Sunday, August 7, 2022

‘Arcane: Bridging the Rift’ Part 1: A Love Letter to Fear

RECAPS'Arcane: Bridging the Rift' Part 1: A Love Letter to Fear

This week, Riot Games dropped the first episode of their behind-the-scenes look at the making of Arcane, the five-part docuseries Arcane: Bridging the Rift.

The first episode is titled “I Only Dream in Risky,” but it could very easily have been “Christian Linke Won’t Take No For an Answer.” Bridging the Rift introduces viewers to Arcane’s creators Linke and Alex Yee, as well as Riot Games founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, and Fortiche Productions, the French animation studio responsible for the show’s unique style.

Instead of just showing us character art and walls full of storyboard Post-its, Bridging the Rift personalizes Arcane’s creation by taking viewers along the narrative trajectory of Riot Games’ — and specifically Linke’s — fear that the show just wouldn’t work.

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Christian “Praeco” Linke is now a creative director and composer working at Riot Games. He didn’t start that way, though. As part one explains, Linke was a League of Legends beta player who responded to a “sketchy Craigslist ad” for a customer support agent for Riot Games. (Interviewing, wildly enough, with Yee, who would later be his co-executive producer for Arcane.) His road from there to showrunning Arcane wasn’t paved with gold — in fact, it wasn’t even paved with very much money.

“I Only Dream in Risky” goes into detail about how Linke had to slowly persuade Riot Games that his vision, a deep story expression of these characters that they worked with every day, was even remotely viable.

“If you can figure out what is a thing that if you love it, a lot of people would love it, that’s where you should go hard.”
– Christian Linke, Bridging the Rift: Part 1

He started with two thousand dollars. That got him some concept art, and the begrudging agreement to shell out another five thousand, to see what they’d look like as 3D models. From there, in an almost comedic series of microtransactions, Linke tenaciously nickel-and-dimed Riot Games into letting him make Arcane.

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The final budget for the (now-Emmy-nominated) show, for those interested, was estimated to be anywhere from 90 to 100 million dollars. A big step up from two Gs for some drawings.

Part one of Bridging the Rift, “I Only Dream in Risky” takes us back to 2015. Back when a three-year-long pandemic would’ve seemed almost laughable, Hamilton came busting out onto the stage, and The Force Awakens had brought Star Wars back to the forefront of cinema.

Riot Games/Fortiche

At the time, most consumers would’ve shaken their heads at a full-season animation based on a multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA, a term not quite so prevalent outside of gaming circles then as it is now). “I Only Dream in Risky” makes clear from the start that consumers weren’t the only ones.

Riot Games founders Beck and Merrill are honest, telling the camera that they simply didn’t think Arcane was a good idea. Their immediate response to the concept was a clear no, with Beck even saying, “How am I going to talk Christian out of this?”

“When you’re going to change the world, don’t ask for permission.”
Arcane Season 1, Episode 2 (as referenced in Bridging the Rift: Part 1)

Arcane did make it, that’s for sure. At its debut, it was Netflix’s highest-rated series so far, and within a week of its premiere, it ranked first on the Netflix Top 10 Chart in 52 countries. With an amazing 100% Rotten Tomatoes score and a staggering 97% of Google reviews being positive, there’s no way to say that Arcane turned out to be anything other than a sweeping success.

But how did it get there? Agonizingly, we don’t know yet.

Anyone who has seen Arcane will know that the writers love their cliffhangers, but who would’ve expected that they’d do it to us in a docuseries too? It’s delightfully enraging and horrendously effective, so I can’t see them stopping that tactic any time soon.

Riot Games/Fortiche

Hopefully, though, it’ll only take until episode two for Riot to put us out of our misery this time.

At just over twenty-six minutes long, Bridging the Rift part one is an easy watch, but one that — if, like me, you put it on in the background anticipating dry storyboarding details — you may find yourself pausing to stop and sink into.

As a weekly dip back into the world of Arcane, Bridging the Rift has a lot to offer.

Listening to Yee talk about writing characters (“Voices in my head that argue a lot,” he says) really shows how much passion this animation was made with, and the look at how Fortiche Studios grew from a team of five to nearly three hundred thanks to Arcane is fascinating.

“How do you texturize it to look like a painting?”
“We paint!”

– Fortiche, Bridging the Rift: Part 1

While I’m recommending that every fan watches Bridging the Rift, I feel like this write-up deserves some honesty: I was not always a Riot fan. I was far from a League of Legends fan. I had played, but only because friends were into it. I couldn’t stand the community, and as more of an RPG player in general, I wanted more story. The game mechanics were fun but they couldn’t hold me for long.

Long before Arcane landed on Netflix, something had started to shift. I’d heard friends talk about the characters of League and asked, “How do you know that? That’s not said in the game!” It was then that I was introduced to League lore, to the immense library of character profiles and backstories that are out there, part of the League of Legends IP, giving players who desire more insight a little something to chew on. Initially, my thought was, “What a waste.”

To have these rich stories, and to have them hidden in optional reading material? It seemed like such a shame.

My curiosity was piqued, though, and I soon became a strange breed: a brusquely titled “League of Legends Content Consumer.” I didn’t play the game, but I ate up everything else that Riot was putting out. From character introduction shorts to music videos, world championship live performances with 3D dragons, and the creation of bands such as Pentakill and K/DA. I was never not into League, even though I hadn’t played for years and had no plan to ever again.

Then Arcane was announced, back at the League of Legends 10th anniversary celebration in 2019. Like Beck and Merrill, I had my reservations. As they say in “I Only Dream in Risky,” there was a curse, a video game curse that seemed to show up whenever one was adapted for the screen. In short, video game adaptions sucked.

One thing gave me first hope, then high expectations: Fortiche Studios. Seeing that they were on board, I recalled the high-quality animations that I’d seen in my Content Consumer days — the “Get Jinxed” visuals, the music video for Imagine Dragons’ “Warriors.” By the time the first trailer was released, I was completely sold (along with many other players and fans).

Riot hadn’t let us down. In fact, Riot had blown everyone’s expectations far, far out of the water.

Now, we know that these early fears that Arcane would be terrible, as the curse demanded, were shared by Riot too.

Watching part one of Bridging the Rift was very humanizing for Beck, Merrill, Linke, and Yee.

“I Only Dream in Risky” is a love letter to fear, to Riot Games’ justifiable fears about this truly insane project, and to Linke conquering his fears and pushing on, proving that one man’s passion can fuel something truly astounding.

My only regret about the first episode? That we didn’t get the names of Linke’s pet skinks.

Arcane: Bridging the Rift episode one, “I Only Dream in Risky” is available for free on Riot Games’ YouTube channel. Episodes are released every Thursday, concluding with a final episode on September 1, 2022.

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