Making the Scene
The goblin mail cannons recently "delivered" Issue 4 of the World of Warcraft Official Magazine to subscribers, or at least to their general vicinity. Did you get your copy? If not, what are you waiting for? If you subscribe today you can get articles like this exclusive interview with the Blizzard Entertainment cinematics team, along with much more. Check out the excerpt below for a taste of what you're missing.
Jeff Chamberlain – Cinematic Projects Lead
Marc Messenger – Cinematics Project Director
Fausto De Martini – Cinematics 3D Art Director
Chris Thunig – Cinematic 2D Art Director
Jonathan Berube – Cinematic VFX Art Director
World of Warcraft Official Magazine: Blizzard cinematics have a distinctive look, but all of you probably have your own personal influences. What has influenced your work?
Fausto: I can say that for a lot of us, movies are a huge influence.
Jeff: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, anything sci-fi or fantasy. We all dig that a lot.
Fausto: Aliens. Blade Runner.
Jonathan: Definitely, more recently, Avatar -- because they use a similar pipeline as we do. So it shows you what someone else is capable of doing with the same tools you have in your hand. And when you see it, you're like, "OK, what are the differences here? How many people do they have? Do they have more budget? Different ways of approaching it? What is it?" That always makes more of a ripple effect than the other movies you get to watch more as a spectator enjoying the finished product.
Chris: Besides that, influence is really everywhere, right? I mean, we see it on trips, we look at the classical paintings. We go out and shoot whatever it is that we need to wrap our heads around. A lot of us grew up with pop-culture influences, obviously, but we really want to look at any type of inspiration out there and just take it all in.
Marc: One of the challenges with some of the effects on Cataclysm was that we didn't have a whole lot of frame of reference for what things should look like. What does the sky look like when it’s completely full of fire? What does a dam breaking a giant head with all this water coming out of it look like? Where are we supposed to go on YouTube and find a video of that? There was a lot of research and development to try to figure out what that should really look like. One of the hardest shots in there is the shot where we pull out and the three battering rams are all coming in and pounding on Deathwing. Then the hand comes out covered in lava and slams down and all the rocks go flying, and then we pull back and all this smoke is rising up around Deathwing's head. I think everybody in this room and practically everybody on our team had a hand in that shot because it was such a big deal. It was such a big camera move and encompassed so many different things happening. I think for that reason it stands out in my mind as one of the most successful shots that we did, because it was truly a team effort.
From Left to Right: Fausto De Martini, Chris Thunig, Marc Messenger, Jeff Chamberlain, and Jonathan Berube
Jonathan: I get a lot of inspiration from the Navy, funnily enough. I think they have some of the most sophisticated design. It's because the Navy is a business, right? And they have a very precise task. All of the design around any engineering they do is to fulfill a goal. There's no sort of artistic input in any of their design -- or very little. It's just forms full of function. To me, that's such a strong visual language because you look at a piece and know exactly what it does. Sometimes, as we design something, we try to just make it look cool. And then sometimes, it's hard to make it read well in terms of what it's going to do. I have a whole new sort of respect for the designers and engineers from the Navy or anyone who's a transportation designer... people who design cars or a car dashboard, the whole functionality behind forms and the layout of how things are placed.
Chris: Goes with the principle of not designing out of thin air, right? Having something to base your ideas on, something that people will recognize in some way, shape, or form.
Fausto: Yeah. The challenge for us is always combining that to make something memorable. You want to make sure whatever you're doing, especially for the main character, is something that's going to have a memorable, powerful silhouette. It’s like, "OK, that's Kerrigan." So combining and balancing all those elements is the challenge we always have in front of us.
Jonathan: Yeah. Designing something that has a lot of character in its appearance or the details reveals more and more information about the personality behind it. That's always very fun. Every time you add an item on a character or adjust a layout on a film set, it's like asking, "Who lives here? Are they tall? Are they short? Who made Deepholm? Was this a thousand years ago? If they crafted these crystal combs, what tools did they use? What were their resources? How tall were they? How big were they?" It's a study of who's responsible for this -- because that's not me. I'm not the engineer here. I don't live here. I'’s these people, and how can you make any item recognizable in terms of who drives it or lives in it?
Jeff: There are so many great artists at Blizzard, any time you get artwork from another team, it's just so inspirational. You get a 2D illustration of the new Diablo or something, and you're just like, "We can't wait to build that, to tell that story."
Jonathan: One of my biggest inspirations, funnily enough, is the game. I don't play the game at all. I had never played World of Warcraft until I had to make a character when Derrick Simmons, an ex-producer, came and gave me the CDs for World of Warcraft. I was getting coffee in the morning and I didn't know how to name my troll priest, so I named him Konablend because that was the type of coffee I drank every day. Every time I played the game, I wouldn't actually play the game. I would just look around and say, "I get it. Now I want to see the movie version." And there goes the cinematic.
When we go to a movie theater and we see the photorealism, it's such a deep visual language, and there's an insane amount of detail, but the ideas are sometimes not that cool. In the game, you see these crazy layouts and scenery and the ideas are really, really cool. We take that and deliver it in a language that people see every day. That, to me, is the reason why I’m in cinematics. I don’t play the game, but I watch people play. I don’t want to be a tauren; I just want to go have a Coors Light while sitting on my siege tank. I want to see that and take a group photo of my character with a siege tank. To me, that's the dream.
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