War story

Dun­can Jones on bring­ing World Of War­craft to the big screen


Dun­can Jones smiles. “I know Edge very well. Back in the day, when we did the de­vel­oper di­aries on Repub­lic: The Rev­o­lu­tion… A long time ago. God, a life ago.” To be pre­cise, it’s been 18 years since Demis Hass­abis wrote his first Edge col­umn about estab­lish­ing Elixir Stu­dios. Then, Jones worked on Repub­lic’s cutscenes. Now he’s di­rected the big-bud­get movie adap­ta­tion of War­craft.

The am­bi­tions for both projects were high. Repub­lic had its In­fin­ity En­gine and the aim of sim­u­lat­ing an Eastern Bloc coun­try. In a Hol­ly­wood run­time, War­craft is at­tempt­ing to pull to­gether a world drawn across 22 years of games and a tan­gled for­est of sto­ries, char­ac­ters and lo­ca­tions. The hopes are sim­i­larly high. Jones said last year, “War­craft will right the wrongs of game movies”. As a man who is not only a game in­dus­try alum­nus but also the di­rec­tor of two highly re­garded sci­encefic­tion fea­tures, Moon and Source Code, Jones is bet­ter placed than any­one in Hol­ly­wood to re­alise this.

How­ever, the di­rec­tor sim­ply sees his prom­ise for War­craft as a func­tion of time. “There was a time when there were film­mak­ers who were mak­ing movies based on comic books but the film­mak­ers never read comic books, you know?” he says. “They were there as film­mak­ers but they didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate what it was about the comic books that peo­ple cared about, and I think that changed as a gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers grew up and started mak­ing movies who them­selves had been comic-book read­ers, and I think the same is ab­so­lutely true for videogames.” Jones comes from what is per­haps the first gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers who spent all their lives play­ing games. He started on a Com­modore 64, and is cur­rently on his sec­ond XCOM 2 playthrough. “All of that his­tory is stuff I take with me,” he says, “and gives me a true ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what the ex­pe­ri­ence was, and what it was about it that I want to carry into a film uni­verse.”

Jones is care­ful to note that he also has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to film­mak­ing, how­ever, which means bring­ing mass au­di­ences along, whether they know about the game or not. Jones de­scribes the process of de­vel­op­ing War­craft as puz­zle-solv­ing, the first chal­lenge be­ing that of pick­ing through all of the lore in or­der to find the story to tell. “The con­ver­sa­tion we had re­ally came down to, what are the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of War­craft? What makes it War­craft?” he says. The an­swer was the orcs’ ini­tial ap­pear­ance in Aze­roth, hav­ing stepped through a por­tal from their own planet, the mo­ment that kicked off an age of con­stant war.

The next chal­lenge was to find char­ac­ters that could trans­late well to

“Fam­ily, loy­alty, hav­ing a baby – these are things that au­di­ences around the world can un­der­stand”

film. The char­ac­ters of Bliz­zard’s War­craft are drawn large so that they can make them­selves heard among all the other fig­ures who com­pete for the player’s at­ten­tion. But while they’re of­ten un­der­scored by grand pathos, they aren’t ex­actly nu­anced. “If there was any place where there was a lit­tle room for a new cre­ative voice, I think that’s where it was,” Jones says. “They are big, broad-brush char­ac­ters in the game world, and there was room for a bit of nu­ance in there, for the mo­ti­va­tions of the char­ac­ters and who they were. That’s what we tried to fit in.”

The so­lu­tion was to fol­low the story of Durotan, orc chief­tain of the Frost­wolf Clan – lit­tle-known, so there was space to de­velop a char­ac­ter, but in­stru­men­tal so that he plays a role in the sto­ries play­ers will know. Durotan is fa­ther to Thrall, who goes on to lead the Horde, and the lands set­tled by the orcs in World Of War­craft are named af­ter him. The first game he ap­peared in was the most re­cent ex­pan­sion, War­lords Of Draenor, but he was es­tab­lished as a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter in the 2001 novel Lord Of The Clans, which was it­self based on a story de­vel­oped for the can­celled ad­ven­ture game War­craft Ad­ven­tures.

The film also fol­lows an­other lead char­ac­ter, the hu­man cham­pion knight, An­duin Lothar. War­craft presents yet an­other chal­lenge to tra­di­tional Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ing, be­cause it has to rep­re­sent both sides of the con­flict. An­duin fea­tures in War­craft II, in which he fights in a war that ends in the clos­ing of the por­tal be­tween the orcs’ world and Aze­roth. It feels like quite a lot to ask of a sin­gle film. “You re­ally need to be able to get to the heart of who these char­ac­ters are as quickly as pos­si­ble, and at the same time make sure they come across as hav­ing some depth,” Jones ex­plains. “That was hope­fully where I came in and did a lit­tle bit of what I hope I’m good at.”

Not that this is nec­es­sar­ily il­lus­trated by the di­rec­tor’s pre­vi­ous films. His de­but, Moon, fea­tures a sin­gle ac­tor con­fined to a small space, while 2011’s Source Code fol­lows the same small group of char­ac­ters re­peat­ing the same slice of time, over and over. They’re in­ti­mate and fo­cused, and very high con­cept – and there­fore pretty much the opposite of this huge and mus­cu­lar new film.

War­craft’s orcs are also com­put­er­gen­er­ated. “In a funny way, it was eas­ier with the orcs than the hu­mans,” Jones coun­ters, point­ing out the plight of the orcs, who are chased from their own world and are sim­ply try­ing to find them­selves a new home. “Fam­ily, loy­alty, Durotan hav­ing a preg­nant wife, Draka, and hav­ing, pretty early on, a baby – these are things that au­di­ences around the world can un­der­stand and em­pathise with pretty im­me­di­ately.” It was the hu­man point of view that needed ex­tra em­bel­lish­ment, and for Jones, us­ing CG was a sim­ple choice, given the need to rep­re­sent fear­some orcs. En­sur­ing it was done well was about ex­er­cis­ing the now-stan­dard prac­tice of film­ing as much as pos­si­ble on lo­ca­tion, or on vast sets. The ac­tors on which the orcs are based were fully mo­tion-cap­tured, just as Cae­sar was, so suc­cess­fully, for Planet Of The Apes.

War­craft has fa­mously been in de­vel­op­ment for a long time, hav­ing been an­nounced way back in 2006. Sam Raimi was ap­pointed as di­rec­tor in 2009, but Bliz­zard would not ap­prove his story pro­posal, and he left the project in 2013. Raimi claimed it was a mat­ter of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, while Bliz­zard’s only public state­ment on the mat­ter was a tweet from Rob Pardo, then chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, say­ing that “there are two sides to every story”. Dun­can Jones of­fers a lit­tle more in­sight on the mat­ter: “The rea­son it kept com­ing up against stum­bling blocks and not getting made was that the film­mak­ers were not see­ing it the same way that Bliz­zard were.”

Jones’ pitch de­fined the War­craft uni­verse as a place where he­roes can come from any­where, whether they’re orcs, hu­mans, dwarves or elves. Bliz­zard im­me­di­ately loved it, he says. The re­sult­ing film is the prod­uct of close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the game and movie worlds; Bliz­zard cre­ative lead Chris Met­zen shares a writ­ing credit with Jones and Charles Leav­itt (Blood Di­a­mond, In The Heart Of The Sea). Bliz­zard also lent the film one of War­craft’s prin­ci­pal con­cept artists, Wei Wang, who adapted the games’ stylised orcs into cred­i­ble fig­ures. Some of the film’s de­vel­op­ments have also fed back into Bliz­zard’s game work, such as Durotan fea­tur­ing in War­lords Of Draenor.

Jones, who has un­til now en­joyed a com­par­a­tively in­de­pen­dent ca­reer, gives no clue as to whether he found this re­la­tion­ship dif­fi­cult, but it hasn’t put him off work­ing more closely on videogames. “Don’t be sur­prised if I get in­volved in the games side a lit­tle bit more at some point,” he says. “It’s ab­so­lutely part of the world I was brought up in.”

Jones isn’t pre­cious about movie ori­gins: “It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s a game, or an app, or your favourite book or your favourite meal – you can make a movie as long as you have a good idea about what to do with it”

War­craft is Dun­can Jones’ third fea­ture, fol­low­ing Moon and Source Code

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.