This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 10, 2015.
The first thing you notice upon arriving at Legendary’s preview night experience at San Diego Comic Con is that it’s crowded. Every square inch of floor space is selling at a premium and the event is meant to include at least 30 journalists along with all of Legendary’s staff and guests. There’s a jovial atmosphere to the air though. The booth may be stuffed and the temperature may be rising, but everyone wants to be there.
Legendary is using this time to unveil new material for their upcoming films Crimson Peak and Warcraft. They have exhibits, interviews, and a few extra surprises all planned. Getting the event to start involves a healthy amount of shouting to ensure everyone hears the plan. It’s not until Duncan Jones is introduced that everyone present actually quiets down.
Jones is the director of Moon, Source Code, and next summer’s Warcraft, long limbs, scruffy beard, and an anxious smile dropped into a jacket. As the instructions and introductions continue, he stands behind the man speaking trying to lighten the atmosphere. At the mention of Crimson Peak, he stands upon his tip toes and does his best imitation of a ghostly apparition behind the man in charge. The man and most of the crowd take no notice, but Jones continues throw punches when Pacific Rim is mentioned and throws on his best orc face when Warcraft appears in the monologue.
This isn’t for the benefit of those in attendance, but his own. Every gag releases a little bit of tension and grows his smile ever so slightly. When the rigamarole has been completed, it’s time to walk and Jones bounds to the front of the line. You’re led along with everyone else to an adjacent booth where a man-sized statue rests beneath a black sheet. It is pulled back to reveal King Llane, the ruler of Azeroth, crouched in shining armor with a brilliantly sculpted shield thrust outward. It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and results in dozens of iPhones and significantly better cameras snapping and clicking together.
Then it’s back to the booth for interviews and other goodies. Most of those in attendance rush toward Jones as soon as they return hoping to be the first in line for round table interviews. There’s an hour to go and everyone is promised some time with the director though. You might notice while standing about a tall man in glasses with curly hair. His manner is demure and patient, but his shirt is loud. It’s a workman’s button up with patches strewn about the chest and arms, the most prominent of which proclaims “WETA”.
This is Richard Taylor, the founder of New Zealand-based Weta Workshop. He has worked on films like The Lord of the Rings,The Chronicles of Narnia, and now Warcraft, and has been rewarded for his efforts with Academy Awards in Makeup, Visual Effects, and Costume Design. He projects a quiet demeanor, but when speaking about his work he lights up.
As a child Taylor, spent all of his free-time building things, and that’s exactly what he does now as an adult. Expect now he does so in an enormous workshop filled with dozens of friends all designing and crafting new props everyday. His attitude towards the work isn’t just excited, it’s loving. There is nothing he would rather do than go to work every day and keep building things. Taylor recounts some of his favorite projects, including Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai commander who kills Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring. Lurtz was a carefully managed combination of man and orc traits, meant to reveal the shared brutality of both races. He is an almost entirely original creation who came to life just as Taylor dreamed. Taylor is a man living his dream and the way speaking about his work illuminates his face is nothing short of inspiring.
In the meanwhile, much of the crowd has focused upon small boxes while waiting their turn with Jones or between speaking with other developers and craftsmen. The boxes are said to be “the most money Google has ever spent on cardboard. They have been designed and patented to provide a 3-D experience for fans to reveal the worlds of Warcraft and Crimson Peak. Looking around, a Legendary staffer offers you one to experience the world of Warcraft.
You slide your phone into the box constructed through a series of tears and folds completed with the insertion of two lenses. The concept is absolutely bananas and seems like a gag until you actually place your face against the display. The 3-D rendering isn’t perfect, but it’s shockingly good. The lenses make it read like you’re viewing a world through glasses whose prescription are just one notch off. That does not prevent the experience from being immersive though. Wandering through both videos is a delight.
You move your head back and forth, up and down, and the world moves with you. You’re riding atop a Griffin looking down upon a massive seaside kingdom of Azeroth. There’s a lot happening with waves slowly shifting the sea and a city that is honestly realized. The Crimson Peak experience is an evocative haunted house. It draws your attention about a hallway as you walk, subtly encouraging you to stare out a window at a floating corpse that clearly reflect Guillermo del Toro’s sense of design. Then a scream launches and you jerk (almost knocking into the poor guy at your side) and sea a ghost lunging at you. Both experiences reflect the tone of their films, and work better as trailers than most plot-dumps favored by Hollywood. Together Legendary and Google have managed to remove the need for imagination when playing with a cardboard box.
Finally, it’s time to speak with Duncan Jones. Preview Night has almost ended and you’re in the last round table of the event with ten minutes to chat alongside five other journalists with recorders and notepads at the ready. That same antsy energy from the beginning is present. Jones bounces between his feet as he responds to questions. He’s eager to deliver full answers event to softballs questioning how much World of Warcraft he has played recently (none) and whether he hopes to please long-time fans of the series (very much).
After an hour of questions he is asked what is the one thing he wished he had been asked about tonight. Jones stops bouncing for a brief moment to think before landing upon an answer. “The characters” he announces with absolute certainty. He talks about the various actors included in Warcraft and all of the work they are doing to bring the film to life. His previous films have always been character-centric, and he is proud of bringing that focus to Warcraft as well. Both orcs and humans have been well cast and written to depict two sides of an unfortunate, inevitable war populated with people, not cartoons. He speaks with such confidence and pride about what has been done that it’s possible to believe that this may really be the video game adaptation that really succeeds on the big screen.
As the event draws to a close, it’s clear that these presentations have come from a place of love. Taylor, Jones, and the other pros here are all passionate about what they do. This night isn’t just an opportunity to garner some press, but to show off work they are proud of. Everything from the visual experiences to Mondo posters to life-size statues are the result of countless hours, and all show the work and craftsmanship put into them. They are beautiful and inventive, and something worth touting. Their love for creation has resulted in a preview well worth experiencing.