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WoW Insider interviews Ian Beckman

Mike Schramm

That's the World of Warcraft that You Play. Guards. The University of Stormwind. Azerothian Supervillians. Some of the best and most popular WoW machinima has come from the mind of one man: Ian Beckman. I met Ian at the WoW Insider meetup during BlizzCon last month, and just recently, we got together to do an interview about how he makes his movies, whether machinima has made the mainstream or not, and what's next, both for Azerothian Supervillians (Episode 4 coming soon), and a "crazy project" that he says will "blow everyone's pants off."

The interview starts right after the jump. Thanks very much to Ian for sitting down with us.

WoW Insider: So start us off with a little background. You're a film student, right? Where do you go to school, and what do you want to eventually do when you're done?

Ian Beckman: I am currently a film student at Chapman University and want to focus on directing and maybe some editing. I really don't know at this point, as it is too early in the game. I also really enjoy screenwriting and bringing characters to life, so I really don't know. Who knows – maybe some game company will want to hire me for my cinematic expertise. I honestly couldn't tell you where I would like to see myself in the industry besides the big time director.

How did you originally get involved in making machinima? Did you start with World of Warcraft?

What originally inspired me to do Machinima was Red Vs. Blue, a series based all in the game Halo. What intrigued me was that fact that no one was doing something similar in World of Warcraft. I wanted to change that and bring some comedy to the table in the early Warcraft Machinima arena. At the time, the Legendary Pictures film of Warcraft was first publicized and made into a big deal; all over the Warcraft forums was speculation about big time actors playing specific roles of famous Warcraft characters. My first venture would be a parody of that very phenomenon, which I characterized into a movie trailer entitled "World of Warcraft: The First Movie."

Is World of Warcraft a good game to make a movie with? What weaknesses and strengths does it have when you're trying to use the graphics to tell a story?

All Machinima has limitations; it is attached with the art of Machinima itself. If we had complete control over everything, it would just be animation. Machinima forces filmmakers to evoke emotion and character movement with major lacks of facial movement and some movements that simply can't be performed by those characters. The art style that the Blizzard developers have provided for gamers really allows Machinima artists to explore a new world and environment, a much different unconventional style animation, and give something new to viewers and even gamers who don't expect such wild interpretations of the world they play in. That and it's a hundred times faster than conventional animation and can be created by one person.

Are there any other games that you've used, or any games coming out that would look like good machinima tools?

To be honest, I would like to see if I can do some Machinima in Starcraft II, as hopefully it will be a little more forgiving than its predecessor Warcraft III. Other than that, I would like to venture back into animation and film, as it is more forgiving than using art/designs/environments that weren't developed by me.

Walk us through exactly how it's done, from idea to finished product. Do you start with a script and shoot from that, or work it up as you go along? What tools do you use to capture and edit the video? How long does it all take?

First, it starts out as an idea - a little idea in my head, which I subsequently plot on paper as being a series or a film or whatever it is. Then I whip out a script, like any normal traditional script. This process, depending on the film takes more than two weeks on average, depending on the film – usually I work on the script for awhile, printing many, many drafts to make sure the film is perfect for the viewers. Then comes the fun part: voice acting. I gather my actors and we gather in my apartment and spend a few hours voicing each role. This is the part of the project that is fun because we really get to have fun making up voices and just giving life to the characters on the otherwise lifeless script. After that is the worst part of the experience, the painful process of editing. Sound editing comes first, as I mix the entire voice track first and then go through the process of capturing all the background scenes and character compositing on top of that with WoWModelViewer and WoWMapViewer, edited together on Adobe Premiere Pro. It takes forever, even for something simple, but in the end is totally worth it. And, as you can tell, it comes out beautifully.

Are you disappointed the WoW movie is going to be live action? If someone had the time, creativity, and resources, would it be possible to make a mainstream, feature length movie using machinima? Or is the technology just not there yet?

Machinima is not as widespread as those might think. If a Machinima movie were placed today nationwide in theaters, people would say "What the hell is that?" There is an appreciation for Machinima by its respective gamers who understand the implications of each environment. I do not doubt that Machinima will ever be a mainstream concept like any animated cartoon or film, but today's culture is just not ready to except it. With the way WoW is growing, however, the future of Machinima as a mainstream icon is not a doubt in my mind. Quite honestly, I am looking forward to the Warcraft live action film: I am sure they will give it the Lord of the Rings treatment, mixing a good amount of CGI and live action to make it an action packed adventure.

You've made some live action stuff as well-- which do you like better and why?

That's a tough call. I really enjoy my Machinima, as it gives me a lot of freedom to parody and at the same time keeps the films goofy and entertaining. Film doesn't have the same function in many ways. What I mean by that is making a live action film about Villains who take over the world in similar ways as the "Azerothian Super Villains" does not have the same charm as the characters from Warcraft do. Machinima allows me to create animation on a relatively quick basis, instead of a cartoon that takes many months to work on and process.

What's some of your favorite machinima that you haven't made, and why?

I am a huge fan of Jun Falkenstein's "Snacky's Journal" series. It is incredibly clever and some of the best Machinima made in WoW, ultimately bringing new things to the table for its audience. She has wonderful new techniques and concepts, such as mouth manipulation and creative editing techniques that no one in Warcraft Machinima has really seen before. It is also done so well that it makes it look amazing. I also really enjoy all the stuff Oxhorn creates – he has a unique and goofy sense of humor that makes me happy inside.

What's your favorite gag in Azerothian Super Villians? What's the inspiration behind it?

My favorite gag is the raider toy I introduced in Episode 3. I used to be just like that player, with no life and no interest except to raid with my guild mates back on Ner'zhul. Ever since I stopped playing hardcore, I just started to loathe players who really dedicated that much time into the game. Of course, my main voice actor Mike D. brought him to life so well, and the touch to make him sound like an old windup toy sold it as a great joke to me.

And what's on tap for Episode 4? Any plans for what's coming after that?

Episode 4 is coming, I promise. For some reason, a lot of people think Episode 4 is not going to be made. Well, they are wrong, because I certainly have been a busy working on it, so expect it sometime at the end of September. For the future, I have lots of ideas and plans. I would like to revisit the Guards series one last time and finish that series once and for all. I also have a crazy project that I want to do: I want to make an impact on the Machinima community, something so grand that it will blow everyone's pants off. It will strain some from the original intent of Machinima by using different sorts of CGI effects, but the dramatic and cutting edge technology would be a major step bringing Machinima to the eyes of those in the film industry. Other than that, I will be working on film projects and hopefully revisit my original film interest, flash animation.

And assuming you find any time between making movies to play, what characters (level, class) are you playing lately? Have you ever raided any of the villians?

I wish I had time to play, but honestly, raiding burned me out entirely from ever playing again. Every time I have interest, I can never get past level 10. I spend my time gaming elsewhere and primarily making movies, especially since I am in film school nowadays. I wish I had a chance to raid Illidan and Kael'thas, but again, that requires way more dedication than I can put forward.

Thanks very much for speaking with us!

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