Travis Henderson did a nice breakdown of the amazing new VFX, which features an unusual take on the classical League of Legends special effect.
Hi, I’m Travis Henderson, I’m a junior vfx artist at Gunfire Games. I’ve worked on the Oculus VR titles Chronos, Dead and Buried, and From Other Suns, and I’m currently working on Darksiders 3. For Chronos, I worked on everything from ambient environmental vfx, to creature and interactive vfx. For Dead and Buried I worked on a few shooting interactives, and the rest is unreleased stuff I can’t comment on. On From Other Suns, I worked on weapon, creature, ambient environmental, and ship vfx, as well as some special material fx.
I got started in VFX in 2013 when I was attending GDC in San Francisco. I wandered in on a vfx round table and was very excited and surprised about all the stuff they were discussing. After the roundtable session ended, there were a few vfx people who graciously gave me some of their free time, and went over what vfx entailed and pointed me in the direction of some good learning resources. After that, I dug in to those resources my senior year in college and began learning and building my demo reel.
About the project
First and foremost, I picked something I was going to have fun working on. I decided to make a “skin” effect, or an adaptation of an existing effect from League of Legends, as opposed to something original. I really love the Arcade series of skins in League, and the concept of creating 8 and 16 bit style effects for a stylized PC game sounded like a fun challenge. I really liked Ashe’s ultimate ability, which uses a cool 3d modeled arrow and has a nice impact with lots of different elements.
I started out gathering some reference, looking first at Ashe’s original ultimate ability, then the same ability for her different skins to see if there was much difference in arrow size, and what common elements they all shared that I would need to adapt to a retro style. I sketched out what I thought a 3d version of an 8-bit arrow would look like, using a really low resolution texture size in Photoshop, which helped keep the blocky look of it. After that, I exported the texture into Maya to make the 3d model and matched my grid units as close as I could to the size of the squares in my texture. I set my select options to snap to my grid, and started extruding from a simple cube until I got the final shape. It was a fairly quick process, since I didn’t have to deal with curves and softening edges.
Since the arrow was both the main focus and a large mesh, I had to scale the size of the arrow up and down on it firing and impacting, respectively. I tried to cover this up by adding large and bright elements to help cover up and distract from the mesh scaling up and down.
Achieving the retro look
I think what makes them so unique is the retro look, and trying to adapt that into a game that has such a stylized, hand painted look to everything. That look also needs to translate not just into 3D space, but have colors and shapes that are still identifiable with the character they are connected to. For me working on this project, I’d never done or tried pixel art before, so I had to take a best guess at how to approach that and still get the end results I wanted. Another element that I think sets the Arcade style skins apart is how the elements and textures with motion don’t smoothly transition. Traditional flipbook effects are textures that have a sequence of multiple images that play smoothly through like footage. Flipbooks are so common in games, that engines like Unreal Engine 4 are already setup to smoothly play through those frames.
The Arcade skins try to emulate those old game effects that didn’t have as many frames as we can use now. When setting up my textures and materials for the Arcade Ashe project, I had to make sure that my flipbooks “stepped” through their frames, or pause on each image before abruptly snapping to the next. This same stepping idea also applies to other aspects as well, such as the texture fading out or rotating. I was actually second guessing myself near the end of the project on whether or not the large mesh arrow should smoothly rotate after being fired, or if it should snap as it rotated around, but for time constraints I decided to leave that smoothed out along with a few other bits.
One last interesting thing about the Arcade skins that can be overlooked are their use of traditional textures in the effects. They are so soft and short lived you may miss them, I only noticed when I was gathering reference and watching clips in slow motion. There were still plenty of flares, glows, and trails that didn’t have a pixel art look to them; stuff you would see in any other effect in League of Legends. They help pull the effects all together and give them more volume and life.