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Page 1: Lich King armor study Pages 2 & 3: The Lich King Leading the Scourge Pages 4 & 5: Northrend

17 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA, 94903 phone: 415.526.1370 • fax: 415.526.1394 Printed in China by Palace Press International ©2008 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved. Wrath of the Lich King is a trademark, and World of Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment are trademarks or registered trademarks in the U.S. and/or other countries. •

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available ISBN-13: 978-1-933784-81-6 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


th e c i n e m ati c a rt o f


San Rafael, California


Left: Frost wyrm study Opposite: Production storyboard of the Lich King

C o nt e n t s INTRODUCTION 9 i : in t h e be g innin g 10 prince art h as


icecro w n g lacier


sindra g osa , t h e frost w y r m


t h e curse of ner ’ z h ul


birt h of an idea

t h e clai m in g of frost m ourne




t h e fro z en t h rone


renderin g

R esearc h &

S ound


iii : R aisin g t h e D ra g on 112 t h e drea m in g


de v elop m ent


ani m ation

E pilo g ue 151



Matte P aintin g



ii : B rin g in g it to L ife 22

ri g g in g

C olop h on 154

C o m position


R G B L i g h tin g



t h e for g e


m odelin g


surfacin g


L ook D e v elop m ent


E ffects


C o m positin g





I nt r o d u c t i o n

bout a year and a half ago, discussions started popping up about the next World of Warcraft expansion and what we’d like to do for a cinematic. When we realized that we were going to revisit Arthas, one of our favorite antiheroes from Warcraft III, everyone got pretty excited. We knew we had to create something really great to be deemed worthy of Arthas’ saga since he’s arguably one of the most powerful entities in the World of Warcraft. It was clear a great deal of thought would have to be put into what we would actually show, and as the process went along it became evident that we couldn’t interject him into a fast cut series of Warcraft scenarios a la Illidan and The Burning Crusade. The question was then: How do we push this guy’s story further and do it justice? How do we make this intro as ultimately, insanely epic as possible? It’s pretty typical at Blizzard to polish something forever until it’s better than what we had originally imagined and the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic is no exception to this process. Starting out, we imagined a cinematic similar to that of The Burning Crusade, but one day, sitting around a table jamming out some concepts, the idea of raising a frost wyrm was dropped. It was one of those great Blizzard moments when everyone in the room just paused and

Left: Undead Orc Weaponsmaster Above: Birth of a Dragon

eventually someone stated what we were all thinking: “Dude… that would be really cool”. The funny thing is, true to Blizzard’s style, we kept polishing and trying out other ideas to see if we could find something even better (many of our ideas involved gnomes— honest!), but we kept coming back to the wyrm and eventually she stuck. From that point on the Blizzard’s cinematic production process got fired up and took on the daunting task of turning this idea into a reality. What you’re about to read will hopefully shed some light on how we approach this process. It’s pretty amazing to witness firsthand. From the collaboration involved in getting an epic story locked in, to the generation of hundreds of assets, sets, cameras, lighting, and concepts, to the sound design and the creation of a truly unique and moving score, everyone is onboard 100 percent. This is what makes this whole process not only work, but work well. Creating the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic was truly a great time, and we can only hope that you enjoy reading about it half as much as we enjoyed making it.

—Jeff Chamberlain, Director




t he


b e g i n n i ng



prin ce


rince Arthas Menethil was born to a proud and loving father: King Terenas Menethil II, leader of the Alliance of Lordaeron. As a youth, the warm and inquisitive Arthas had already begun manifesting the determination that would, in later years, inspire unwavering loyalty in his men. Early on the prince was trained in martial combat and the ways of war. Muradin Bronzebeard, brother of the dwarven king Magni, instructed Arthas in weaponry while the legendary paladin, Uther the Lightbringer, guided the young prince in matters of faith. Arthas excelled in his training and studies, and in time pursued a higher education with the wizards of Dalaran. It was there that he reconnected with a childhood friend, Jaina Proudmoore. Jaina had become the star pupil of the archmage Antonidas, and she and Arthas quickly grew close, much to the chagrin of another who sought Jaina’s affections: the high elven prince, Kael’thas Sunstrider. Despite their deepening attraction, Arthas chose to halt the budding romance and limit matters to the realm of friendship. Though she did not fully understand Arthas’ decision, Jaina honored his wishes. Still, in time the two drifted apart. When Arthas was nineteen years old, he was inducted into the Order of the Silver Hand. There, under the tutelage of Uther, Arthas learned to call upon the Light. Soon the prince evolved into an accomplished and respected paladin. It seemed virtually guaranteed that a long and prosperous life lay ahead of him. However, unforeseen events had already begun conspiring to lead the prince down a dark and treacherous path. In the end, those who loved Arthas would suffer the most. And the world of Azeroth . . . would never be the same.




Bi r t h o f t h e i d e a

The Blizzard Film Department (BFD) started a little over a decade ago when a small group of Blizzard employees decided to pursue their shared dream of producing computer graphic (CG) cinema for video games. Since then, BFD has grown into a creative cinema studio of more than one hundred artists and technicians that creates content that is eagerly anticipated by Blizzard fans. Growth like this has hinged on BFD’s ability to innovate—to outdo what it has previously done with each successive creation. Given the abiding pressure to succeed (not to mention the need to stay on budget, stay on schedule, and exceed fan expectations), there was a very strong drive to raise the bar (yet again) with the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic over what was produced for The Burning Crusade and the original World of Warcraft cinematic introductions. THE BACKSTORY he two major previous cinematics for World of Warcraft were montage pieces—a series of different action snapshots woven together. You may recall the dwarven hunter and bear who opened and closed the first World of Warcraft cinematic, or the night elf guardian running through the forest by the light of the moon. Or, witness the epic battles and feats of magic that introduced the world to the blood elves and draenei in The Burning Crusade cinematic. Montage was the method by which BFD captured the excitement and diversity of the World of Warcraft in cinematic segments that are approximately three minutes long. After months of debating how to apply this to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Blizzard ultimately decided to take a different approach, crafting more of a narrative that focuses on a few central characters that will play major roles in the new continent of Northrend. Before officially deciding on a narrative approach, though, BFD explored a number of different concepts, beginning with an array of ideas that could potentially become part of a final montage piece. This first stage of pre-


production—storyboarding—was crucial to working out the rough parameters for the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic that eventually emerged. STORYBOARDING he storyboard artists began their work on Wrath of the Lich King in the middle of 2007. They knew that Arthas, the central and tragic character of the game release, would be featured in the cinematic. As in previous cinematics, BFD also knew they wanted to introduce viewers to the new environments included in the expansion—in the case of the Wrath of the Lich King, this meant depicting Northrend and some of the key features of the new continent. Other than that, no other details had been formally established when BFD began developing the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic. The sky was the limit. At first, drawing upon their experience with their previous releases, their approach was to try to put together a montage that topped their previous releases. They set about generating scores of ideas that could then be knitted together in a three-minute piece that would explain Arthas’ return and the rise of the Lich King. What ensued in the initial planning stage was a flurry of creative expression that, although many concepts were discarded, served the team well in later stages. Veteran storyboarders understand that a large portion of the stuff they create will be thrown away—only a small percentage of the content they create survives the intensive review process. This is especially true in the case of montages with their largely unconnected scenes. No one knows which scenes will be saved and which will be put aside. Yet the more storyboard artists draw, the more they begin to see something cohesive emerge through their illustrations. Most of their storyboards were drawn in black and white and featured a variety of detail, ranging from primitive, basic depictions of events to highly stylized, detailed illustrations. Drawing on scenarios that were being discussed in game development at the time, BFD began playing around with a number of different ideas that involved the races and features of Northrend. In one of the scenarios that made it through a number of development passes, the Vyrkul, a giant humanoid race that resides in Northrend, harpoon


Left: Scourge warrior sketch Right: Storyboard concepts for the initial montage approach to the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic: 1. The Lich King Freezing Ships 2. Vyrkul Harpooning Ships 3. A Day in the Life of the Tuskaar







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