Arcane Crew Interview: It’s All About a Good Story - Part I

By Dan
Nov. 30, 2021 updated 06:32
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The League of Legends animated series Arcane wrapped up its first season roughly a week ago, and it still holds a 100% critics score on RottenTomatoes (with a 98% viewer score) and 9.3/10 over on IMDB, making it the highest-rated Netflix original series of all time.

The show offered the origin stories of several champions from Piltover and Zaun, opening the universe of League of Legends to both veterans and newcomers. LoL players will find extra treats in Arcane, but non-players will also find enjoyment in the gripping story and stunning animated effort.

We managed to talk to the cast and the creators of the show on different occasions: we interviewed with the cast during the global premiere, and we had a roundtable interview with the two co-creators, Christian Linke and Alex Yee, on the week of act 2. We have split up the article into two: The interview with Christian and Alex will be recounted first as it provides a lot of background stories on the creation of the series, and the red-carpet interview with the crew will wrap things up. 

Edited for length and clarity.

-------------- Roundtable Interview with the Creators --------------

Alex Yee, co-creator of ArcaneAlex Yee, co-creator of Arcane

Q: When you were doing the character design for the animated series, did you want to create something very different from the game, or be more original? 

Christian Linke: I don't think there ever was necessarily the goal to be different. There are questions that we never really had to answer in the game, and it's completely new territory. I think what we really wanted to do is respect what is in the game, but also adjust what we need to do to make these characters become real people. We didn't want to watch a story of just video game characters. We wanted to watch characters that are real - with real emotions, with real challenges and difficulties and stories that show that there're human problems.

Q: How do you choose which character is going to be in Arcane? Was it more like “players are going to like this character,” or the character has some interesting qualities that will play an important role in the series? 

Alex Yee: I don't think we thought about it quite so much. We were really asking ourselves what stories we were passionate about telling. When we first started, we didn't know that Arcane was going to be the primary focus for Riot at the time. And Jinx and Vi are always very special to us - we were on the teams that created them. Christian’s legacy of music at Riot is very connected to both of those champions - he did the “Here Comes Vi” track, which was our first musical track with lyrics; he did the song for the “Get Jinxed” music video, which was also the first time that we worked with Fortiche, and our first music video. There’s just sort of a legacy of them.

Jinx and Vi are also just cool characters. They come from Piltover and Zaun, which we thought was a very visually distinct location in the lore, and it's the kind of place that we felt like Fortiche would really shine in, taking a stab at those locations. There're certainly some elements that you can see in Paris, in Piltover, like all the clockwork and the sort of fine artists, and I think that's something that they do really well.

Also, on a slightly bigger picture level, Hextech is sort of a central focus in this story. We were asking ourselves, if we're going to tell a story that could lead to more stories in the future, what would be the kind of event that could happen that could have ramifications for people all over Runeterra. So all these things came together and made it seem like this was a good location.

Q: The series is based on League of Legends IP. How did you manage to leverage the LoL universe?

Christian Linke: We definitely wanted to utilize the universe, and I think LoL is very special in that there are so many different genres and so many different styles and tones in one game. We wanted to have more of that interaction of characters that are so different and sometimes don't even make sense to be in the same world. I think we just wanted to go as deep as we can in the LoL universe and see what a lot of players have always wondered about, which is, who are the characters? Like when they're not in the game, but when they live their own lives. I would say that we were interested in seeing more of the universe that we don't really get to see in the game.

Alex Yee: Yeah, I think a lot of the reason that we decided that we wanted to make the show is because we really felt like we wanted players to finally have something that they'd been asking for, for a really long time. As players ourselves, there was something that we really wanted to see. There’s still so much yet to be seen in the LoL universe. It’s definitely a good place to start if you want to start telling stories.

Q: Was it your goal to be very friendly to non-players? And how did you find this very balanced, 2.5D kind of art style? 

Christian Linke: Yes, we wanted to make sure from the very beginning that this is just a good story. So if you know the game characters, I think you will see characters you've always wanted to see more about. But if you're just a person that likes animation or dramatic storytelling, there should also be something good for you, because we really just wanted to tell a good story.

And then to the second question, we wanted to be able to have this very nuanced acting, that the meaning of what they say changes based on what the expression is or how they behave. And I think animation doesn't always do that because often animation is for kids. But we think that animation is for everyone. Animation can tell really complex and mature stories that take the audience seriously. That’s what always was the goal.

Q: When the Jinx music videos first launched back in 2013 it really came out of nowhere. Yet Jinx soon became one of the most popular characters in League of Legends. Looking back, what influence did the music video have when it came to creating a series like this?

Alex Yee: It certainly established the style, right? And I think it gave a unique visual signature that feels fresh. I think it opened the door for conversations with Fortiche about like, “Hey, what would it look like if we tried doing something that was a little more narrative?” If you look at the anime music video that they made, they're very good at telling a story without dialogue. But it really doesn't change the fact that when we first started working on Arcane, not only was it one of the first times that we'd ever even seen a champion speak, but it was the first time that any of us had built a video for something like that. From the audience standpoint, I think the “Get Jinxed” music video certainly showed that there was an audience and there were a lot of players who really wanted to see more of this type of content.

Q: Arcane is targeted towards both Eastern and Western audiences. How did you find the balance of the aesthetics between East and West?

Alex Yee: Good question! We are fans of material that comes out of the east and the west. I think there were lots of references to Eastern films and animated series that have come from different parts of the east and those because they're part of our taste. I don't know that it was ever an academic thing that we were trying to do, like rebalance it between the two. I think it was just that our hearts lie in both spaces.

Christian Linke: Well, I think in the animation space, for a long time, we've seen more complex and more dramatic storytelling in the East animation. We were very inspired by that. That being said, I do think we wanted to have something new to say - instead of just copying something, we wanted to find a bit of a new voice in the new style. I do think there was a lot of inspiration, especially in the Asian culture; animation has always played a big role in dramatic storytelling. That’s something where we like the idea of being able to contribute a little bit to that world.

Q: Could we know more about what makes Arcane so successful among both Eastern and Western audiences?

Christian Linke: We had a very international team working on Arcane. We had people on our team from America, Europe, and Asia, A bunch of artists were Chinese. We know we have an incredible amount of fans in China. It’s always been important for us from the beginning, that we have a perspective on what a good story is, and what strong characters are, that works internationally. What helps is that in the principles of good storytelling, what makes a story that you care about as a human being, those are universal. I think it's just important that we don't just tell stories where the story's about one thing that's limited to one small group in the world, but that we find ways to let everybody enjoy the story.

Q: How did you come to the decision to release three episodes every week? Was it because of the structure of the story?

Alex Yee: this was an idea that we had early on, in terms of a release schedule for it. We were designing the story with an idea of having triplets. You feel like you get a good chunk every three, and the end of every third episode usually has some big moments. I think with shows that are more in the half-hour range, having just one every week doesn't give you a lot to sink your teeth into. And then if we release it all at once, it's surprising how fast you can watch it :) Also, Riot really wanted to make this an event - they wanted to have that capability for fans to get together and to speculate and to have there be quests and missions that are in the games that you could unlock while you're watching. This schedule gave us the best of both worlds. You don't have to wait too long to get through everything, and every time we have a drop of episodes, hopefully, there's enough content for you to feel like “we got to sit down together, and we got to have a whole viewing experience”.

Q: We've seen a lot of cameos and references about the game in Arcane - is it possible that this process goes in reverse so that in future we'll see some cameos and plot details referenced in LoL and Wild Rift?

Alex Yee: I think you may already see that there are some celebrations happening for Arcane across a lot of different games from Riot. We haven't planned too far beyond this point. All of us have been anxiously looking forward to the release and to seeing how people feel about it. Riot in my opinion did a really brave and bold thing in committing so many different aspects of its products and its business to supporting the Arcane launch. In terms of what we might see in the future, I'm not sure, but I think right now everyone is thinking about what the world should be like, now that Arcane is out.

Q: I want to ask more about the future plan. Can we expect that there will be League of Legend movies for fans all over the world?

Christian Linke: I think that's a pretty safe assumption. We want to tell more stories. There's going to be more things we want to explore whether or not it's going to be a TV show or movie. I think similar to Arcane, we didn't say from the beginning that we want it to be a TV show or something. We just went with “Okay, we love these characters. Here's a story that we're going to tell.” And then over time, we found out we need the time of a TV show to go as deep as we want to - Vi and Jinx, Victor and Jayce, etc. But there could be a story at some point where it's gonna be a movie format. I think we definitely have plans to tell a lot more stories when I really explore this. I think the answer is yes, there will be.

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