When your goal is to adapt a video game full of fantasy creatures into a movie, it’s a forgone conclusion that you will need to use CGI. When the full trailer for Warcraft hit, we certainly saw a lot of it. A full half of the characters are Orcs, and they certainly were not guys in rubber suits. The resemblance to Avatar, where nothing looked real, was obvious. It turns out, however, that quite a bit more of the movie is done with practical effects than it appears at first glance.
According to actress Paula Patton, just because shots meant to be external were done on a soundstage, doesn’t mean that what was on the soundstage wasn’t real.
They closed that soundstage door, and it was a real forest. It was true to scale and we had our horses in there and we were jumping out of trees and such. And then you’re going up mountains that have been built by these set designers. So you really enter the universe and that kind of gives you a sort of faith and excitement.
io9 spoke with several of the films actors while at Blizzcon and several of them spoke at length about the real sets and effects that were used to give the film world of Azeroth a sense of place. Dominic Cooper, who plays King Llane in the film, said that director Duncan Jones always kept the character and the story at the forefront. As easy as it would have been to get lost in the scale of the thing and all of the digital effects, Jones was always focused on the characters.
As vital as the CGI is as a tool to tell the story in Warcraft, it is just that: a tool. It’s not the goal. Based on the trailer it looks like the practical and digital effects have been blended very well, thus the reason so many looked at the trailer as a mass of computer effects. In this case, it seems that the need for practical effects was less for the audience and more for the performers. By creating the world in real, tangible pieces, the actors could feel more like they were really there. This, one expects, leads to better performances from those actors since they didn’t have to perform to something invisible. This isn’t the first time, even recently, that we’ve seen the effect that a real set can have on real people.
So Azeroth exists in places other than inside a computer. We’ll find out how real a place it truly is when Warcraft is released next summer.