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Animating Order and Chaos

How’d animators bring Dawnbringer Riven and Nightbringer Yasuo to life?

Concept Exploration for VS. by Hellstern

Animators who work on Legendary skins are tasked with the sometimes tricky job of creating new animations for existing champions. The degree of this trickiness is often determined by how old the champion is: Older champions tend to be easier to make prettier but often have dated design setups, while newer champions have higher-quality animations but can be complicated and difficult to improve upon.

Bringing Dawnbringer Riven and Nightbringer Yasuo to life created two sets of differing challenges; though development happened simultaneously, the age of each champion meant each required its own unique approach. Animating Riven was about making her feel more modern and like a higher being, while working within the constraints of an old system. Yasuo’s new moves were focused on making his already complex animations look and feel even better…and more chaotic.

And in both cases, Riven and Yasuo still needed to feel like Riven and Yasuo.

Sick Mechanics, Bro

One of the top priorities for a Legendary skin is that it still looks and feels like playing the same champion, despite the extra bells and whistles. It’s possible to make new animations that are objectively better (smoother, cleaner, tighter), but if players feel like it’s too different, it doesn’t matter. This gets even tougher when animating champs who rely on precise timing or who are mechanically demanding. “Champions with complex mechanics usually have a small but dedicated player base,” animator Tom “Riot Whist” Robbins says, “So if something doesn’t feel right, those players will notice.”

Riven and Yasuo both fall into the “difficult-to-play-even-though-not-everyone-thinks-so” category. Playing each sword-wielder to their maximum potential relies on having impeccable timing, weaving autos between spell casts, and cancelling animations (more so Riven for that last one).

Dawnbringer Riven’s Auto Attacks

To weave in those extra autos, it needed to be really clear where exactly Dawnbringer Riven and Nightbringer Yasuo were in their auto attack animations. Both Legendaries have dramatic, distinct frames during their auto attacks: there’s an obvious windup, a quick swipe, then a finishing stance. These three poses make it clear when exactly they begin an auto attack, when it connects, and when it’s over—making squeezing in that last auto a little bit easier.

Nightbringer Yasuo’s Auto Attacks

Yasuo’s auto attack animations were also specifically designed to feel even snappier than in his base skin. Each pose of his auto animation is pushed even further than usual, so he’s really reaching and arching his body with each swipe. Plus, he’s double-handing the sword for maximum power.

Dawn Sheds the Night

Riven was created back when new champions were launched every two weeks. This quick cadence meant there was a limited amount of time to devote to each area of development, which is why her animations are so simple. The upside to her simplicity? Devs had a bunch of ways to make her existing animations look even better for her Dawnbringer skin.

In fact, there were so many opportunities for improvement that she ended up with 100% new animations. This started with a new rig, which was really needed because her Dawnbringer character model has vastly different body proportions than her original. Riven’s base model is kind of condensed, with shorter legs, but her Dawnbringer model is stylistically tall, with superhero proportions. “Part of me was like, ‘This is cool,’” says Riot Whist, “And the other part was like, ‘How do I animate all this leg?!’”

Dawnbringer Riven and Base Riven Character Models

Riven’s backend design setup was a hurdle while animating, even with starting from scratch. Riven is the only champion in the game who can cancel so many animations, and the tech used is pretty dated. “I originally wanted to give Riven transitions when she cancelled some of her animations,” says Riot Whist, “But we were limited by the older tech.” One possible way to add animation transitions between cancelled abilities would have been to make changes in the backend design, but that can get risky. There are a lot of delicate systems that allow for Riven to play the way she does, and making changes could cause some of her cancel moves to stop working…or cause new ones to appear.

Because we didn’t want to risk breaking Riven, Riot Whist focused on making her core gameplay feel the best it could be. “Everything she does should just feel extra good,” Riot Whist says.

Base Riven and Dawnbringer Riven Ult Activations

Riven’s ultimate form was one of the areas with lots of room for improvement. When Riven ults, it’s supposed to represent a return to her former glory, but her base doesn’t really show this well. Pressing R on base Riven causes her to raise her sword, which then reforges and gets giant and glowy. But when she starts flipping around and wrecking you in-game, this change isn’t always super noticable. Dawnbringer Riven gave devs a chance to really push the fantasy while also visually clarifying her gameplay mechanics.

Dawnbringer Riven’s entire body becomes ascended-looking during her ultimate, which is mostly communicated through her golden character model and shiny VFX. Riot Whist considered creating unique auto attack animations for her ultimate form, but this wasn’t great for gameplay—learning three more auto animations seemed like a bit much, for both Riven and her victims. Instead, Riot Whist created a more aggressive run for while Blade of the Exile is active. “Now, if she ults in a bush and runs at you, it’s more clear she’s in her ‘probably hurts more’ form,” Riot Whist says.

Dawnbringer Riven Run, Before and During Ult

Night Rends the Dawn

Unlike Riven, only about half of Nightbringer Yasuo’s animations are brand new, which is mostly because he’s a new(er) champion. His animations are still considered pretty high-quality, and some of them are really complicated. In fact, Yasuo has one of the most complex animation cycles in the game. It might not seem obvious at first glance, but Yasuo’s sheathing and unsheathing of his blade is pretty complicated under the hood.

Base Yasuo Sheathing Sword While Idle and Running

Whenever Yasuo enters combat, he draws his sword, and shortly after leaving combat, he returns it to his sheath. The reason this gets so complicated is because Yasuo can sheathe his blade while running, standing still, or transitioning between the two. There are a bunch of sequences that have to line up perfectly during this animation because otherwise, his torso, arms, and legs won’t line up properly.

Because Nightbringer Yasuo wields his sword with two hands, this entire animation sequence had to be reworked, which required a lot of animator time.

Nightbringer Yasuo Sheathing Sword While Idle and Running

Rather than rebuilding all of Yasuo’s animations from the ground up, senior animators Drew “sandwichtown” Morgan and Matthew “MIXX3R” Johnson focused on areas where the chaotic, powerful nature of Nightbringer Yasuo could shine through—such as two-handing his blade. But because Yasuo’s gameplay revolves around precision, they had to get a little creative to capture the chaos.

One of the ways they did this was by adding six “spikes” to Yasuo’s body that could be freely animated. “The spikes are really dark in color, so it’s a subtle change to his shape language,” sandwichtown says, “but we thought it’d be a cool way to layer in the demonic theme.” The spikes were animated in a variety of ways, flaring up during his emotes, idle, and attacks.

Spikes During Nightbringer Yasuo’s Idle Animation

Most of Yasuo’s animations happen quickly in-game, but his ultimate lasts longer and provides more animation wiggle room. “We identified his ult as an area we wanted to make stand-out and feel really epic,” sandwichtown says. In Yasuo’s base animations, he air-juggles his opponent with a flurry of rapid slashes, but the damage doesn’t actually come through until the end. “This got us thinking about doing one huge wind-up and swing for his ult,” says MIXX3R. “It could feel super powerful and still accurately reflect the gameplay.”

MIXX3R and sandwichtown experimented with a few different multi-slashes, but nothing felt as satisfying and formidable as one massive strike.

Base and Nightbringer Yasuo Ults

Looking Ahead

Pretty much every Legendary released has included an update to some—if not all—of a champion’s animations, so the expectation has been set: Legendaries mean new animations. But this might start to get really complicated down the line, when it’s time to make Legendaries for League’s newer champions. Their animations are already really polished, so there’s not a ton of room for improvement, and they already have a wide variety of (often complex) animations. It’d take a lot of resources to build new animation sets at that caliber, and the outcome might not even be worth it. “If the new animations just feel different, and not better, what’s the point?” MIXX3R says. “Where do we go from there?”

Although we haven’t hit that point quite yet—Yasuo is an example of an in-between champion who is just starting to get complicated from an animation standpoint—it is coming. One possible approach would be to look for ways to subtly elevate the skin’s thematic via new animations, as opposed to big, flashy add-ons, like with Dawnbringer Riven’s floating run or Nightbringer Yasuo’s dual handed weapon-wielding.

Either way, animators will still be working to create fresh new moves for the champions everyone knows and loves…like Riven and Yasuo.

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Origins: Yasuo