Warcraft will reach theaters in June 2016, over two years after the MMORPG movie adaptation entered post-production. That’s partially as a result of release date changes, but the Duncan Jones-directed fantasy adventure was always going to require lots of editing and visual effects work – over 1,000 VFX shots in total, at that. Such is the nature of the beast, though.
Jones comes from a background of working on lower to moderately-budgeted original sci-fi feature films like Moon and Source Code, so Warcraft is serving as his introduction to the world of big-budget tentpoles based on previously-established properties from other mediums. The Warcraft screen story and script – co-penned by Jones and Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond, Seventh Son) – draws inspiration largely from Blizzard Entertainment’s 1994 game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, for its narrative about a brewing war between humans and orcs in the movie’s setting.
The orc characters featured in Warcraft are brought to life via motion-capture performances. Jones noted during an interview with Wired that, much like Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films and the recent Planet of the Apes installments, Warcraft blends practical backdrops and real-world locations with its mo-cap creations:
“Motion capture has become very specialized but also still just a tool of filmmaking. We tried to do a lot of large, in-camera sets so that we had an actual reality that the film was built on top of. Some of the time we had [actors doing motion capture] on location, some of the time we had them on set, sometimes there was green screen.”
Blizzard helped develop the Warcraft concept art, which ILM then used as a template for crafting the orcs’ appearances – in combination with photos and facial scans of the actors playing them. The results already look to impress hardcore Warcraft fans and general moviegoers alike, in terms of detail and loyalty to the visual style of the original games (see: photos of Robert Kazinsky as Orgrim the Orc). Credit for that belongs in no small part to visual effects supervisors Bill Westenhofer (who won Oscars for his work on The Golden Compass and Life of Pi) and Jeff White (who’s worked on the Transformers films made to date and helped design Hulk for The Avengers).
Jones praises White in particular, during his Wired interview:
“[Jeff White] absolutely nailed that character [Hulk in ‘Avengers’], and orcs feel like they may have some of the same genetic background as the Hulk… When we found out that Jeff himself was actually an avid Warcraft player as well, it became clear how excited he was about playing in this universe. It was a match made in heaven.”
Naturally, the heavy reliance on digital elements meant the Warcraft cast were required to frequently interact with green screen props – like when Clancy Brown, who plays the fearsome orc warchief Blackhand “The Destroyer”, had to ride “something that look a bit like a rocking horse” (as Jones put it) during scenes where the character will eventually be shown riding atop a giant wolf creature.
Jones praised his Warcraft actors for remaining committed and serious even when they had to do such “extraordinarily silly” things – and he believes that ILM’s special effects will make it well worth the effort.
“There was an absolute hunger from ILM to be working on this project. There is another facility—whose name shall not be mentioned—that is also incredibly good at this kind of work, and for ILM this was an opportunity to show they are still the best in the world at special effects.”
That “mystery” facility is almost certainly Weta Digital, which has really become a powerhouse effects company during the 21st century. Case in point, Weta has worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies (as well as his King Kong remake), in addition to James Cameron’s Avatar, the recent Planet of the Apes movies, superhero films Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, and numerous other recent tentpoles acclaimed for their visual effects.
Of course, ILM also handled the special effects on Avengers: Age of Ultron and such upcoming major franchise titles as Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Add that to already promising Warcraft effects, and it’s fair to say the facility is still very much in the game.
Warcraft opens in U.S. theaters on June 10th, 2016.