Alexis Wanneroy shares how the most successful Netflix show of all time came to fruition

Fortiche is a creative production studio based in France, with offices in Paris, Montpellier, and Las Palmas. Their latest collaboration with RIOT Games, Arcane has just been released on Netflix, and it is already one of their most-streamed shows. We sat down with Alexis Wanneroy from Fortiche to chat about Arcane, the animation process, and the work they do at Fortiche.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Fortiche?

My name is Alexis Wanneroy, and I’ve been working for more than 20 years in the industry. I worked for 15 years at Dreamworks Animation as a supervisor, but after those few years in the U.S, I wanted to come back to France. That’s when Fortiche reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be part of this project that they were developing, called Arcane.
I was so excited to be part of such a project that I joined the team about 2.5 years ago as a Lead Animator. I started with a full team of five animators, and following the creation of the Montpelier branch, I’ve become Head of Animation in the South of France branch of Fortiche, overseeing 20 people.

What’s it like to work at Fortiche?

I really enjoy working there because the owners are trying to make it a place where people feel at home. They make it feel like an environment where you could really excel as an artist and as a person. Since the beginning, the studio held on to its own unique animation style. Others would always water down their product, but not Fortiche. Fortiche has always been about keeping the graphicness and the coolness of it all. They let people push their artistry and do what they are good at doing which is amazing.

Can you tell us about the backstory of League of Legends and the Arcane series? How did the collaboration with RIOT Games come to fruition?

Back in 2012 Fortiche was developing the graphic style that you see on the clip Limousine for La Gaviota. The Showrunner of Arcane, Christian Linke saw that clip and wanted to collaborate with Fortiche on a project that they were making for RIOT, which was called Get Jinxed. I think Riot was thrilled with the Get Jinxed results in 2014. They went on to work on another clip with Fortiche called Warriors for Imagine Dragons.
In 2015 and 2016, Christian Linke and Alex Yee, the writers of the Arcane TV series crafted the whole show, the whole world along with Pascal Charrue, Jerome Combe and Arnaud Delord. They developed the style of the show, the graphics, the animation style, the fact that it was going to be an adult show, how they were going to approach everything – from the boards to the final comp. It was around 2018-2019 when we started the full Arcane TV shows, right around the time I joined Fortiche. We started on episode 2, however the team at Montpelier worked only on episodes 7, 8 and 9.

Referencing your renowned unique visual style – edgy and experimental graphics, blending 2D and 3D – can you speak to the concept art and visual development of the series?

The graphic style has been developed by Fortiche since day one, with RIOT as the client giving the final stamp of approval. There would be some changes so that the heroes would look like their game characters and they would have the same traits, to keep the players of League of Legends happy.
What Fortiche always wanted to do was to create something that felt real, that felt raw, a bit gruesome sometimes. It was not what you would see in other animated projects, they often are watered down. They wanted the characters to feel very graphic, to have imperfections. They are still very visually appealing, but the appeal doesn’t come from the more traditional character design like viewers are used to. Instead, it’s more the graphicness of the texture and design, even the background, everything is painted. This gives a different style than anything we’ve seen in the past: The style was mostly cyberpunk and Art Deco for Zaun, and it was more Art Nouveau with a lot of little details for Piltover, which is definitely noticeable in the show.

What measures were put in place to ensure that the story remained enjoyable for both the gamers already familiar with the franchise and the new viewers?

I think Christian Linke and Alex Yee worked a lot on having a well-developed storyline that is not just about fights between those big characters of the game. At the same time, they wanted those characters to be who they were in the game, to have similar traits and similar ways of acting.
After the script was done, Fortiche’s focus was to push for some cinematographic principles or references to make those characters and scenes feel real, to have something very specific in all of them.

How did you make use of the storyboards during the animation process?

The detailed storyboards were both instrumental and stunning, they gave us amazing cinematography; by the choreography that was put in their fights, along with the composition, the angles of the camera, the framing, the posing of the characters, that they’ve come up with. They gave us good acting choices.
And then what layout would do is that they would just match that one-to-one and that would allow us to really spend the time focusing on acting or body mechanics instead of reinventing each shot. This is something I always wished could happen in my previous roles, but at Fortiche they actually did it.

What was the biggest challenge while developing Arcane?

For us in animation, the biggest challenge was to make it feel real. We went for something pretty realistic. We wanted to stylize the realism in a way where we would simplify all the little details and things that happen in real life. We wanted to have something that felt still polished and smooth, arty, but also animated in some way. The characters were not moving too much for no reason or trying to keep a pose. We were prioritizing the composition of the pose in the shots, this was very important for us.
The storyboards, the layout, and the animation have been the same since the beginning. Shots are defined in the storyboards, then layout would copy them. Finally, we animators would try to match the poses and the intention. And that’s something that helped us keep this very cinematographic style, thinking about the camera as well, as physical live-action cameras.
We also have real-time rigs that are very efficient. So we’re able to play them in our software directly without having to playblast constantly, which allows us to go much faster as well in our animation process.

So, what was the animation process? Did you use mocap (motion capture) or keyframe?

Keyframe, keyframe, keyframe. There was no mocap on this show. Everything has been keyframed. Most people would do references. So we used live-action references that we would shoot or others would shoot, or we would find from live-action movies if it was actions and stuff, but we did not use mocap.
We have a very good quota that allows us to create this beautiful animation, but we spent a lot of time on those. We have a big team of animators, a team of 80 on this show. We used tons of video references on all those shots to make it feel real.

Did you make characters, sheets, or animation libraries?

Between the Pilot and Episode 2, some people stayed in pre-production at Fortiche and they created all those animation libraries. We’ve been developing them on the show to maintain some appeal for those characters. This allows us to be more ‘on model’ and not to push things too far, to stay consistent and authentic.

It’s hard not to notice the elaborate 2D effects work. Can you speak more about this?

On that first Fortiche and RIOT collaboration of Get Jinxed, there were some 2D effects, those were done by hand. 2D animators did them on top of the 3D animation after the 3D animation was done, just like they used to do it in 2D back then. We asked ourselves: What can we push? We can push for all the graphicness, like the 2D elements on it, the scratches, the textures, the paintings in the background. And I think it brings such a graphic style as well to the final product. It’s similar to those scratches that they do on the cameras as a post-process on some of those images to create the jinx feeling that she gets sometimes when she goes crazy. All those were done in 2D, on top of the CG plates.

Have you used model sheets or expressions?

Yes, the Director of Animation on this show, Barthelemy Maunoury, really wanted the expressions to be as appealing as possible and the poses as well. We’ve done a lot of before and after comparisons, we had a folder with a lot of expressions and body poses. We were working on poses a lot to make them feel more natural and definitely more appealing. I think it’s a term that we hear in a lot of different animated movies, but on Arcane it was the appeal that would come from a painting, looking at that graphicness coming from the textures and style. How can we make this feel like a beautiful drawing, like a beautiful painting?

What was the most fun aspect of the project?

I think it’s just the project by itself, the characters, the story, being able to create realistic animation without overacting. It was about how we can make that acting feel natural. This has been a super fun aspect of the project.


What did you learn from working on the series?

I think the main thing that I learned was how to treat characters that have such a graphic style and make them more appealing. I was pushing a little bit too far when it came to expressions and emotions. I had to tone that down to create the desired effect.
I think there’s a lot that you can do with understanding the angles of the head or the body without necessarily pushing an expression to create the body language or the intentions of your character.

What are you proudest of?

I’m just so happy that Barthelemy Maunoury called me over to be part of this show. It’s very different from anything else I’ve ever done in animation, so I’m so proud to have been able to be part of that. And being able to do this work as a part of a studio where we’re pushing boundaries and striving for real acting and performance. As an animator, you’re an actor and you want that. Pascal, Arnaud, and Jerome created something that is different and unique with Fortiche.

What’s next for Fortiche? Are there any plans to collaborate with Riot considering the industry buzz?

I can’t comment on any upcoming collab between Fortiche and Riot in the future. But based on the end-result and how amazingly people are reacting to it, I’m hopeful for more good things to come from any potential Fortiche and Riot collabs.

Thank you, Alexis, for all these fantastic insights. We appreciate having you on and all the best to France!

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