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Blizzcon 2008: Notes from the DVD production panel

I have to admit, I got a lot more than I bargained for when I sat down at the DVD Production panel on this second morning of the 3rd BlizzCon. After all, what can you do with a DVD Production panel anyway? Apparently, a whole lot.

The panel was introduced by Kevin Crooke, one of Blizzard's Law Department, who us his favorite Cinematic, the "That's a Zerglin' Lester" scene from Starcraft (A man after my own heart, he is). When he later saw a video at a Blizzard Christmas party that lampooned Blizzard and everyone at it, up to and including the executives, and featured commercials with the faces of former employees on "missing" milk carton notices. With that, he introduced the man behind all that humor, Joeyray Hall.

Hall welcomed us to the first ever DVD Production Panel, and introduced his team one by one. Some of them were on stage with him, while others were in the audience. On the stage with him were Joanna Cleland, who he described as a storyteller, Tristan Pope, a former New York Artist and Director, Terran Gregory, creator of the famous WoW Machinima "Return," and Evelyn Fredericksen, Chris Metzen's "second brain" and one of Blizzard's resident lore experts. When they work on almost any trailer or cut scene, they have a storytelling session with Evelyn to make sure they've got the lore down solid.

The History of the DVD Production

Joeyray Hall himself was originally hired at Blizzard on a 5 week contract to make the cars for Rock and Roll Racing, one of Blizzard's first game. He became a full time employee and Blizzard's first 3D artist, heading up the cinematics department until he left it at the end of Warcraft 3's production to head the DVD Department, where he hoped to be able to tell more stories.

As it turns out, they hard only do those collector's edition DVDs. They also do almost of Blizzard's gameplay trailers and in-game footage, as well as in-game cutscenes and trailers. Naxxaramas was their first major piece of work for World of Warcraft. For a while, Hall was the only member of the team. Even when they gave him an assistant, special effects guy Brandon Vanderpool, he says he mostly ignored him. Luckily, Brandon produced a Darkmoon Faire trailer for WoW and won him over.

Tristan Pope was one of the next to join, and he was instrumental in working on the switchers video parodies starring William Shatner, Mr. T, and others.

If you remember the flying mount trailers from Burning Crusade, this team not only made them, but provided the voices (and demonstrated them for us at the panel). Brandon was Barley Frostbeard, and Evelyn was GNN reporter Wendy Breazy.

After they added Joanna, they worked together on the South Park episode Make Love, Not Warcraft. They were incredibly honored to work with the team. Not only did they provide much of the support for the team, but Joeyray Hall himself was the model for the bad guy of the episode, and the Emmy they recieved for the episode was awarded on his birthday. They have also worked to help insert Blizzard property into TV in other shows, such as How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, and were instrumental in creating the "Lawgiver" commercial for Toyota.

They also revealed that they recently worked on footage for the upcoming Keanu Reeves remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, so that may end up being worth a movie ticket after all.Of course, as their name suggests, they do create the collector's edition DVDs, collecting cinematics and concept art, creating the DVD Menus and featurettes, and interviewing developers.

They also record external and internal Blizzard events alike, from midnight release signings to BlizzCons and Worldwide Invitationals, and put them up online. They design many of the video screen presentations for BlizzCon as well, including the ones for Video Games Live and Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftains at tonight's concert. They also document the history of Blizzard, shooting video of company parties and picnics and events. Finally, they've started in on creating in-game cut scenes. You may have heard of the new, epic, 4 and half minute Wrath Gate cutscene from Wrath of the Lich King. That's their work.

Gameplay Trailers: Process and Example

For their next step, they described some of the work they did on gameplay trailers for various Blizzard franchises. For example, to create the Starcraft 2 Zerg trailer, they actually were able to use the in-game level editor to create the whole thing, even the Blizzard logo at the beginning. Also, because it was a level editor, they were able to create a scene from scratch, whereas for most of their work, they must use existing levels or zones from the game itself.

So they were able to build a level to their specifications from storyboards, with input from Starcraft 2's production team. One more tidbit: Joanna did the voiceover, which was apparently a Zerg Queen and not Kerrigan herself.

Of particular interest to this Warcraft lore nerd was the story of World of Warcraft's patch 2.1, which introduced the Black Temple raid zone.

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