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The Untold Truth Of Arcane

It's no secret that Hollywood has an awful record when it comes to adapting video games for the screen. From "Super Mario Bros." (voted the worst video game adaptation ever by SVG readers) and "Mortal Kombat" to "Assassin's Creed" and "Hitman," we've seen some truly terrible video game movies over the years. TV shows have fared a little better (see: "Castlevania"), though pleasing gamers and regular viewers all at once has proved too challenging for studios and streamers. Everyone expected "The Witcher" to be the show that finally broke the video game adaptation curse once and for all, but the first season of the highly anticipated Netflix series was met with lukewarm reviews. It would be another Netflix offering that finally got the job done.

Based on the ever-popular battle arena game "League of Legends" (commonly referred to as "LoL" or simply "League"), "Arcane" seemed to come out of nowhere, though it was actually six years in the making. Fans of the decade-old online game began following its progress excitedly after it was officially announced at the "League of Legends" 10th-anniversary event, but even they were surprised by just how good "Arcane" turned out to be. The show blew critics away when it dropped in 2021, and excitement for a second season began to build before the first one had finished airing. "League of Legends" creators Riot Games now has a potential global phenomenon on its hands, but how did they do it? This is the untold truth of "Arcane."

Riot Games kept the show out of Hollywood hands

Riot Games attempted to partner with established Hollywood players when an animated TV show based on the "League of Legends" universe was first put forward, though it quickly became clear that if they wanted "Arcane" to turn out the way they envisioned it, they would simply have to make it themselves. Riot co-founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill care deeply about "League" and its community of players, so the last thing they wanted was their prized IP falling into the hands of people who didn't understand the game. The duo ultimately decided to hand the reins to Christian Linke and Alex Yee, two longtime Riot staff members who live and breathe "League of Legends."

"If you don't fully appreciate the journey our players have been on with these characters, there are risks it can feel, in all sorts of subtle ways, inauthentic," Merrill said during a candid interview with the Los Angeles Times. "We concluded that no one is going to care to the same degree as Rioters. That is a fundamental part of the equation." The learning curve was steep, but the final product proved that the do-it-yourself approach was the right one to take. Merrill said: "We can add on the great capabilities that other creators can have, but we cannot sacrifice the love, the attention to detail, and the historical knowledge and perspective that Rioters have."

The series has its roots in music videos

"Arcane" is the brainchild of Christian Linke, who recognized the potential for such a show after he worked on a series of music videos designed to flesh out the origin stories of several "League" champions. He was excited at the prospect, but the higher-ups didn't share that enthusiasm. "Their first answer was no," Linke told the Los Angeles Times. "I remember them saying, 'If you have story ideas, bring them to the teams that do this stuff.' We had CG teams, and we had a film team that was exploring stuff, and I would go to the teams, and everyone said, 'No thanks.'"

Linke soon realized that the best approach was to ask for small amounts of funding at a time rather than a big chunk of money up front. "I said, 'Okay, give me 15 grand to do some 3D models,'" he recalled. Cash in hand, Linke turned to Fortiche Production, the French animation studio behind the aforementioned music videos. "We did a 3D model of Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) while I was working on the story. Then I said, 'Now I need 60 grand to do some rudimentary tests of animation.' Then that was enough." One Rioter who was on board with Linke's vision from the start is Toa Dunn, head of music at the company. "It had to have all the things we wanted it to have, and sometimes you just have to make it," she said of "Arcane."

The real reason Riot Games decided to partner with Netflix

Riot Games got serious about making inroads in Hollywood in late 2020, when the company named veteran Netflix exec Shauna Spenley as its new Global President of Entertainment. "Shauna's proven track record in creative development, product design, team building, and marketing expertise will be essential in helping Riot fulfill its mission," Marc Merrill told Deadline at the time. It's easy to assume that Spenley's history with the streaming giant is why "Arcane" ended up on Netflix, but the decision was more to do with "League of Legends" having a global audience than anything else. Speaking to Screen Rant, Christian Linke explained why Netflix was the ideal home for the show.

"I think a lot of us, especially when you grew up in a place like Europe, you're kind of used to the experience of like, 'Oh, there's my favorite show or movie or game coming out in the US first, and maybe someday, I'll get it too,'" the Riot man said. "I think that is something that the world has luckily shifted away from, but for us, it's still something very real, that even a slight delay has our audience up in arms, and rightfully so. So the reason for Netflix was there was the capability to release this really at the same time." The fact that Netflix subscribers enjoyed "Castlevania" so much only made that decision easier, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Over 300 animators worked on the show

French animation house Fortiche Production had a team of fewer than 20 animators when it made the "League of Legends" music videos that ultimately led to the creation of "Arcane," though it needed to bolster its ranks significantly to make the ambitious show a reality. Dozens upon dozens of new staffers came aboard — over 300 talented individuals came together to create the nine-episode first season. "We'd worked with Fortiche Production in the past, 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," Alex Yee, co-creator of "Arcane," told SyFy.

It wasn't just a numbers game, however. According to Yee, Fortiche went out of its way to bring in the best people for the job. "They hand-selected some people that they thought really could knock it out of the park," the longtime Riot staffer said. "The guy who is the matte painting lead and the animation lead and the storyboard lead, their fingerprints are really on the series." Yee went on to say that meticulous planning went into everything from the angles used to the unique — and often brutal — fight scenes. "When you're talking about the camera choices and things like that, we have a robust layout department," he said. "Even in the boards, there's already a lot of thought that goes into how to find a new way to show a fistfight."

Finding the right voice actors was tricky

Getting the animation right was crucial, but — as inventive and easy on the eye as "Arcane" is — it simply wouldn't have worked without the right voice actors. When showrunners Christian Linke and Alex Yee sat down for a joint interview with Screen Rant, they revealed that the casting process caused some major headaches, especially when it came to Jinx, a massively popular character in the "League of Legends" community.

"Jinx was the scariest," Yee admitted. "We knew from the very beginning [Jinx] would be one of the toughest roles to really nail, you know. She's so big and everything is externalized in the game. But of course, we knew we wanted in the show to sort of get to peer beneath that layer and find kind of the subtlety and nuance for the character." In the end, Ella Purnell landed the gig, and Yee couldn't have been happier with her performance. "I think Ella did a fantastic job of nailing that," he said.

Yee went on to reveal that the role of prosthetic-eyed "Arcane" antagonist Silco was also extremely hard to cast. "I just had this sort of sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I was listening to the auditions, where I was, like, 'Oh, God, this is going to be impossible,'" the Riot Games veteran recalled. "Then Jason Spisak's voice was like the clouds parting because, from the first second of the first audition, he just was Silco."

Ella Purnell dialed up the crazy to play Jinx

Her enthusiastic voice performance has been praised by the creators of "Arcane," but it actually took Ella Purnell a little while to get into the rhythm of Jinx, an intense — and, more often than not, totally unhinged — "League of Legends" champion. Speaking to Looper in an exclusive interview, the actor discussed how showrunners Christian Linke and Alex Yee encouraged her to ramp up the crazy. "This was my first ever voiceover job," she said. "So I didn't really know what I was doing. And initially, I came in playing her quite like straight and naturalistic and normal, and they spoke to me about it, and we collaborated."

Purnell (who was best known for her role in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" prior to "Arcane") revealed that Linke and Yee sat her down and gave her a crash course in "League" lore and the history of her character, one of the game's most popular and well-known fighters. "They showed me some videos and pictures of who she was and explained the world of 'League of Legends' further, and the vision for 'Arcane,'" she told us. The showrunners recognized that she was giving it 100% in the voiceover booth, but they wanted her to "go in at 150" instead, she said. "And I was like, 'You guys sure? Because my 150 is like your 250.'"

Jinx was inspired by both Harley Quinn and Bellatrix Lestrange

Jinx shares a number of traits with Harley Quinn ("League of Legends" fans have been theorizing about who would win in a fight for years now), and Ella Purnell turned to DC's demented anti-hero for inspiration. Speaking exclusively to Looper, the actor said that "Harley Quinn was definitely a great jumping-off point" when she was working on her performance, calling her "pretty much the most famous female, violent villain." She added: "I think what Harley Quinn has that I love is this just raw chaos. It's just like, she doesn't care. Nobody gets in her way. Right. It's this like chaotic, violent anarchy energy. And we see that a lot with men, and we don't see that often with of women."

Another famous female character that gives off these vibes is Bellatrix Lestrange, the bushy-haired, wild-eyed Death Eater from the "Harry Potter" franchise. Purnell told us that she has "always been a huge fan of Helena Bonham Carter," who brilliantly brought the character to life in the "Harry Potter" movies. "I've always very keenly observed these hugely talented and very brave and ferocious character actresses," she said. "Helena Bonham Carter has always been a huge influence for me. So maybe there [were] little vibes of that too. Subconscious."

Why Piltover and Zaun?

There are over a dozen regions in the "League of Legends" universe, and they contain numerous well-established cities. Only two appear in "Arcane," however, which may seem like a wasted opportunity to show just how vast the world of Runeterra is. Speaking to Hardware Zone, showrunner Christian Linke revealed why he and Alex Yee opted to focus on Piltover (a thriving city perched high on a clifftop that is known for its innovation and craftsmanship) and neighboring Zaun (a dark and polluted undercity that exists in the canyons below Piltover).

"I think we ended up choosing Piltover and Zaun because it's something that we really cared about in a creative sense," Linke explained. "The whole interaction between magic and science was just immensely interesting to us and it had a sort of Da Vinci and Renaissance-era vibe to it, but this pair of cities also allowed us to explore what exactly this relationship (between magic and science) means for their societies." Both cities were expertly rendered by Fortiche Production, which stayed true to the spirit of the game but added some personal touches, too. The French company infused Piltover with a distinctly Parisian vibe — the architecture of the sleek metropolis mixes Art Nouveau with Art Deco beautifully.

The anti-Disney approach

Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill has been open about the fact he sees Pixar as an inspiration (he called it "the one company that has managed to sustain creative excellence over a very long period of time"), but the last thing he wants is for Riot to become another arm of Disney. In fact, the creators of "Arcane" went down a very anti-Disney route while putting the show together. "When you're building great IP, and we hope to do that, we want our players to feel like it was holistically built for them, versus this feeling it's different business units," Shauna Spenley told the Los Angeles Times. "That's a very bad outcome."

The former Netflix exec went on to explain that her job as Riot's Global President of Entertainment isn't to make movies and TV shows the new focus of the company. "Arcane" is designed to stand on its own as a contained story while simultaneously introducing newbies to the main attraction — the game. "All of this is about games at the center of culture," she said. "It's the inverse of what a Disney would do. They're putting their films at the center of culture. We really see that games are the center of culture, and these complement that experience."

These fantasy films inspired Arcane

Being longtime members of the Riot Games family, "Arcane" masterminds Christian Linke and Alex Yee are well versed in the vast world of "League of Legends." There's more than enough lore for a cinematic universe (job listings that appeared in 2021 suggest that this is something we might well see in the near future), but, despite the distinctly anti-Hollywood approach the company adopted while developing the series, Linke and Yee took cues from a number of existing fantasy franchises. Speaking to SyFy, Yee revealed which universes they looked to for inspiration.

"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," Yee said. He went on to reveal that Marvel's Netflix show "Daredevil" was "another inspiration" for them (the "Arcane" intro has distinct "Daredevil" vibes). Meanwhile, editor Lawrence Gan (who plied his trade on "The LEGO Movie 2") told Coming Soon that "Arcane" also shares some similarities with the biggest fantasy TV show of recent times. "It feels like you're watching an episode of 'Game of Thrones' sometimes, just when you think you've got it figured out ... Surprise! Now you're crying."

Why didn't we see more League of Legends champions?

"Arcane" introduced those unfamiliar with "League of Legends" to some beloved characters from the game, but the show barely scratches the surface when it comes to "League" champions. There's over 150 playable characters at the time of this writing in 2021, and showrunners Christian Linke and Alex Yee knew that it would be a difficult balancing act. "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 told SyFy, adding that they felt as though "it makes the world feel small when all these characters just happen to be in the same town and all friends together."

Yee went on to reveal that they knew "from the beginning" that if "Arcane" was to have any kind of longevity, it made sense to hold back during the first season. "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," he added. "League of Legends" fans began hunting for Easter eggs and hints about which characters might be introduced down the line from the moment the first three episodes dropped in November 2021.

Arcane was inspired by real world events

All the best fantasy novels, games, films, and TV shows have something to say about the real world, no matter how outlandish the setting and characters are. "Arcane" is no different — in fact, Christian Linke was directly inspired by the world events that took place as the show was being developed. "For me, when we started this project, there were a lot of questions that we felt we needed to address regarding things like power and social structure, and over the past few years we've seen a lot of changes in this regard happening in our own world," Linke told Hardware Zone. "There were many political figures and movements that left an impression on our lives during this period, and although it's certainly different for everyone, I think we live in a very defining time."

One of the main themes of "Arcane" is clashing belief systems and values, though this wasn't necessarily the case during the show's infancy. Over time, it became an essential part of the story, a result of the same thing playing out in the real world. Linke said: "As people, we've seen so many situations where it's really easy for one side to just believe the other is wrong due to ignorance, and this concept was just something that grew louder and louder as we continued working on 'Arcane.'" Piltover and Zaun are closer to home than you think, it seems.