This weekend at Blizzcon, Blizzard had an hour long panel where they went in details about how their latest Diablo III cinematic trailer, The Black Soulstone, was made.
The first topic covered was their extensive use of concept art to set the whole story. Most of the art done during this phase ended up very accurate to the finished product, although some shots were changed according to the story needs.
Characters also benefited from a lot of design work. Both the art team and the story team went back and forth on what the characters should look like, and how they would fit best into the story. Each character evolved during the creation process, from 2D concept to finished 3D models in Mudbox and ZBrush:
The rigging of such a strange creature was something that took some time, since the animation would have him do things the model couldn't physically do, but since it's CGI, they could afford to cheat somewhat and adjust the rigging accordingly.
Story is always kept in center stage when designing these characters, like how they are textured with cuts and bruises, according to their past history as fighters. In the end, Azmodan, the main villain, had the longest development cycle, while his demon army had a very small cycle. After 2 days, a crew of demons was created.
The designers also spent some time in the panel talking about how they took as many examples from real life as they could, such as using photo references for leather, skin tones, and so on. Leah, the main character, had her outfit textured based on photos of leather that the team took, same with her table and a photo of a wooden table they happened to have in studio. The designers went through a lot of test renders to make sure all the materials rendered well in any kind of lighting.
For the main villain, they wanted his skin to be very translucent, wet and moist, so they used frogs as reference to create the texture and shader.
For Leah, she would need to have a lot of close up scenes, so the face and eyes proved to be a challenge. They had a photo session where a similar setup was created and photos were taken of the girl they used as reference. Expressions were done the same way, with videos of many people doing all kind of expressions on camera used as reference for what the character would need to do in the animation.
Finally, the animation also involved a lot of particle effects, and a lot of time was spent creating them.
The full one hour video of the panel is available below, along with the finished cinematic.