will be Gul’dan, Clancy Brown will be playing Blackhand (and was the voice of Thrall in the never-released Warcraft Adventures), Ben Schnetzer will be Khadgar, Paula Patton is Garona, Ruth Negga will be Lady Taria, and Dominic Cooper will be King Llane.
The highlight of all the casting announcements though was when Rob Kazinsky himself came out wielding a massive replica of the Doomhammer. After a thunderous applause break, Kazinsky recounted his experience playing the game. “I started in Burning Crusade as a warrior,” he said with a smile. He has also played a Death Knight since patch 3.1 in a world top 100 guild, and has over 500 days played on his account. He also namedropped more armor sets than I could write down. Clearly, the man knows his stuff.
For Kazinsky, working on Warcraft was a dream come true, and being at BlizzCon to share that was overwhelming for the actor. “I’ve been to BlizzCon before as a fan,” said Kazinsky, “and this is very much a case of one of us getting to do this.” What will we see from his portrayal of Orgrim? “Obviously, Orgrim is the best character in the lore. He’s the most handsome,” he said jokingly. “I love playing him. You’ve got Durotan who is the wise, all-seeing chief, and you have the hard bastard next to him. Not very bright. You see the evolution of Orgrim from being someone’s brother, someone’s best friend to being a leader in his own right.”
Though they didn’t show any new footage or trailers at the panel (you have to be at BlizzCon in person to see clips), they did trot out a massive boom mic in order to record some battle cries from the assembled audience. Let me tell you — the reverberations of thousands of people screaming “For the Alliance!”, “For the Horde!”, and “For Azeroth!” were palpable, if not deafening. Of the long, winding road to bringing the world of Azeroth to the big screen, Metzen, perhaps, put it best: “To finally see this thing come together, fried every single circuit I had.” We’ll have to wait until March 2016 to have our circuits fried, but this is a good head start. In the meantime, you can visit http://fightforthehorde.com or http://fightforthealliance.com to pledge your allegiance and draw battle lines.
What do you think of all the announcements thus far? Let us know in the comments below!