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We’re cruisin’ through Little Demon Tristana’s development, and today we have updates on her model, recall animation, SFX, and VO. Check out the video at the end of this post to see how everything’s coming together!
Hand-Painting the Little Demon
Trevor “EdBighead245” Carr, Senior Character Artist: Hi again! In the last update, I talked about how we sculpted Tristana’s model and created a low-poly version of it for in game. This time I’d like to share how we added colors to that model through a process known as texturing.
The first step of texturing is making UV coordinates. You can think of it like peeling an orange, where the “orange” is the character model (kinda weird, I know). After it’s peeled, you can paint on the peeled surface, and then it automatically goes back onto the character model. To “peel the orange,” the modeler does selections for each piece and then projects them flat, and then lays all of those pieces out into a square.
Now that we have a model with UV coordinates, we can use the 3D sculpt we made earlier and simulate lights on it and bake down our UVs. League doesn’t have dynamic lighting—meaning the champions aren’t lit from the surrounding environment—so we bake lighting into the texture instead. League is lit roughly from the top, so that’s how I’ll bake in the lights to get something I can paint over later. Most of what you’re seeing when you play League is coming from the texture itself, and once everything is baked down, the light isn’t able to move. This is what gives things in League that hand-painted look.
Here’s what Tristana’s face looked like when we first started this process. It was posted in our team chat for all to enjoy, so now we’re sharing it with you.
Anyways, next we take all that fake lighting we baked out and add color and paint over the whole thing to make it feel more high-quality. At this stage, we’re thinking about things like, “Is the top brighter than the bottom? Can you tell what each material is? Can you see where one material ends and another begins? Does it have strong focal point? Does it look like who it’s supposed to?” And in the end, “Is it colorful and fun to look at?”
The above image shows the light bakes from the high-poly model with what’s called a “gradient map” overlay for each color section. It’s an early pass to block the colors out, and this one turned out pretty neon! Some of the early feedback from the team (and from players!) was that her skin was way too pink, which I think is totally true. I heavily referenced Demon Vi to try and keep Tristana feeling like she was in the same thematic, but it turned out a little too vibrant.
After toning down the pink skin, I did one last pass where I painted over the whole thing and finalized the look for the in-game read. I may make minor tweaks right up until she ships, but for the most part, here’s the final texture!
Angels, Devils, and Mischievous Yordles
Einar “Riot Beinhar” Langfjord, Associate Animator: There’s a huge amount of diversity in the types of recall animations we have in League: some tell a story, others are cool for the sake of being cool, some use plenty of props, some use none. It’s often very hard to decide what to do because there are so many options. This is why brainstorming with the team and testing out ideas is a big part of finding out what’s best for the character.
After plenty of brainstorming about potential recalls, we landed on a direction we were all excited about: A story of choosing between good and evil. Little Demon Tristana would have to choose between the path of the divine angel Teemo or the Little Devil himself. Here’s what the recall looks like now, and then we’ll break down how we got there:
Once we find an idea we like, we have to make sure it works with the character and the game. We start by creating a “blocked” version of the animation. A recall last for 8 seconds, which is a very short amount of time to tell a story. We have to isolate what’s important to understand, and we used an early blockout version to convey these story elements. Animation blocking allows us to quickly find out if an idea is worth pursuing and creates the foundation which lets us make our animation.
If the story makes sense and everyone understands what’s happening—and we’ve added enough storytelling poses in the blocked state—we’re ready for the next step, which we call a “spline pass.” This is where we add life to the characters by creating motion between each keyframe and storypoint. For Tristana’s recall animation, we played around with giving each character a unique personality and movement pattern: The devil moves in quick darts, the angel moves more like a floaty dance, and Tristana is excited about the prospect of doing more misdeeds.
When we have a good idea of what the end result should look like, we start the “polish pass,” which is where we add in the things that make the character feel more like a living, breathing being—kind of like a real actor performing. We’ll add in a lot of the small human elements, like eye darts, subtle head movements, ear and hair animation, and anything else that makes the piece feel like it’s a part of the real world. For Tristana, we also added in some details to clear up the animation, like moving the gun position, shooting earlier, and (most importantly) making the moment where Angel Teemo flies out of the gun feel like a bigger deal.
Once the animation is ready, we can combine with SFX and VFX in the game to get our final result.
Turning Screams into Sound Effects
Alison “semipriceysoap” Ho, Sound Designer: semipriceysoap here, back for some more sound design talk!
After making a palette of sounds mixing screams, animals, and fire, it’s time to shape that into sounds that are recognizable as Tristana. Here’s a reminder of what that first collection of sounds were like:
And here’s a sample from the audio “building blocks” I created:
As fun as it is to make epic bursts of flames and long, atmospheric spirit realm magic, these sounds are really the building blocks for the final pieces put into the game. These building block sounds are usually too long or designed to be very over the top—they’re much closer to sound you would hear in a movie, like the explosions in a big superhero fight sequence or the spooky sounds of walking through a haunted forest. However, these sounds in game would make it very difficult to tell when a player is actually using specific abilities.
Because Tristana’s base weapon is more of a traditional cannon, I wanted to her SFX to have the same feel and punch of cannons while keeping them growly and creepy. Using a technique fellow League sound designer CyborgPizzaNinja showed me, I took the bigger impacts from library recordings of actual cannons and sidechain compressed and gated those sound effects to some of the building block sounds mentioned above. In other words: When the cannon sounds are played in my audio software, the screams, animals, and fire will sort of mimic what the cannon sounds like. This helps retain the feel of Tristana’s bomb or cannon gun without having it directly in the sound itself.
Here’s what some of those audio building blocks sounded like after applying this technique:
The last step is one that’s pretty standard in all audio—mixing and mastering! This is making sure that the volumes and frequencies all feel right for Tristana, gameplay in League, and the demon thematic. Using what I had above for Tristana’s R, I found that it needed some higher frequency elements in the middle of a fight. I added some higher-pitched screams and creepy chains to make it more recognizable as Tristana’s ult.
Here is a part of the final SFX for Little Demon Tristana’s ult:
The Voice of a Spunky Demon Yordle
Julian “Riot Zimberfly” Samal, VO Designer: Hi everyone! I’m Riot Zimberfly, the VO Designer for Tristana’s new Little Demon skin. My role in the skin is to craft the sonic fantasy of Tristana’s voice. One unique challenge that comes with reimagining the aesthetic of VO that’s been previously recorded—meaning there aren’t new voice lines—is that I have to find the delicate balance where a champion feels immersive in their new fantasy without making the processed voice feel at odds with the intent of their lines.
Here’s an example of what Tristana’s base VO sounds like:
In Tristana’s case, it was important to me to bring out the darker, edgier fantasy through her voice. To do that, I “harmonized” the voice (multiple simultaneous voices speaking at different pitches) with deliberately dissonant intervals to get it feeling slightly macabre. But I didn’t want to lose the core of who Tristana is, so I downplayed the volume and intensity of those harmonized layers to be more subtle and let her untreated voice take the priority:
Next, to crank up that smokey, underworld-y vibe, I gave it a slight dose of reverb that simulated a large, cavernous space. This is subtle, as I didn’t want it to physically feel like Trist was walking somewhere other than Summoner’s Rift.
Lastly I sneaked some of the spooky sonic textures used throughout her SFX into her VO to create a dark, ominous bed of sound for her lines to gel with. For clarity reasons, the bed is only audible in her local-player lines, like her moves and attacks, and disappears for lines that all players will hear, like spell efforts and emotes.
What Comes Next?
We’re getting pretty close to the end of development, so our last two updates are going to be a bit shorter. Next time, we’re going to share a behind-the-scenes look at illustrating Tristana’s splash art, complete with the final version of the splash. We’ll also have a sneak peek of all the chromas we’re working on.
But before we go today, we wanted to share a video of the latest progress on Little Demon Tristana. The whole team’s been fine-tuning the skin since our last update, and we’re nearing the home stretch.
Thanks again for coming along for the design process. We’ll be back in two weeks!