Netflix’s Arcane and The Future of Animation

Made in production with Riot Games and Paris-based studio Fortiche Productions, Netflix’s new animated series Arcane promises a bright future for the history of animation.

Arcane' knocks 'Squid Game' off the top of Netflix's most-watched chart
Credit: Netflix

First released on November 6th and telling the story of Riot Game’s flagship franchise League of LegendsArcane has quickly become Netflix’s top-rated series for the month. It has even become their most-watched product in over 30 countries. Previously, Fortiche Productions has produced all of Riot Games animated promotions and music videos, including the 300 million-view strong animations of K-pop band K/DA. But perhaps even more noticeable than its success are the changes Arcane will bring behind the scenes, from truly breaking the “video game curse” of terrible adaptations to breaking toxic work practices and rushed development.

The series has embraced a hand-crafted style that resembles 2-D animation. It does not use extreme realism or mo-capped actors to bring it to life. The backgrounds are not 3-D models but digital paintings. The characters, using basic but in-depth techniques, were crafted to fit this environment. If Arcane’s characters and backgrounds were marble statues, the details would be in the paint on the models, not carved into the statues themselves.

This style, called cell-shading, was seen most famously in Sony’s Spider-man, Into the Spider-Verse. It relies on passionate and skilled artists but cuts down on technical wizardry and expensive equipment. The hand-drawn method also keeps render times low and reduces the polygon count of any scene. This is because no software has to generate, simulate and light realistic features in extremely graphic detail. In a more realistic style, a graphics render can take 5 hours to create a single image.

Beating the Rush

The most groundbreaking thing about Arcane is its length. An average episode has, at least, a 40-minute runtime. Even other mature animated series typically clock in an episode time of around 20-24 minutes. This lengthy nature extends to the series production time. According to storyboarder Marietta Ren, Arcane took over 5 years to make. A storyboard is a layout of the flow of each episode, what each shot will be and where it will move to. Each episode took at least 5 months to storyboard alone, according to Ren. Traditionally, any television animation storyboard only takes 1 month.

This emphasis on pre-production makes a strong working pipeline and reduces the strain on other creators later in development. The result is a studio that has used the sheer passion of its employee’s guarantee quality. A studio that takes its time in order to phase out abusive industry practices and prevent intense crunch culture.

The importance of phasing out these practices cannot be overstated. Animation studios, especially independent ones, are constantly forced into “crunch time” in order to compete with their wealthier competitors. Texas-based company, Rooster Teeth, infamously forced their animation department into an intense and mandated unpaid overtime schedule. This resulted in over 1/3 of their series RWBY and Gen:Lock essentially being made for free, as well as over 50 employees being laid off.

Arcane review: Every day I think about Arcane and it makes me cry | ONE Esports
Credit: Netflix

Arcane shows us a future where the product is completely in the artists’ hands and there is no toxicity in its creation. But most of all, this ethical way of production is now proven to create success, giving other developers no reason not to follow Fortiche’s example.

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