A little over a week ago, I found myself in the lobby of Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco. The team behind Warcraft had invited a group of journalists out to witness the technical wizardry and years of sweat involved in in the film. ILM”s artists wanted to show off their amazing hard work, making CGI characters lifelike enough to not only be main protagonists (and antagonists) but to feel ALIVE when the camera held them in close-up character shots. A series of video presentations and headshot were presented to us over the course of a few hours, including brand-new footage in the form of trailer/sizzle reel. It was all very impressive. There was only one thing the Warcraft folks hadn”t counted on…
Back in 2004, World of Warcraft changed the face of MMO gaming forever. I was there. I was there in vanilla when an epic mount cost 1000 gold, and you had to grind for months to even think about that sweet, sweet 100% speed increase. I was there when the Dark Portal opened, and the Alliance and the Horde made peace in order to level through Hellfire Peninsula. I was there when Sylvanas confronted the Lich King, when the cataclysm forever changed the landscape of Azeroth when the mists parted to reveal Pandaria, when time ruptured in Draenor. If you want to keep secrets about your Warcraft movie, you probably shouldn”t invite me to your parties.
Legendary Pictures has played their hand close to the vest with Warcraft. A weird choice, considering the lore is over 20 years old. While not as well known as the stories of literature, it”s still a little like if Lord of the Rings had played coy about if Frodo would ever get the ring to Mordor. Fans already know the story, so it”s confusing (and frustrating) to have questions shot down. For example, I was also on set for Warcraft two years ago. At the time, I saw baby Thrall in his basket in the prop department. When I asked about him, the publicist denied it was Thrall. At the time, they also hedged about whether dwarves would appear in the film, downplayed that Medivh was part of the story, and tried to deny any elves showed up (until I spotted their outfits in the costume department, at which point the jig was up).
Perhaps Legendary forgot I was anathema to their secrecy. Perhaps they knew I could keep a secret, even when it”s killing me on the inside. But it happened again. During the sizzle reel, a major character appeared who has not been mentioned in any of the marketing materials nor even appears on the film”s IMDB page. A character with a distinctive appearance, recognizable to anyone even passingly familiar with World of Warcraft and the story the film is telling. Yet when I inquired about said character during the Q&A with director Duncan Jones*, he deflected, and the publicist requested I not mention what I”d seen. Then why did you show it to me!? But then there Illidan is, bold as brass, in the video Legendary sent to accompany this piece. Quit playing game with my heart, publicists!
*Jones also refused to answer my hard-hitting question about why Dalaran is flying.
The problem with my lore knowledge arose again later in the day when we entered a room full of side-by-side photographs. On the right were the human actors; on the left, their CGI counterparts. The level of detail was staggering. But it was this particular headshot that piqued my interest. When I saw it, I actually gasped. Here was yet another character (and entire race!) casually dropped without warning:
WARNING: SPOILERS AND SPECULATION FOR WARCRAFT BEYOND THIS POINT.
Not only was this headshot proof the Draenai – the other race native to Draenor, home of the orcs – are in the film, but this particular Draenei could be a huge spoiler. “Draenei Mother” could just be a side character. But you don”t normally spend that much time, effort, and manpower on non-hero CGI characters. And as we all know, Garona (Paula Patton) has a large role to play in Warcraft. Originally half orc/half human, Garona”s parentage was eventually retconned so that she was instead half DRAENEI/half-orc. I asked Patton about her mother during the set visit back in 2014 to no avail, but now here was a “Draenei Mother” on the wall. I will bet you a shiny gold piece that she”s Garona”s mom.
Another character just hanging on the wall was this guy.
Based on his tusks alone, I inquired if this “Frostwolf Captive” could be Rexxar. No one would give me a straight answer. No one but IMDB, which clarified the character”s name is Varis. A name that has no prior history in Warcraft lore. But who is important enough to garner a side-by-side of his final form. Whomever Varis is, he”s important. However, the Legendary folks being as cagey as they were at the mention of Rexxar”s name does have me curiosity piqued as to if the half orc/half ogre hunter will at least have a cameo in the film.
Regardless of Legendary”s Machiavellian levels of secrecy, the visual presentation did its job of impressing me. The effects are astounding. From the amount of real-life materials used to give each orc their own feel to the complete overall of the hair system (lovingly dubbed HairCraft) to capture the complex braids of orc society, ILM put care into every detail, no matter how tiny. I can”t speak for those unfamiliar with the franchise, but for the 12 million plus folks who have visited Azeroth, the film version has stayed remarkably true to the source material.
With less than a month until Warcraft arrives in theaters (June 10, 2016), there is likely no more opportunities for me to pester the team with inconvenient questions. I can only hope the film will actually answer some of them! Be sure to check back throughout the week for more details from my time at ILM!