BlizzCon 2014 – Overwatch Origins Panel Transcript

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Kaplan: One of the things that was interesting earlier on is we kind of treated Tracer as this ‘Rosetta Stone’ character in the universe and we all instantly fell in love with her and wanted her to be sort of like that centerpiece hero that we had; but what was fascinating was that cinematics was tackling the problem at the exact same time as the game team so I’d love to hear Jeff and Bill talk a little bit about how was it in collaborating on bringing Tracer to life, what were some of the things cinematics uniquely brought to Tracer versus some of the things the Overwatch art team uniquely brought to Tracer?

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Petras: Actually developing Tracer on the game side, Arn’s concept with the art team and then Jeff’s group was also modeling Tracer; we quickly found out that the cinematic team very closely followed the concepts very, very closely and on the game side we would iterate a little bit more in-game (so right off the bat) Jeff would come over and he was like “Billy… OK. Tracer’s legs are a little longer! What are you guys doing?!”

I’m like “Jeff, in the game it looks better”. There are slight differences in there but it was largely the cinematic group also taught us to really pay attention to the proportions, the black outs of the character; we’ll do a simplified version of Tracer and put her in the game, we used to call it a blackout and then also just on her materials; I think Arn you did a concept of her materials, we’d do a sheep and have different types of materials like “this is a purple shirt material” and Arn showed it to me and I said “yeah that looks good” and the cinematic group.

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I think there were two pages of additional material so that was a big one and maybe you could chat about this but I also felt like you took Tracer further than we could take her and I remember very early on you told me that — usually Jeff, you were saying that Blizzard cinematics takes the characters on a scale of one to two where if a game model is a two (I would say in the amount of finished quality) you would take it to a higher number for your cinematics but on this one it was much closer together, you were saying the steps in between are much closer together and I always remembered that.

Chamberlain: I wish we had a little bigger of a picture of Tracer’s jacket here but if you were to look at the detail on the weathering of her jacket usually we wouldn’t necessarily try to go one to one with the game model but on this we actually took the game model textures and started with that as a basis and then just detail it a little bit more just to get the higher resolution to work with; but the overall feeling is that it still has (like Bill said earlier) it still has that handcrafted look to it.

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So working with Bill and the rest of the game team on this was awesome because we did have the luxury of going back and forth and say is this too much detail? Yes, let’s pull back a little bit or maybe that’s a little bit too simple and so… we are just working together to try to find that nice balance of what the cinematic version of the game model is and it’s a lot of fun.

Kaplan: I’m actually really curious and this is totally out of my ballpark but hearing from Jeff and Bill, which of these characters is the easiest to work with from your different disciplines versus which is the most difficult?

Petras: Which character is the most difficult to work with? I think for me personally I would look at Winston for example for all the folks who played them and saw the videos, there are a lot of movement he has where he goes into a rage mode so there is so much more demanding of that model to change into this rage sort of animation; Ryan Dennis and our lead animator actually created it and I think Winston was difficult because of the expectations that we wanted out of the model, of him just morphing into this giant sort of maddened sort of enraged view of him. I think our model… it still has more to go on it and I think just that alone was one of the big challenges that we are looking at.

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Chamberlain: Similarly. I think Winston was the hardest for us because he has all those armor pieces and stuff. In the game it’s ok if the character lifts his arm up or her arm up and a shoulderpad goes to the head a little bit or something.

It’s a little bit more forgiving, but in cinematics it looks really, really wrong; and so Winston actually can’t move with the armor that he has on realistically. So we are always — you know — so depending on which way he’s facing the camera we are always tucking things in where it can’t really tuck in and just faking it for camera.

So he was the most difficult that way, and he also has the rage mode and the hair and everything so he’s like the full kit.

Funny enough Widowmaker was pretty much the opposite; something was different about her and we were like everything hit perfectly on her for us; so we drop her in a shot and the shot would be almost done. So she was by far the easiest.

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Kaplan: Awesome, man. He had up earlier that beautiful poster that Arnold had drawn and this is hanging over in the art gallery. It’s really fun to go over and look at the exhibit, and we have a great archivist: Dana Bishop, who put together really fascinating– you know, not only Overwatch stuff but some great WoW (World of Warcraft) stuff in there.

I was looking in there and there were some John McGrath notes “Mortal strikes, overpower or I have her in sight” so I suggest you guys go over and look at the art gallery; it’s a lot of fun but this poster felt like one of those breakthrough moments for the team.

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I would love to hear you guys talk about what this poster meant to you Arnold; you are the guy who drew it and then Chris you always talk about how this was a like the cornerstone of Overwatch. So what are you guys thoughts about that?

Tsang: This poster was really instrumental in bringing the whole team together united on this vision of Overwatch and what we were doing. I think early on we talked about doing a poster, we tried all these different layouts but at the end the game is not about one single hero, there’s no main character so we are thinking like very fear fighting game, very comic bookie about this and if you guys know my roots, I’m all about fighting games and comic books.

So this was really natural for me to just line them all up, have their unique silhouettes and color palettes just show and I think the original sketch of the poster… it was cropped a little bit more to make it seem like it could go on, it could just go on and on and I hope it does. I hope you just keep developing these awesome heroes.

Metzen: The image was very powerful and there were iterations, there was one that was the original poster and then it kind of dialed in overtime as we knew more about the characters; but it was like Arn just dropped this boom, it was like dropping the mic; just this image where I went “oh my god, all right” and like Arn said it almost had a sense like while there were X number of characters in the scene, it’s like on either side it could be infinite and it was this challenge of like can you fill in the rest of the picture, can you imagine the next hundred characters? As the scene got bigger and bigger and there was this gravity to it and specificity to it almost like ‘look at all these robots and cyber monks and dwarves and cowboys’ and it was like ‘ok there are no rules, let’s just go’. It was impossibly inspiring and challenging, it dared you to dream more into it and that’s what I always loved about it.

Kaplan: I’m no math genius but I know that there are twelve heroes playable here at BlizzCon. I count more than twelve heroes in that poster. Just saying…

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Next topic: We mentioned that this poster was definitely a breakthrough moment for the team in a lot of ways, I think this was like that rallying banner that Arn just threw down and really inspired us all to try to make this game. I’d love to hear from each one of you and we may be able to start with Arnold and work our way back but I’d love to hear from each one of you guys what other breakthrough moments happened on this project that inspired this game for you guys?

Tsang: Honestly the biggest breakthrough moment was the moment that Jeff pitched this game to us; like many, many heroes was just flying through my head so I would say the inception of the idea really inspired me.

Petras: Wow! There’s a couple for me; I think first of all early Torbjorn; the hero we know really showed us what the hero would like in the game, I thought that was a real breakthrough and I thought the Temple of Anubis — a fantastical version of Egypt, really showed us what the world could feel like and those things both of them together really had this image that we were like “oh, okay we have something here;” I think that was it for me.

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Metzen: I think for me it was when we were developing the cinematic as we were working through the boards and the very last shot of the little brother where he was like “yeahhh” when he’s just losing his mind that for me was like for the whole project, every aspect of the project.

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What it said to me was… again there are no rules; it made my inner-six-year-old just do cartwheels; which is that moment for the kid. This game brings that out in me and like Jeff had said earlier it’s kind of a reach for us, we are used to indomitable lich kings and planet cracking alien invasions and we are used to all this super high-octane mega-level epicness but (uhh that was a lot in a row) but this is a reach for us; and I love that we had the courage to reach, I hope that people love it; but I almost don’t care if it makes me feel alive after twenty years of doing this work. I love this thing, I love that it wears its heart on its sleeve, we wanted to build a world that is bright and fun and heroic and not cynical and just absolutely reaching for everybody’s inner six year old; that’s what it makes me feel like and I’m so proud of it. That moment crystalized it for me.

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Chamberlain: For me it’s actually a combo of two of those, when Jeff pitched the game to our team; we have a group of directors on our team and all very great directors and when he pitched it I very quickly, selfishly claimed it as mine; this project as mine and even my boss Mike Ryder was like and we were thinking it might be sign of atrocity and he was like “why don’t we think of a scenario where you are not directing Overwatch”? I was like “no let’s not do that, we are definitely going to stick with that part at least” so that was very inspiring to see Jeff’s pitch.

The second part was when we’d jam ideas with the game team like about what the story should be about in the announcement cinematic and then we kind of go away for a little while and we work with the story boardartists and we have these images that you see behind us; these twelve initial ‘B’ boards where it’s just a mechanism to pitch an idea, hopefully a final idea.

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Usually what we do is we get these ‘b’ boards and we pitch on them and then we get notes, we pitch on them again and so on and so forth; this one we kept it pretty minimal. We had twelve ‘b’ boards and me and the storyboard artist had to go pitch to the game team and we got through the whole thing and as you can see pretty much it’s obviously the design of things has changed a bit but the idea is still there and we got to the end of it.

There is always this moment where Chris whether he likes it or dislikes it… he always has this scowl and you are kind of sitting there for a minute and you are like “Man, I hope he likes it”, it’s hard to tell and so he stops and he’s like (You are cool if I talk about this?), “let me ask the room, do you guys want to make this story”? Immediately, because I’m nervous I’m just like: “Oh man, he hates it,” and everyone is like: “Yeah, I don’t know,” and we are all kind of waiting on Chris to speak up (I guess, you know) and he’s like: “if we don’t make this story, I don’t want to work here,” and I was like: “yeah, all right!” that was a good moment for me.

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Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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