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'Arcane' co-creator unpacks major Act 1 twists, adapting 'League of Legends' as Netflix series
'Arcane' Co-creator Alex Yee gets into the major hurdles of adapting 'League of Legends' into a TV series, and how Act I's heartbreaking twists came to be.
Act 1 of Netflix and Riot Games’ Arcane: League of Legends dropped Saturday night to a wave of positive reviews from critics and audiences. The series is a prequel story featuring several well-established champion characters from the 10-year old multiplayer online battle arena games, League of Legends.
The series is created/co-showrun by Christian Linke, the Creative Director at Riot Games and Alex Yee, Creative Designer at Riot Games, with the animation brought to life by French animation studio, Fortiche Production. Having collaborated previously on bespoke game event and music videos for League of Legends, Arcane was their opportunity to push the game’s storytelling and look into unexplored territory.
With the first three episodes now available on Netflix, SYFY WIRE got Yee to exclusively unpack what it was like to translate this deep mythology that has existed as a pioneer esports fighting game into an emotionally nuanced and dazzlingly animated TV series.
In terms of that distinct animated look of the series, which is created in Fortiche’s signature painterly style of mixed 2D and 3D styles, Yee says they didn’t dictate anything to the studio about what they wanted the show to look like.
“We'd worked with Fortiche Productions in the past,” Yee explains. “And, honestly the music videos set the visual style for the League, so for us, it was mostly a 'do what you do' kind of a thing.”
In ramping up for production of nine hours of premium animation, Yee says the studio expanded exponentially from 16 to more than 300 animators. “They hand-selected some people that they thought really could knock it out of the park,” Yee explained of their process. “The guy who is the matte painting lead and the animation lead and the storyboard lead, their fingerprints are really on the series. And when you're talking about the camera choices and things like that, we have a robust layout department. Even in the boards, there's already a lot of thought that goes into how to find a new way to show a fist fight.”
On the story side, Yee says Arcane started in earnest in 2015 and that included Linke and himself having to figure out exactly how to make a TV show. “Oftentimes, it was by doing it the wrong way,” Yee laughs.
They looked to other video game to film and TV adaptations at the time, and Yee says the examples were sparse outside of the Warcraft movie adaptation and comics adaptations. “Daredevil was another inspiration,” Yee cites. “And then of course, you literally cannot go through one story meeting with Christian without getting at least one Lord of the Rings reference and at least one Harry Potter reference.”
With 156 playable League of Legends characters to choose from to form TV narratives around, Yee admits it was tricky to whittle them down, but they did lean into player favorites like sisters, Vi and Powder/Jinx, Jayce, Viktor and Caitlyn.
“We definitely wanted to get as many champions as we could into the show without feeling like we were sacrificing the quality of the story for any of the ones that we really wanted to focus on,” Yee explains. “In terms of adding in side characters, [we felt] it makes the world feel small when all these characters just happen to be in the same town and all friends together. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to fill it out and give it a sense of the champions you know and then the entire world in between them.”
**SPOILERS BELOW FOR EPISODES 1 to 3, ACT I of ARCANE**
Act I hit Netflix as a trio of episodes that essentially served as a context prologue for the worlds of Piltover and Zaun, and for the sisters who are tragically separated by situational misunderstandings and Vi’s arrest at the end of "The Base Violence Necessary for Change."
Yee says they had the finale of Episode 3 in mind “more or less” the whole way through breaking down the season. “We wanted to give the audience enough time to get to know them and gain a sense of understanding about their lives and circumstances, without forcing players and fans (who know where they will wind up) to wait too long.”
And Yee adds that Vander’s sacrifice to take the serum — that essentially turns people into fighting bezerkers — in order to save his adopted daughters despite losing his own life was a story point that expanded the slightly referenced game character and gave him an even more noble, yet tragic outcome.
“We always knew Vander would do anything to protect the kids,” Yee says. “We wanted the sisters to be so emotionally entwined that only an event that traumatic, triggering previous traumas, could drive a wedge between them.”
With Vi now in Enforcer custody and Powder, a.k.a. League MVP character Jinx, in the hands of Zaun kingpin Silco, Act II will find all of in new places of power and desperation.
Arcane: League of Legends Act II drops November 13 on Netflix. Act I is streaming now.