The Broken Shore Cutscene

Chris: The Broken Shore finale, it is the continuation of the pre-rendered intro cinematic to the Legion expansion where we were introduced to an uneasy partnership between Horde and Alliance, forged to defeat the Legion at the Broken Shore.


This was one of the most ambitious cinematics we had ever made. We knew it was going to push us, our people, our technology, and our pipeline to the edge of its capabilities. It is the story of an enormous battle.


It is over 4 and a half minutes long. It’s laden with large effects. It has a multitude of characters, and it is incredibly complex. For a small team like us, it was a daunting challenge. So we knew we were going to need to develop lots of new tools. Tools to do things like transfer animation and lighting data from shot to shot.

We wrote a custom cut crowd tool, and it uses the game engine to populate background actors for these enormous battle scenes, simplifying what was once a technical and complicated a process. It was the first time that the in-game cinematics department was going to use a large-scale volume-based computer generated effects for things like explosions, smoke, spells to highlight key story moments.

Coming up, we are going to talk about how the animation department was able to use this new technology to bring this massive battle to the screen, portraying intimate moments amidst the chaos and fog of war. We are going to also hear how this important and tragic moment in Blizzard lore was made to work seamlessly from a narrative point of view. Something that can so often be taken for granted.


But first, I am going to turn you over to Jessica Dru Johnson who’s going to talk to us about the characters she helped create, polish, and bring to life for this epic cinematic. Jessica.

Jessica: Thanks, Chris. So I had to make a massive cast of characters for not just Broken Shore, but all of Legion, and that work was really daunting. I ended up having to use every single short cutting tool in my whole repertoire to make these characters come to life, and then to talk to you about like the different methods that I use to make this happen.


The easiest was working on Sylvanas. Thank goodness, she already exists in the game, and she even got a new costume change for Legion. Because she already exists in the game as a complete character like we needed her, all I had to do is just make her animation-ready, working on the different joints in her body, which allowed me to spend a good deal of time working on her face, and getting that really good close up performance that she delivered in so many different parts of the cinematics; and another method that I used was in between projects.


I worked on creating an entire library of kind of generic characters from each of the races using the player measures that you guys play with on a regular basis, and it was with that library that I was able to work on Genn Greymane.


So Genn Greymane exists in-game, previously just as his human form faction leader, but they gave us this amazing piece of principal concept art that I had to use to create a whole lot of Greymanes, actually.


I had to make four different versions of Greymane, and I had to completely make up his worgen form. So we started from that generic base worgen mesh, and that mesh needed a little bit of work so we really had this amazing and glorious faction leader for the worgens that they’d be proud of.


So we started off with the worgen that was kind of fluffy. But we realized we needed to have that amazing mane on this character. So I had to make an extra fluffy, and it wasn’t even enough really, like talking with the art director, they’re like: can you go more fluffy?


And I worked on not just his hair, but also his textures. Actually, Sherman helped too on making him the fluffiest and most majestic worgen that you have ever seen, but because I had used the generic mesh, a lot of the textures space matched up from his human form over to his wolf form. So in clothing him and his wonderful outfit, I saved a lot of time by just being able to pluck the texture from one to another; and this allowed me to make four different versions: everything from his regal fighting form, to his feral fighting form, and I feel that we gave Greymane an amazing multiple moments in multiple cinematics that are really worth our time.


Now kind of combining those two different methods, I worked on Vol’jin. So yes, he is a character that exists in the World of Warcraft, but a lot of his armor pieces are a permanent part of his body. So I had to take my generic troll that allowed me to remove different things based on his performance, and actually make a really epic version of Vol’jin that you can be fighting alongside in the Broken Shore; and then also see him fall with the fel-stab wound, as everything is corrupting his body.


And actually, I spent like the majority of my work time working on his textures, making a modeled bruising pattern all over his body, having that fel-creep just take over everything, ruining his makeup; and when you see Vol’jin talking to Sylvanas in the end, yes, we could have had Vol’jin look at the height of health for this; but that texture change really sold his performance as he is handing over the mantle of the Horde.


Which brings me to the hardest method for making a character– that would be Mekkatorque. So this doesn’t exist in World of Warcraft. It just started out as a frame from our storyboards, and from that we had one of our artists (Zachary Podratz) create a basic sort of concept piece for this character.


That was handed over to the World of Warcraft team where they sort of WoWified his pimp pride and really like gave us something to aim for which we made a sort of 3D base mesh. We really wanted to visualize how this character would act, and behave, and be framed in the cinematic through that work.


It was then turned over to our animation team, and they ended up providing the most valuable insight. They sort of were the ones that were like: “What if we had his gun, or his arm rotate,” it was so cool to like have that cross-team conversation with this really sweet epic hero.


So taking their feedback, we brought it back in, finished his mesh, kind of broke down the different materials, like where is going to be the shiny, and then finish texturing everything by hand, and making this like super sweet epic high-tinker badass.


And I really feel like he is somebody you want to ride into battle with, feel like you are in good hands with the high-tinker; and that like brings me to talking about all the different technology we use.


We are constantly evolving how we make these cinematics, and how we make these characters, which means that I end up making the same character a bajillion times. Like Varian. So Varian, I have made for Mists of Pandaria, and also for Warlords of Draenor, and so when they handed me: We are going to need a new Varian.


I was like: Sweet! Varian variation, yeah! and I worked on Varian, I was so stoked, I was like: Oh, we got it. We are going for pretty renders, of take all these cool ideas, and I made and did all this co-work, and said: face, and hair, and cool armor; and then I read the script… AHHHHHHH!!!

I have to say, I am so glad that I got to work on Varian, and add all of those details, because in the hands of our animators we delivered the most compelling performance as Varian, this true hero of the Alliance gets to sacrifice. Like oh my goodness, I am just so proud of the work we did, and I am actually going to hand it over to Yeon-Ho, who is going to talk a little bit more about the animation for the cinematics.

Note: I captured this part on video. Jessica says this in a playful, adorable, and cute gnome-like voice. Watch below:


Next: Animation


In-Game CinematicsCreative DevelopmentDemon Hunter CutscenesSuramar CutsceneGenn vs Sylvanas
Broken Shore CutsceneAnimationLightningBroken Shore FinaleNexus: Varian

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