After sweeping the Annies, “Arcane” is an Emmy favorite for its compelling story and illustrative animation style.
Netflix’s “Arcane,” based on Riot’s popular battle game “League of Legends,” has become the most acclaimed animated series of the season after sweeping the Annie Awards. This bodes well for its Emmy chances, thanks to a compelling story and striking illustrative style from Paris-based animation studio Fortiche.
“This was intimidating to take on, but we had a yearning to do something different,” showrunner Christian Linke told IndieWire. He created the series with fellow Riot veteran and executive producer Alex Yee. “We found out what made the game and the characters so popular, and then we created the series for ourselves.”
The secret to its success was building the dystopian series around the rivalry between badass sisters Jinx (Ella Purnell) and Vi (Hailee Steinfeld), who are part of a war between the prosperous city of Piltover and the downtrodden underground city of Zaun. . “A big part of Jinx was the great personality of hers and the meta perspective of hers among gamers,” Yee told IndieWire. “But there was nothing visual to lean on. That allowed us to focus on a different kind of story and portrayal of the characters. We saw ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’: dramatic stories that moved into fantasy and science fiction. It was the right time for us.”
For animation, the creators turned to Fortiche, who had already made a name for himself with cutscenes and music videos from Riot games, specializing in cool 2D effects. But the demands of the ambitious nine-episode series necessitated a huge increase, and they stayed true to their organic-looking aesthetic. However, it was such a good fit that Riot recently became part-owner of the animation studio while they were completing Season 2.
While Riot provided a style guide for the world building (the bright, mechanical Art Deco vibe of Piltover versus the dark, phosphorescent look of Zaun), Fortiche created the combination of finely textured 3D characters and digitally hand-painted backgrounds. They continued to push the use of 2D effects during fight sequences, and resorted to a variety of different animation styles for their depiction.
Courtesy of Netflix
“My key goal was to keep these human effects and make sure the world always made sense to the artists so their work could be meaningful,” animation director Barthelemy Maunoury told IndieWire. “Christian had a clear vision of a balance between reality and the handmade.”
Linke said that Fortiche was always trying to chase the imperfect: scratches or smudges on the lens during an explosion, or glimpses of weird action. “Fortiche was a powerhouse with cinematography and things that felt human,” he said. “This styling allowed for more mature elements to be explored.”
This included conveying Jinx’s manic state of mind with effects such as glitches and scratches on film, which were then scanned into the computer. “For us, Jinx was doodling on the actual film, so the line had to be sharp with a lot of anxiety,” Maunoury said. “It gives a cool visual style to the mental expression of it.”
Courtesy of Netflix
Netflix has released the pivotal sixth episode, “When These Walls Come Tumbling Down,” in which Jinx reaches the point of no return and her violent capabilities are unleashed, for Emmy’s consideration. “The episode has so many powerful moments,” Linke said. “It is the first time that I saw and [crime lord] Silco meets, the first time Vi and Jinx reconnect, and the first time we see Jinx as the mighty fighter,” Linke said.
Maunoury perceived Jinx as a traumatized child with insecure body language and something to prove. At the same time, she has lost all empathy for people. “The sixth episode was stressful for Jinx and a key moment,” she said. “Their meeting doesn’t last long and the sisters are attacked by the Firelights. [the rebel Zaunites]. Jinx goes back to his crazy, murderous mode, and we have this shot of Vi witnessing that. For me, that was also a very moving moment.”
Courtesy of Netflix
The fight at the end of the episode contained more dynamic camera movement than any other. “We studied snowboarding and surfing because the Firelights have this flying board,” said the animation director. “We wanted to revolve around the characters, something very 360, fluid and aerial.”
Expect Jinx’s exploration to continue in season 2: “She’s the character that gave us the confidence to pick this set of champions for this show,” Linke said. “You’re walking the tightrope of wanting her irreverently and without fear, but showing the fragile side of her. The biggest challenge: can we make her into someone who mindlessly attacks people and yet supports her throughout the show?