Netflix’s ‘Arcane’ is an animated masterpiece

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If you postponed watching Netflix Esoteric because you don’t play League of Legends, stop it right now. Friends, you are missing some really amazing animation.

The first television series from Riot Games and French animation studio Fortiche, created by Christian Linke and Alex Yee, Esoteric landed on Netflix on November 6, rolling out three episodes per week until the finale on November 20. And while the fans and players of League will find references, Easter eggs and character signatures galore throughout the series, any viewer can dive in and fully appreciate the series’ compelling story, nuanced characters and unique and breathtaking animation style .

To be clear: I don’t play League of Legends and I loved it.

The city of Zaun in “Arcane”.
Credit: Netflix

Drawn from the tradition of League, Esoteric focuses on the tensions between two cities, Piltover and Zaun. It is the rich elite against the dark underworld, where both sides develop technology to ensure dominance.

In Piltover, where council rules everything, scientists Jayce and Viktor (apprentices of the mustached Heimerdinger), create what’s called hex technology, which gives anyone the ability to use magic. Meanwhile, in Zaun, where Piltover Police conduct routine raids, a glowing purple drug called Shimmer turns people into monstrous creatures with super strength, which could prove beneficial in a latent rebellion. It’s here that we meet the sisters and protagonists Vi and Powder (later Jinx), who go their separate ways for years after tragic events.

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While the series ‘extremely dark plot and established characters are a big plus, the series’ animation is worth the trip in and of itself: it’s both painstakingly hand-painted and computer-animated, all framed in meticulous cinematography.

“In a typical 3D production, every element, from the characters to the background, is modeled in three dimensions,” said Barthelemy Maunoury, Fortiche’s animation director for Esoteric, explained to Mashable.

“At Esoteric, it’s slightly different – the backgrounds are digitally hand painted and the texture of the characters is designed to achieve that graphic look that matches the surroundings. We also mainly use 2D animation for effects (explosions, tears, smoke …) to enhance the painted look. In the details it’s a bit more complicated but it’s more or less how you end up with something that looks like an illustration. “

The character Jinx in Netflix "Esoteric"

Out of the game and in the series: Jinx confronts his demons.
Credit: Netflix

Create an animated series based on the story and playable characters (or champions) of League of Legends comes with a heavy baggage – millions of people requisition these characters daily, intimately knowing their physique, their voices and especially their weapons. Each character’s facial movements are incredibly complex, bringing nuance to the reaction, raw emotion to excellent delivery by the cast, and credibility to these unreal characters usually known from a top-down perspective, seen on the Rift. the summoner (the game’s battle arena).

Fortiche and Riot have joined forces to bring these beloved characters to life.

Jinx and Vi in "Esoteric"

A meaningful and moving moment for Vi and Jinx, beautifully hand painted.
Credit: Netflix

“We worked very closely with Riot to make sure the story and IP were respected. That said, animation is a different medium than video games, so we also had to adapt the character animation and create our own. own style, ”said Maunoury. .

“Our goal was to strike a good balance between realism and ‘cartoon’ style. Since our characters have semi-realistic proportions, they need to move and behave realistically with weight and solid body mechanics. . But to keep the appeal and avoid any strange valley effect, we also had to bring in some traditional animation techniques, which is why we didn’t do a mocap. [motion capture] but only a keyframe animation that allows us to control our acting performance and our aesthetics. “

Advisor wearing complex necklace in Netflix "Esoteric"

it turns !
Credit: Netflix

For existing and new characters, the costumes in the series are elegantly detailed and tailored, with jaw-dropping elements like geometric belt buckles and steampunk goggles appearing throughout. In the posh town, Piltover officials wear golden embellishments on their clothes – Councilor Shoola’s incredible kinetic necklace casually spins like a clock, and police wear gold metal masks to roam Zaun.

Meanwhile, in Zaun, the characters wear the jacket of whoever they can steal, polishing their own steampunk look from leftovers in The Lanes. It’s a filthy haunt of bars, clubs, brothels, and street food vendors, illuminated by smoky green hues and the promise of fun that lurks behind every closed door.

A group of characters in Netflix "Esoteric

Vi and the gang.
Credit: Netflix

“Designing characters belonging to the well-known PI can be tricky,” Maunoury said. “But with the support of the artists at Riot and the trust of Christian Linke and Alex Yee, the creators of Esoteric, we had a lot of fun doing this job. ”

Fortiche usually begins with a writ of Esoteric the directors Arnaud Delord and Pascal Charrue, who bring reference moodboards to the team. Once the character designers have their sketches reviewed by Riot and the directors, they also need to be technically approved to ensure the design can be done within budget.

League players will notice the weapons in the show almost immediately, and Fortiche didn’t make a mockery of them – the DIY punk mechanical chompers and Jinx’s machine gun appear in the game and show, for example. “The weaponry is probably one of the things we have diverged the least from the game because it is a key part for the champions and we wanted to make sure MDRFans of “would recognize them in the show,” Manoury said. “We did adapt some elements though, to make sure the functionality would make sense when our heroes manipulate them.”

Jinx in Netflix "Esoteric."

It’s a hell of a weapon to carry.
Credit: Netflix

But often the characters are overshadowed by the scene itself. Interiors and exteriors, taken from League lore, are extremely detailed, right down to the glass, and they often steal the scene they set up. There is a distinct difference between the winding, shaded, neon-lit streets of Zaun and the luminous, mechanical and Art Deco walks of Piltover, glistening with gold and glass like a landscape straight out of Bioshock Infinite. Meanwhile, the buildings across the river are replenished with whatever is left.

A view of Piltover in Netflix "Esoteric"

The roofs are itching to be rushed through.
Credit: Netflix

“These places exist in the tradition of League of Legends, so we did not start from scratch, ”said Maunoury. “The process is no different from designing a character. The place has to tell a story and is, of course, as important as a hero. We put together a lot of research on moodboards, defining colors, shapes or patterns that adapt to the environment to make sure we keep consistency during the design process. I don’t have a particular favorite but if I had to choose between Zaun and Piltover, I would have to choose Zaun! “

“It’s as if the scene you are watching is the movie of her life that Jinx is editing herself with rage, scribbling directly on the movie.”

– Barthélémy Maunoury

One of the biggest animation style differences Fortiche plays in Esoteric is the cohesive base animation and glowing, distorted neon scribbles that often accompany the inner turmoil of Powder / Jinx. It’s a particularly striking technique, similar to a graphic novel, which mixes 3D and 2D elements, for which Fortiche is well known.

“We usually use this mixture for effects like fire, gunshot, smoke,” Maunoury said. “The idea here was to use 2D animations and movie scratches to get you inside Jinx’s mind. It’s like the scene you’re watching is the movie of his life that Jinx is doing. to edit herself with rage, doodling right on the movie! Well done! to the 2Dfx team who did a great job designing and animating these scribbles. Also the editing and composition team for the final look! “

The character Jinx in Netflix "Esoteric"

Jinx’s inner world is not a fun place.
Credit: Netflix

That you played League of Legends or not, the sheer beauty of EsotericThe animation of should take you where a truly engaging and extremely dark story awaits. Don’t let the fact that you didn’t fight on the Rift keep you from enjoying it.

Esoteric is now streaming on Netflix.


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