Making the 'Warcraft' Movie: How They're Building a Better Video Game Film

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Super Mario Bros. Mortal Kombat. Tomb Raider. Wing Commander. Max Payne… Movies inspired by video games have a dicey history in Hollywood. The next one up is Warcraft, due out in June 2016. On Saturday at Comic-Con, Universal and Legendary screened seven minutes of the film for salivating fans, showcasing its state-of-the visual effects. We talked to the movie’s writer-director, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), and its Oscar-winning effects/costume design whiz Richard Taylor (The Lord of the Rings) to find out how they plan to be the exception to the rule that game-based films stink.

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Here is their roadmap to building a better video-game film.

It’s all about the story — not the fact that it was a video game.

“I can’t even begin to explain about what happened to previous video-game movies; I’m sure they took them seriously but something was missing from those movies,” Jones said. “ I wanted to tell a war story from both sides, and allowing the audience to really empathize and care about both sides, and the fact that there were heroes who could not find a way to avoid this conflict. That to me doesn’t have to be a video game. That could be a story told in any genre. The fact is that it fit beautifully with Warcraft.”

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Serve the fans.

On the other hand, while you want to make sure that the film has a well-rounded story, you can’t just eschew all the things that made people love the game in the first place.

“We were sneaking in Easter eggs right up until the last minute,” Jones teased. “All the way through, both on the physical production side of building sets and building the marketplace in Stormwind. Signs that we had up on doors and walls and noticeboards and post boxes and all sorts of things that people would know from the games. That’ll be a drinking game at some point.”

Jones also teased a tweak to the roster of orcs that could give the story some more heart. Enter Draka, Durotan’s wife, as played by Anna Galvin in motion capture.

“There is a character who was always written smaller but through the course of production was working out so well, soulful and empathetic, we just grew her character,” he said. “She’s just fantastic. I feel very confident that no one will see her coming. That will be a memorable character.”

Work with the best in the business.

Jones has a formidable ally in the pursuit of progress: The artists and engineers at the Weta Workshop, Peter Jackson’s homegrown studio that won a boatload of Oscars for creating the unparalleled creatures and effects that made the Middle-earth of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies so immersive and successful.

Richard Taylor, the physical special effects and makeup wizard who owns five Oscars for his work on Jackson’s films, stood alongside Jones at the Warcraft display on Wednesday night. He spoke with Yahoo about his work on the film, which, among other things, involved creating an entire barracks-worth of weapons and armor for the human army.

“All the weapons and all the armor that are carried by the real actors” were made by his production team, he said. “In the case of the humans, King Llane (Dominic Cooper) and his army, they’re all physical in the movie, they’re playing against digital creatures, so they’re wielding real swords, holding real shields, wearing real armor, and that all had to be manufactured."

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The difficulty there was finding a balance between making those massive tools of war look realistic and conform to the game’s exacting details, and ensuring that the actors could actually use them.

“It would be a physical annoyance and frustrate the director because he couldn’t get the actions he requires,” Taylor said, speaking of the struggle to create viable gear. “So it required an incredibly fine balance, trying to get the look and canon of World of Warcraft while still trying to get physical performance to come to the fore.”

Another challenge: churning out all that gear in what was a very short amount of time. And so Taylor and his team turned to 3D printing and milling, pushing their burgeoning production technology beyond what was capable in their most recent projects.

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“On Lord of the Rings the props were 100 percent handmade, and on The Hobbit, 60 percent of everything we made was done with robotic manufacturing, such as 3D printing, milling machines, laser printing, and plasma cutting,” he said. “When this movie came along, it had a very short deadline and the material required an incredible precision… We did a lot of 3D printing, but the bulk of the work was done by three, four and five axis milling machines, all home-built in the workshop.”

And these weren’t just any 3D printers: These custom-made machines were so precise, you could never tell that the props weren’t made by hand, as you can see from the massive orc that they printed and brought to show fans at the convention.

Warcraft is set to come out June 10, 2016.