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Making a successful, well-regarded movie based on a video game is a difficult enough task in and of itself, however, in order to do that, Warcraft had to overcome another hurdle -- making viewers relate to characters that they would only see as CGI creations. They’ve done this by relying heavily on motion-capture in order to create the film’s orcs. Sometimes, however, motion-capture wasn’t quite enough. One key fight scene had to be entirely animated because the actors couldn’t quite pull off the moves that the director needed.
When Warcraft director Duncan Jones needed cutting-edge motion-capture technology in order to translate the actors' performances directly into the CGI characters they were portraying, he went to one of the top effects companies in the world, Industrial Light and Magic. Earlier this month, I had a chance to talk to several of the visual effects specialists responsible for creating Warcraft, as well as Jones himself. While virtually all of the orc performances in Warcraft did use motion-capture, Duncan Jones says that one major action sequence, a fight between the orcs Durotan and Gul’dan, had to be handed over to the animation team, because the motion-capture didn’t quite work.
Obviously, we use motion capture for an awful lot of the work we do. Occasionally, there are times where our actors just don’t have the reflexes to pull off the fight moves that we want.
While traditional computer animation is used throughout Warcraft, its primary purpose is to polish and fine tune the motion-capture data. It was very important to Duncan Jones that the actors' performances come through onto the screen as much as possible. To that end, actors Toby Kebbell and Daniel Wu, who play Durotan and Gul’dan respectively, did fully perform the fight sequence themselves, but apparently upon review, it was decided that the scene needed a little something extra. The scene was then given over to Hal Hickel, the film’s animation supervisor.
The press in attendance at ILM for the Warcraft event got to see a little bit of the fight scene in question, and I have to say, I’m not sure it would have been possible for any human to pull off the moves the way that they’re handled on screen. The pair are quite acrobatic considering their size. They also move incredibly quickly. While something like that could have been handled by playing with the speed in post-production, it may have been difficult to get the proper fluidity due to the motion-capture equipment. You have to figure that performing a fight scene with a bunch of motion-capture tech strapped to your body probably doesn’t help your mobility in any significant way.
While the actors’ work won’t be shown off in this one particular scene, the rest of the film will be a showcase in ILM’s ability to turn a human into a CGI orc without losing the emotion or nuance of the performance. Warcraft arrives in theaters on June 10.