Monday, September 29, 2014
The Art of Riot Games
Ever heard of a little 'Massive Online Battle Arena' called League of Legends? Well, have we got an article for you! Last week, we had the pleasure of joining Riot Games artists at a trip back to their Alma Mater, as they shared with us a little insight into the art behind one of the world's most played games.
With us we had 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 aren't quite as hot and heavy into the video game scene, or Riot Games as a company in general, Kenny Carvalho kicked off the evening with a taste of company culture. Riot is about focusing on the player experience, and is serious about gamers who take play..well...seriously. Their mission statement is "to aspire to be the most player focused company in the world." As such, the artists working on League of Legends (LoL) aren't just churning out artwork. Each artist is heavily immersed in every aspect of the pipeline, seeing to their work's functionality in game, because they are as passionate as their players! It's important to be so for them to ensure that the world and characters that are being created are cohesive and appealing on all levels -- i.e. gameplay, visuals, sound, etc.
"The culture is fine, and all... now what about the artists?"
Laura Deyoung, the Visual Design Director, had an extremely interesting story to tell. Before getting into the biz, she wasn't specifically a 3D Artist or Illustrator, but rather involved with graphic and web design. She was good at what she did, but did not see herself working with 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 have the background in 3D art. Feel like you're in the same boat? As it turns out, there is a department for people with exactly that expertise. At Riot it's called Visual Design, but it is often labeled as UI/UX artist. When Laura was starting out, this type of position was small, but it has been steadily growing, and will only get bigger. (Ahem, we see postings for these positions all the time by game studios now.) Laura stresses that Visual Design is a very complicated and specific field, so it requires artists with the particular skillset needed.
"What about some of those amazing digital paintings I've seen?"
Well, Chengwei Pan and Bo Lu shared their experience in creating Illustrations and Splash art at Riot. The style of LoL can be described as 'exaggerated comic-book-style proportions and poses', so if you're looking to apply, make sure you can fit the bill. On top of that, they look for high-polish rendering (super high-fidelity images that you can zoom in to and still see all the detail), dynamic lighting (lighting should show story, form, and point of interest), strong graphic shapes, and a strong understanding of color (with the ability to work within a limited color palette).
However, just having a pretty picture isn't enough. Rather, the art should echo the in-game visual and play style; your images should be a direct representation of how badass a character is, so that players want to be that champion in-game. Your images should tell a story. (Particularly if involved in promo art.)
Looking at the amazing illustrations they create, the task of reaching that bar can look super daunting. Luckily for us, as AAU alumni, they have some excellent recommendations for classes: Foundations, Figure Painting, Clothed 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 as well as how to design a painting.
Lastly, while many other disciplines discourage this practice, Riot strongly encourages aspiring Rioters to draw and paint their Champions -- what better way to show your passion and ability?
"Yeah, yeah - still images are cool, I guess... now talk to me about Animation."
Sometimes people think of animation for games as mainly a bunch of cycles, but Rory Alderton showed us how Riot makes every champion feels alive with their own distinct personality and characteristics. It's always about what the players can see from the game view screen, so there are a few interesting challenges that arise that wouldn't come up in film. Variables like a free camera, player actions, and potential speed modifiers all have to be taken into account.
Unlike in film where artists only have to animate to one specific camera view, games have a full 3D space with a moving camera so champions have to look good from all angles. In LoL, the camera is in a top down view which presents some unique obstacles with foreshortening -- it's not always easy to get a clear silhouette. This means they've got to break the mold a little to get the job done. The poses are exaggerated -- sometimes to the point of joints being broken -- just to get a clear silhouette. Squash and stretch in the shoulders, hips, spine, and impacts, are always pushed to help sell the weight.
Also unlike film, animators in video games have to take into account any actions that the player might make in game -- Player Actions. This means that champions can change from different states at any time, such as running to a stop or casting spells. In order to have smooth gameplay, a layering system is used in the animation so that each actions can be blended seamlessly together.
Speed modifiers are a sort of Player Action, but it adds an extra layer of grief to an animator, as it changes how fast a champion runs or is able to attack (...and you know animators...timing is everything). In order to keep the aesthetic of the character and prevent animation from breaking, at higher speeds, animations are simplified. For example, the champion Shen can stack attack speed items. At the top of the top speed, instead of seeing all the in-betweens, all that is kept visible are the key poses so that the characteristic of the champion, and the flow of 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 their characters break into different actions. It helps keep the characters feeling alive and interesting.
Wow! Tons of great information -- anything else I should know?
To finish off the evening, Moby Francke talked to us about Art Clarity and creating art with a purpose. To showcase his portion of the evening, Moby showed us upcoming artwork to the update of Summoner's Rift.
Clarity of art is the making sure that the quality of visual elements can be easily understood. Clarity is so important because gameplay has to be first, and art is technically supplementary. While art is very important, it is in support of the gameplay. The function of art is to ensure that everything is legible with contrast and strong silhouettes. There are a whole range of champions from whimsical and light to dark and brooding, all of which the environment has to be suitable for. At Riot, in order to create the appropriate environment, the focus is put on primary, secondary, and tertiary forms instead of intense detail. As such, the upcoming Summoner's Rift looks somewhat stripped down; more painterly, and simplistic. While the environment may not as be as full and lush with foliage as it has been in the past, it is very visually appealing as champions travel and battling across each map.
Don't forget to join the conversation at www.teatimeanimation.com
Questions? Don't hesitate to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org