‘Arcane’: How the Netflix series moved beyond its video game origins

After beating Annies, “Arcane” won an Emmy Award for compelling storytelling and illustrative animation style.


Netflix’s ‘Arcane’, based on Riot’s popular fighting game ‘League of Legends’, was the season’s most watched animated series after winning the Annie Awards. It bodes well for an Emmy Award thanks to the compelling story and engaging illustrative style of Paris-based animation studio Fortiche.

“It was scary to take on this, but we really wanted to do something different,” showrunner Christian Linke told IndieWire. He created the series with fellow Riot veteran and executive producer Alex Yi. “We figured out what made the game and the characters so popular, and then we made the series for ourselves.”

The secret to their success was creating a dystopian series around the rivalry between the tough sisters Jinx (Ella Purnell) and Vee (Hailee Steinfeld), who are part of a war between the wealthy city of Piltover and the downtrodden underground city of Zaun. “Jinx had a lot to do with her big personality and meta-perspective among players,” Yee told IndieWire. “But there was nothing visual to lean on. This allowed us to focus on a different story and character portrayal. We watched Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders: dramatic stories that turned into fantasy and science fiction. The timing was right for us.”

For animation, the creators turned to Fortiche, who has already distinguished herself with Riot gameplay videos and music videos, specializing in cool 2D effects. But the demands of the ambitious nine-episode series required a significant increase while staying true to its organic aesthetic. However, it was so good that Riot recently co-owned the animation studio as they wrap up Season 2.

While Riot provided style guidance for the world-building (Piltover’s bright and mechanical art deco vibe versus Zaun’s dark, phosphorescent look), Fortiche created a mixture of finely textured 3D characters and digitally hand-painted backgrounds. They continued to insist on using 2D effects during the action scenes and used different animation styles to portray them.

Secret.  (left to right) Joe Zieya as Teeram, Ella Purnell as Jinx in Arcana.  Cr.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2021


Courtesy of Netflix

“My main goal was to keep those human effects and make sure the world always makes sense for artists so their work can be meaningful,” animation director Barthelemy Maunoury told IndieWire. “Christian had a clear vision of the balance between reality and handicraft.”

Linke said that Fortiche has always tried to chase down imperfections: scratches or smudges on lenses during an explosion or flickering strange activities. “Fortiche was a powerhouse with cinematography and human things,” he said. “This stylization allowed for more mature elements to be explored.”

This involved conveying Jinx’s manic state through effects such as film glitches and scratches, which were then scanned into a computer. “For us, Jinx was writing on the film itself, so the line had to be sharp and with a lot of anxiety,” Maunuri said. “It gives a cool visual style to her mental expression.”

Secret.  (From left to right) Cathy Leung as Caitlin Kiramman, Hailee Steinfeld as V in Arcana.  Cr.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2021


Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix presented the key sixth episode “When These Walls Tumble” for Emmy consideration, in which Jinx reaches the point of no return and her capacity for violence is unleashed. “There are so many strong moments in this episode,” Linke said. “This is the first time that V and [crime lord] Meeting Silko, the first time that Vi and Jinx are reunited, and the first time we see Jinx as a powerful fighter,” said Linke.

Monoury perceived Jinx as a traumatized child with insecure body language who needed to prove something. At the same time, she lost all sympathy for people. “Episode 6 was stressful for Jinx and was a pivotal moment,” he said. “Her reunion does not last long and the sisters are attacked by the Firefires. [the rebel Zaunites]. Jinx is back in crazy, killer mode and we have this shot of Vi witnessing it. It was a very touching moment for me too.”

Secret.  Ella Purnell as Jinx in Arcane.  Cr.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2021


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 Firelights has a flying board,” said the animation director. “We wanted to play with the characters, something very 360-degree, fluid and airy.”

Expect Jinx’s exploration to continue into Season 2: “She’s the character that gave us the confidence to choose this set of champions for this show,” Linke said. “You walk that tightrope, wanting her irreverently and fearlessly, but showing her fragile side. Biggest issue: can we make her someone who attacks people senselessly and cheers for her throughout the show?”

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