BlizzCon 2011! Photos! Words! Swag! Murlocs! We got 'em all right here!

This BlizzCon 2011 report was written by Brent A. Thale on October 25, 2011. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent A. Thale, the copyright holder. The non-thumbnail pictures linked on this page are 600x900 pixels, contact me for the full (12 megapixel) versions.

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BlizzCon, the mega celebration of worlds and characters created for the games of Blizzard Entertainment, is an interesting show. It's nearly as big or bigger than many major video game and cosplay events, and yet it is hosted by just one single company, testament to the quality and enduring legacy of the work of the incredibly talented people who dedicate their careers to making some of the best computer games ever made. At this year's show, held October 21-22, 2011 at the Anaheim Convention Center near Los Angeles, Blizzard was featuring a relatively wide product line, in the recent past the show was mostly about megahit online game "World of Warcraft", but this year Blizzard's other long-term properties "StarCraft" and "Diablo" made strong appearances as well.

Leading off the show was the anticipated announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion, called "Mists of Pandaria", featuring a playable race of panda-like characters in an Asian environment! They had the Pandaren playable on the floor on a vast array of computers, but strangely enough when I tried to take a picture of people playing, I was asked to delete the photo to preserve the secrecy of the beta graphics. Ooo!

StarCraft II, the sequel to the fantastically successful 1998 science-fiction real-time strategy game, featured the second part of their trilogy, "Heart of the Swarm", which will of course feature the Zerg insect-like race, after the Terrans starred in last year's "Wings of Liberty". BlizzCon also featured professional StarCraft matches for money between some of the best players in the world, who are often from Korea due to StarCraft's enormous popularity there. We watched "MVP" defeat "Nestea" two out of three matches to claim a $50,000 prize!

Diablo III, the long-awaited update to the much-loved Diablo II which came out ages ago, has not yet been released but was playable in beta form on the floor and there were huge lines to try it out.

BlizzCon is famous for its awesome "goodie bags" which often contain figurines and special access codes all included in the price of a ticket. This year's prime swag item was a "Tyrael" mini-statuette from Diablo 3, which does indeed look pretty cool. Also included was a free anti-hacking RSA-style key-fob authenticator, and a Mega Bloks-inspired mini Thrall figurine, which was a nice counterpoint to the giant 1000-pound real Mega Bloks Thrall displayed on the show floor. We were hoping for a Diablo 3 beta code in the goodie bag as well, but alas, it was not to be.

Even though I've played all three of Blizzard's games and love them, I was mainly at BlizzCon to see the great Blizzard-specific cosplay, and we were not disappointed. Although there were fewer people in costume than at other shows, the costumes that were there tended to be incredibly detailed and intricate. Blizzard hosted a costume contest on Friday evening, the winner was an awesome Adjutant from StarCraft, with a great human paladin from World of Warcraft taking second prize. There were many costumes deserving of accolades, though, it would have been nice to have more prize categories to honor the hard work that fans go through to make their costumes. To remedy that situation, we are awarding The BAT Cave award for Best In-Character Costume to Malis the lady troll, The Most Fun In Costume award to the Succubus lady, and the Most Intricate WoW Armor award to the female paladin. Three cheers for all the people who wore costumes, and triple that again for being so nice to us and posing so patiently for pictures!

One of the downsides to making intricate, heavy, and hard-to-move-in costumes is it is very difficult to actually enjoy the show while wearing one, so we noticed many people wore their main costume on Friday, the day of the costume contest, and then wore plain clothes or a simpler costume on Saturday, so Friday is definitely the day to go to see costumes. On Saturday we really had to hunt for costumes, but fortunately there was a gathering of lovely ladies in burlesque-themed sexy costumes inspired by Blizzard games, and we ended up spending most of our time on Saturday photographing them. I kind of wish Blizzard had a second costume event on Saturday to encourage more people to wear costumes, since we did have some down time which we spent checking out the hall booths and the Blizzard store.

Most of the costume photography at BlizzCon takes place right outside the convention center or inside the atrium-type area just beyond the first set of entrance doors, since the light is often soft and flattering here. Inside the convention hall itself, Blizzard keeps it incredibly dark, so dark in fact, that it's often difficult to see and take pictures. I guess they do this to enhance the computer graphics on the video screens everywhere, but it does make the interior hall not very photo-friendly. BlizzCon doesn't use off-floor meeting rooms like other cons, they just have large sections of chairs roped off in different parts of the floor and hold their events right out in the open where everyone can see to some extent. This does make it easy to "surf" the show, checking out a lore meeting here, a StarCraft competition there, watching artists at work, etc, without waiting in lines.

We (meaning me and my lovely and talented photographic assistant Melissa Case) were trying two new things photographically at BlizzCon. First, we added a third light to our setup, a "SaberStrip" used as a rim light, which is a Nikon flash in a long tube used to put a pleasing highlight on the subject's shoulder and hair. This worked pretty well, we used it on Saturday only due to it being a burden on Melissa to carry the key light in the Aurora Beauty Box at the same time. I guess it's time for a second assistant! Or a key grip! Or a best boy! Ah, the things we do for photos.

The second thing we were trying to do was to more often "make the shot", as they say, as opposed to, "take the shot", in an attempt to make things more interesting. So we worked on directing people a bit to give us more than basic poses, I think it worked to some extent but we need more practice and to get more aggressive and more proficient at this. The skill I want to have is to be able to quickly assess a person and subtly direct them to help them express themselves in a way that instantly captures their personality on camera, this is much harder to do than it sounds. Practice, practice, practice!

I was using mainly a Nikon D3s camera for most of these photos which is fantastic in low light, like for the costume contest. I had an Orbis ring flash attachment around a 24-70 f/2.8 lens most of the time for fill flash, except when using a 70-200 f/2.8 lens for long shots. We had pretty good luck with our gear and suffered no major failures. A few outdoor shots were also taken with my Nikon D7000 without flash.

So BlizzCon 2011 was a lot of fun and we will definitely try to attend again. The costumes are just too good and the people too nice to pass up! Here's to Pandas, Zerglings, and Demon Hunters, can't wait to see you all again next year!


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