Warcraft: A Virtual World from a Virtual Production
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The worlds of orc and human clash in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, the Legendary/Universal film based on Blizzard’s wildly popular MMORPG video game.
When it comes to orcs versus humans, it’s safe to say intense action ensues. But just how did Jones and his collaborators craft a race of orcs – taller and more muscle-bound than humans – and feature them not just in ferocious mega-battles, but also reveal their more subtle and nuanced emotional lives?
The answer lay in the use of motion capture and virtual production tech, supplied by performance capture leader Animatrik.
Animatrik’s camera tracking, motion capture suit and simulcam technology enabled complicated and realistic on-set performances from the orc performers. This data in turn aided visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer and VFX studio ILM to easily transfer those performances into the digital realm, creating the photoreal orc ‘digi-likenesses’ witnessed in the final film.
“Warcraft was the largest virtual production Animatrik has ever been involved with,” says president and CTO Brett Ineson. ”The production had eight different stages over five months of shooting. Some were 300 feet in length, and there were even outdoor stages where the team had to film in the rain!”
Advertising artwork for "Warcraft"
COMPOSITING ORCS IN REAL-TIME
Animatrik delivered several motion capture services throughout production; ‘the full monty’, as Ineson describes it. “We supplied tracking cameras, tracking weapons and props, all integrated with live action sets and live action actors, and then integrated those CG sets and actors together,” he explains.
“The idea was that as we were filming you could see everything happening through the eyepiece of the movie camera – all the backgrounds, orcs and creatures composited in real-time with our tracking tech.”
Animatrik deployed two kinds of motion capture camera technologies – NaturalPoint and Vicon cameras and a SolidTrack system.
The first tech setup was coined ‘outside in’, and relied on capturing the motion of performers in motion capture suits along with the main film camera. This provided a real-time simulcam composite of the characters and their backgrounds.
Performers in motion capture suits along with the main film camera with an "outside in" tech setup provided a real-time simulcam composite of the characters and their backgrounds.
When there was no motion capture camera equipment on set, or the actors walked inside sets or areas where the cameras could not see them anymore, Animatrik used an ‘inside out’ approach.
“We’d mount a small vision survey camera to the movie camera,” explains Ineson. “This camera would integrate with a system called SolidTrack, which would lock onto every pixel it sees and calculate its 3D position to the world around it. We could then work out the offset between that camera and the movie camera for the simulcam view.
“Having that simulcam view was so valuable for everyone on set,” adds Ineson. “It really helped with things like framing, since the orcs, for example, might be up to 12 feet tall. Knowing that on set meant the camera operator could re-position for the best angle.
“Simply put, the production was able to shoot Warcraft as if it were a normal movie. This drastically reduced the changes necessary on the back end.”
Orcs and humans clash in "Warcraft", but Orcs are nearly 12 feet tall.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Animatrik’s motion capture tech helped solve another challenging aspect of Warcraft‘s outdoor shoots.
Motion capture outdoors has traditionally been much trickier than a controlled stage environment, but Animatrik was able to use past experience to overcome the challenge. The team used active marker suits fitted with LED lights developed with Standard Deviation to achieve highly accurate motion capture.
“Because of the outdoor sets, light pollution and rain, we needed to create LED suits for the actors to wear because we knew we would have trouble bouncing light from the camera to do a traditional motion capture,” says Ineson. “The LEDs are synchronised to pulse in time with the motion capture camera and therefore not impact on the main photography.
“This allowed for much more precise outdoor performance capture, and a more realistic performance from the actors themselves, who could more realistically place themselves into the scene.”
Because of the technology of motion capture, actors' performances emoted stronger nuances.
THE SUBTLETY OF FACIAL PERFORMANCE
Animatrik’s work was not done yet – the company also played a big part in the orc’s facial capture solution.
In order to capture the orc’s emotive performances, the on-set actors wore a helmet camera system developed by Technoprops, consisting of a pair of stereo cameras that delivered two streams of video. These cameras caught every nuance and subtle shade of emotion that passed across the actors’ faces as they performed.
Seeing the results of Animatrik’s motion capture work still causes Ineson to marvel, especially considering the scale of the shoot.
“It was just so complicated,” he says. “It’s one thing to capture performances but when you have nine orcs fighting nine humans with moving cameras and all that action happening, the fact that the cameraman could see this all in his camera in real-time, it was so great.
“It’s also fantastic to see just how much of the actors’ likenesses and performances are retained in the orcs. You can see the personality shine through each of these digi-likenesses.”
Not only was Warcraft an evolution of Animatrik’s craft, but it also helped the team make a major leap in the services the company now offers.
“There was a lot of R&D involved in Warcraft, and a lot of things that had to be custom build in order to make the movie possible,” says Ineson. “Our services have really benefited and we now have even more experience of capturing in some really challenging environments.
“We truly feel like we’re ready to take on any challenge.”