The panelists present were Brian Horn, Marc Messenger, Ben Dai, Terran Gregory, Jason Hill, and Doug Gregory, Blizzard directors whose work encompasses a wide range of cinematic experience including expansion cinematics, 2.5D animated shorts like Warbringers, CGI-quality cinematics, and in-game cinematics.
The entire panel is over an hour long and is well-worth a listen, but we’ve recapped the important Warcraft information below too!
- Usually the process of adding cinematics features a lot of open discussion, but the Old Soldier cinematic was an outlier in that the game team came to the cinematic team requesting an additional cinematic.
- For lavish CGI cinematics like the BFA Saurfang cycle, the team tried to keep the costs down by reusing art assets. Every film reused assets from past films instead of starting from scratch, which worked pretty well until they had to build tons of extra stuff for the pivotal Gates of Orgrimmar cinematic.
- Sometimes ideas intended for one medium get used for another–for example, one Cataclysm cinematic included a bit on goblins and worgen that was cut in favor of an emphasis on Deathwing, and it was later moved to another cinematic. Sometimes cool visuals from cinematics get incorporated into gameplay, or a neat animation is fun to bring to life in a cinematic.
- BlizzCon is a special time for the cinematics team as their work is revealed in front of a live audience, providing a unique look into players’ reactions. The Shadowlands cinematic premiere was especially interesting as the team didn’t plan on Bolvar’s reveal to be a hype moment, but due to his image leaking online a few days earlier, people started cheering when that frame came up on the screen.
- It’s tough figuring out the right direction to take a cinematic that appeals to both active, returning, and new players. Especially World of Warcraft, which is like a marathon TV show on it’s 16h season, making it inherently difficult for new players to grasp.
- Characters with long legacies such as Sylvanas also present challenges. Warbringers: Sylvanas was a struggle to create as the game team specified that she wouldn’t react to events in ways the cinematics team wanted to depict. After many dead ends, the team took a storybook/fairytale approach in explaining the vast lore behind her narrative, as they felt it was both lyrical and economical, but the final result felt flat and boring. So the team went back to the drawing board and blocked out a new version for the cinematic in a day, taking the angle that they were highlighting Sylvanas’ toughest “very bad day” moments instead of her entire history.
- While high-end CGI cinematics may have eight to eleven months of time budgeted for production, the shortest timeframe the team had was to create the 7.1 Karazhan trailer in less than 2 months.
- The budget for the very first 2.5D animated series, Burdens of Shaohao leading up to Mists of Pandaria, was only $1000.
- The N’Zoth finale was the first time a cinematic finale incorporated real time positioning, featuring the player’s own character getting the final attack on N’Zoth. This moment was a test to try something new after 16 “seasons” of World of Warcraft. It felt a bit jarring for players watching it on someone else’s stream as public consumption, but it felt more engaging experiencing it in-game with your own character. There are some lessons to be learned in trying out this sort of cinematic as a finale, but it also serves to highlight how the team is always trying to experiment.
If the Shadowlands launch cinematic is any indication, more CGI cinematics are on the way in Shadowlands and we can’t wait!