A few nights ago Riot Games brought a bunch of our alumni and came to AAU to give a talk. There was Kenny Carvalho (art recruiter), Laura Deyoung (visual design director), Bo Lu (concept artist), Chengwei Pan (concept artist), Rory Alderton (senior animator), and Moby Francke (principal artist).
For those who don't know of Riot Games as a company in general, Kenny Carvalho started the evening off sharing the culture. Riot Games is about focusing on the player experience and for gamers who take play seriously. Their mission statement is actually "to aspire to be the most player focused company in the world". As such, the artists working on LoL aren't just churning out artwork but are also all working together both in the pipeline and ingame as players to ensure that the world and characters that are being created are cohesive and appealing in multiple experiences (gameplay, visual, sound, etc.).
Now, to know more about the art we go into the presentations of the artists.
Laura Deyoung, the visual design director, has an extremely interesting story to tell. She wasn't specifically a 3D artist or an illustrator but rather in graphic and web design. She was good at what she did but did not see herself doing web for the rest of her life. Instead she really wanted to get into the games industry but felt doubtful of herself as she did not the background in 3D art. No worries, she got in later on as it turns out there is a department for people with her training and that is visual design, or sometimes labeled as UI/UX artist. It was small way back when but it has been steadily growing, and will only get bigger, and I often see posting for those positions all the time by game studios now. Laura stresses that visual design is a very complicated and specific field so that people with the certain skills need and should be hired for it instead of just asking a someone to make something up.
Next up was Chengwei Pan and Bo Lu to share their experience in creating illustrations and splash art for LoL The style of LoL can be described as exaggerated comic book style proportions and poses. On top of that they look for high polish rendering (super high fidelity that you can zoom in and still see all the detail), have dynamic lighting (show story, form, and point of interest), strong graphic shapes, and a strong understanding of color along with using a limited color palette. However, just having a pretty picture isn't enough; rather the art should echo the ingame visual and playstyle, show how badass the character is so that players want to be that champion ingame, and tell a story if doing promo art.
The art that they put out is super daunting but as alumni they gave us some excellent recommendations for classes: Foundations, Figure Painting, Cloth Figure Drawing, Quick Study, Narrative Painting, and Drawing for Film. Narrative Painting and Drawing for Film were the two most highly recommended as those classes will teach you how to tell a story and how to design a painting.
Lastly, while some others companies discourage this practice, Riot encourage aspiring Rioters to draw and paint their champions as what better way to show your passion and ability.
Sometimes people think of animation for games as mainly a bunch of cycles but Rory Alderton shows how they Riot make it so that every champion feels alive and have their own individuality and characteristics. It's always about what the players can see on screen so there are a few interesting challenges that rise up in games versus films. There is the matter of a free camera, player actions, and various speed modifiers that will have to be taken into account.
For the camera issue, unlike in film where artists only have to animate to camera, in games there is a full 3D space with a moving camera so champions have to look good from all angles. As in LoL, the camera is in a top down view which presents some interesting challenges with foreshortening and getting a clear silhouette.To solve that issue a lot of exaggeration needs to be done. The posses are exaggerated, sometimes to the point of joints being broken, to get a clear silhouette, and squash and stretch in the shoulders, hips, and spine, and impacts, are exaggerated to help sell the weight.
Player actions is about how champions can change from different states at any time, such as running to a stop or casting skills. In order to have smooth gameplay, a layering system is used in the animation so that the actions can be blended together.
Speed modifiers become interesting as it changes how fast a champion runs or is able to attack. In order to keep the aesthetic of the character and prevent animation from breaking, at higher speeds, animations are kept simpler. With Shen stacking attack speed items as an example, at top top instead of seeing all the inbetweens what is visible are only the poses so that the characteristic of the champion and the movement is still kept intact.
Lastly, cycles can get a bit boring but Riot always tries to add a little bit of fun into it. Particularly with the newer champions, when idling players can see that they break up their actions a bit whereas older champions that haven't gotten revamp'd yet, such as Amumu, has a somewhat dull head bob cycle. It helps keep the characters alive and interesting.
To finish off the evening, Moby Francke talks about art clarity and creating art with a purpose. To showcase his portion of the evening, Moby shows upcoming artwork to the update of Summoner's Rift!
Clarity of art is the quality of visual elements to be easily understood. Clarity is so important because gameplay is kind and art is supplementary. Art is very important but it is in support of the gameplay. What the art should do is to ensure that everything is legible with contrast and strong silhouettes. What makes it somewhat challenging is that there are a whole range of champions from whimsy to dark which the environment has to be suitable for. In order to create the appropriate environment, the focus is put on primary, secondary, and tertiary form instead of detail. As such, the upcoming Summoner's Rift looks somewhat more stripped down, more painterly, and simplistic. While the environment may not as be as full and lush with foliage, it is very visually appealing with champions traveling and battling across it.