Let's talk Trist! Originally released a megling champion before uh... they all went away... we're solidifying Tristana as a yordle while giving her a new model, textures, voicework, ability effects and some targeted kit changes. Yep. Kit changes. Along with number tweaks, Tristana's E active has gone to join the Heart of Gold and Philo Stone in ye warehouse of olde eqyppmente, and she now has a completely new way to shoot, explode, etc. her opponents. Here's how it works.
Passive: Whenever Tristana kills a unit, her shot explodes, dealing damage to all nearby enemies.
Active: Tristana attaches a charge to a nearby enemy unit or turret. After a few seconds, the charge detonates, dealing damage to the target and all nearby enemies. Attacking the target with basic attacks amps the charge up, making it deal extra damage as it explodes. Tristana can also Rocket Jump onto a target with Explosive Charge for extra damage.
We grabbed a couple of the champion update guys to go through the update and talk about some of the specific changes we're implementing.
Gameplay notes by Miles 'RiotVesh' Miller
Old Trist was a late game powerhouse who didn't really have clearly defined weaknesses. Her power dipped in the mid game, yeah, but when you look at other super powerful late game carries (think Vayne or Kog'Maw), she just didn't have the same Achilles heel-type glowing red spots for her enemy team to pew pew at. She had insane range and speed with her basic attacks, and even when she did get caught, she had a decent knock back AND a lengthy jump that let her GTFO. Changes were needed, and after deliberating with the rest of the champion update designers, we decided to cement Tristana as a daredevil reset carry who gets bonuses from (rocket) jumping into fights while removing some of the safe strength she had in her kit.
Now, instead of operating as an uber safe right-clicker, new Tristana's power is windowed, with huge power spikes when she's played to meet specific goals. Her basic attack speed still increases per level, but the boost is lower than before. This makes Rapid Fire actually important, as she's not just switching from stupid fast attack speed to soul-crushingly fast attack speed. Her Rocket Jump now deals lower base damage, but can deal way more if she stacks up Explosive Charge on her target before landing on their face.
'Implementing Explosive Charge brought about a few interesting new combos, too: now you can plant your explosive charge onto the enemy frontline tank, pump up the charge with a few basic attacks, then knock them into their allies with Buster Shot. A bit like a Zilean'stime bomb and Lee Sin'skick in one combo. Explosive Charge is pretty central to her playstyle: by landing the ability on the right targets and making smart use of Rapid Fire, good Trist players will maximize her new E's detonation before Tristanaing in to start off her trademark reset rampage.
Tristana was one of those older champions who was – as Vesh has put it – a bit of a blob. Like Twitch, she had a limited rig, meaning our animators couldn't add much in the way of personality to her movement, and she was generally starting to look a bit dated next to the more recent champs. We started looking at Tristana through the champion update lens and knew we wanted to bring in a wholesale change, updating her model, textures, rig, and animations until she felt like a unique part of the yordle family.
That's right – she's now officially a yordle, too! Working from the standards we set with Heimerdinger's update, we knew we wanted to push her proportions so that she physically represented her character and theme. Heimer's a genius, so has a bit of a bobblehead and wobbles around as he walks. Tristana, on the other hand, represents the yordle take on a super cannon commando. Her appearance is slightly more feral and nature-themed than before, with wilder eyes and animalistic ears that steer her away from little girl territory and towards yordle status. Tristana's cannon is now a full expression of her, too, thanks to exaggerated animations that we've added to the cannon itself whenever she uses Rocket Jump or Buster Shot.
Tristana's getting a new skin, and you can help decide what it'll be!
It's been over a year since you helped us choose Illaoi's next skin, and we'd like your help again. This time, it's for Bandle City's spunkiest gunner: Tristana.
We explored a wide range of possibilities for Trist's next skin, and we're down to the three concepts we're most excited about. Now, the decision is in your hands. Vote on which skin you'd like to see us create. If the results are super close, we'll look at the preference of Tristana mains to help us make the final call, so make sure your voice is heard.
After the winner is announced, we'll update you regularly on the skin's development via Nexus. Every two weeks we'll post pictures, videos, and words about our progress—and get your reactions and input along the way.
You have until 11:59 p.m. PT on March 6 to vote. Everyone who weighs in will receive an icon when the skin goes live.
Here are the concepts! (These names aren't final… none of this is final.)
“Sugar Rush Tristana”
Armed to the sweet teeth with a mighty gumball gun, Sugar Rush Tristana protects the Candy Kingdom from unsavory forces.
“Galactic Gunner Tristana”
Two extremely dangerous Exosuits have gone missing, and the bounty on them is only getting higher. Galactic Gunner Tristana has a solution for that: shoot first, ask questions never, and cash in.
“Little Demon Tristana”
Sometimes being mighty requires a little bite. Little Demon Tristana is a master of mischief, ready to jump into any heated situation… or cause one of her own.
We asked you which Tristana skin you wanted most, and after over 4 million votes around the globe, the winner is…
LITTLE DEMON TRISTANA!
Here's the breakdown:
Sugar Rush: 30%
Galactic Gunner: 27%
Little Demon: 43%
We had to know: Did the hardcore Tristana mains who've mastered the art of Rock Jumping into battle choose the same skin? The results were unanimous.
PERCENTAGE / NUMBER OF GAMES ON TRISTANA
Behind the Concepts
Hi there, I'm Janelle 'Stellari' Jimenez, the product lead for the Player Choice Tristana skin. Let's talk a little more about Little Demon Tristana!
When we were initially coming up with the concepts for the Player Choice Tristana skin, we worked with our concept artist Jesse Li to design three options based around beloved themes. We wanted a “fun” skin, a “sci-fi” skin, and then asked him to create the third choice based on what he felt Tristana needed.
We usually kick off all new skins with a product brief. This super glamorous document has a logline (like a slogan), pillars, and creative goals. We make this so everyone on the team knows where we're headed and so the artists can feel empowered to flex their creativity within that sandbox. We like to have this document before we enter pre-production—the concept and exploration phase—but for this skin, we had the art first and needed to wait for the results of the vote before we could start production.
Once we knew the winner, we got started on production right away.
Kicking off Skin Production!
Our pillars for Little Demon Tristana (her code name) are the following:
Adorable and demonic, not “edgy”
Right-hand yordle of Little Devil Teemo
Fiery and mischievous
Our next step is to have a “blue sky” meeting where we talk about all the good, bad, and insane ideas for a skin. We can't possibly do all of them, but we like to let people go a little crazy since it might unlock a great idea. I personally call these meetings “grey sky meetings” because I'm the kind of producer that likes to be realistic, so I'm that rain cloud on your parade. ;)
As you can see, there are some crazy ideas on the board. Some are awesome, some are questionable, and some conflict with each other. And that's okay!
Next we'll test out some of the ideas that we love but aren't sure how they'll look in game. Sometimes there are amazing ideas that look great as 2D concepts but unfortunately don't translate into the game very well. As a product manager, I'm accountable for the final skin, so that means part of my job is finalizing what features make it (and which don't). I make this decision collaboratively with direct input from the team, art and craft leads, delivery leads, engineering teams, marketing, and any partner teams (such as the winning team in the case of World Championship Winner skins).
From the blue sky, we usually start exploring ideas. Here's a sneak peak from next week's update: some exploration from Riot Sirhaian on possible VFX routes!
We know that Dragon Trainer Tristana has red fiery effects, and we want to make sure Little Devil Tristana is unique but also cohesive with Demon Vi, an older skin in this thematic. This is why we're exploring magenta “demon fire” effects as well as blue “spirit fire” effects (and a few others)—let us know what you think of these explorations in the comments below!
Join Us Next Time
We'll be back on Nexus every two weeks with updates on our progress, which will continue until the skin is scheduled to launch in patch 9.11. In our next update, Riot Sirhaian will go deeper into what we think about for skins VFX, and we'll also take a look into the splash creation process. Thanks again to everyone who voted! We're really excited to work on this together with you.
Little Demon Tristana: Splash Art & VFX
BY RIOT AENEIA, TRAYIL, SIRHAIAN, JENNIFER WUESTLING & RIOT STELLARI
Little Demon Tristana's been in production for a couple weeks now, and we've got a giant update to share with you today, including our latest progress on her VFX and splash art.
But this isn't really the beginning of development—that happened back when we were choosing a champion for the vote and working on the concepts. We couldn't really update you on our progress back then (spoilers!), so we're sharing some of that behind-the-scenes work now.
Let's kick things off by answering a question we've heard from you since voting opened:
Why'd We Pick Tristana?
Chelsea “Riot aeneia” Hughes, Insights Researcher: Hey everyone! I'm here to chat with you about the coolest, sexiest, most interesting part of the skin development process. (I'll give you a hint: It involves models.)
That's right. I'm talking DATA.
As the Insights Researcher on the Skins Team, I get a lot of questions about how our team decides what skins to make. I want to give you a little insight on how some of those decisions are made by sharing how we picked this year's Player Choice skin. It may have seemed surprising that we chose Tristana, since the first Player Choice skin was for Illaoi: a champion with a small-but-hardcore following and only one skin to her name. But it was actually for all these reasons that we picked Tristana for the second vote.
To dig deeper, the foremost reason we chose Tristana is also my favorite reason: FOR SCIENCE! Tristana currently has 10 skins, including her base skin. We have data that tells us how many players purchase these skins and how frequently they're used in game. These metrics can give us an idea of how well-liked each of her skins are compared to one another. Once the Player Choice Skin is released, we'll be able to compare it to her full catalog of skins. It can help us to understand if this process—where you help us choose the design—actually results in skins that players like more. In other words, a champion with a dense catalog of skins like Tristana (compared to Illaoi) gives us a better sample size, which lets us do better science.
Second, Tristana consistently has a relatively high playrate. A higher playrate means that the Player Choice experience impacts greater gametime hours. Tristana's new skin will have the chance to be played in a lot of games, meaning plenty of players will get to see her. We consider that a win too—we want you to be able to see the skin you helped pick.
This means there's a diverse playerbase who likes to play her. While playrate tells us how frequently she's played in the game, broad-versus-niche appeal tells us how many unique players have her in their pocket. Choosing a broad-appeal champion for our Player Choice skin means that more players get to find meaning and value in the experience, which is really important to us.
Deciding the Creative Direction
Being honest here, I'm not a Tristana main. I could probably describe her kit (Speedy Uppy, Jumpy, Bomby, and Blasty), but I don't know the first thing about what it means to be a Tristana main. So several months ago, we accessed our Super Secret Rito Records to see which Rioters mained Tristana. We then arranged a meeting with our Skins Team concept artists and those Tristana mains to jump-start some inspiration for design concepts.
Through this, we learned that integrating her weapon and its effects with the theme (like Firefighter Tristana) was important. We also learned that players see Tristana as a feisty go-getter—wholesome and positive, but still a little mischievous.
For me, the most important takeaway came from a disagreement: Did we want skins that felt bubbly and cutesy, like she is? Or should they be dark and edgy, which feels desirably different? We saw players take hard stands on either side, so we wanted to make sure our final design concepts allowed our playerbase to choose their sides, too.
Creating the Concepts
Jesse “Trayil” Li, Concept Artist: The most difficult part of working on Tristana's concepts was coming up with and deciding on the three skins to present to players. In the focus group, a few Tristana mains wanted something cute and light-hearted, but most of them wanted something edgier. Flashy VFX and vibrant colors were definitely a pillar we wanted to hit on this skin, so this was heavily factored in to the ideas we came up with.
From concept spreads like the one below, we tried to figure out which elements were working and which skins might seem too similar to her earlier skins. From this spread, we ruled out “Cyber Pop” because we didn't think it was different enough from Galactic Gunner, which we thought was the more compelling of the two.
Little Demon was a concept that people gravitated towards almost immediately since it's different from the rest of her catalog and turns the edgy factor up to 11. We thought that giving Little Demon Tristana iridescent flames could be a way to differentiate her abilities from the other skins that use fire and explosives. We chose Galactic Gunner because her other tech skins, like Omega Squad and Rocket Girl, are more real-world tech inspired, so we thought Galactic Gunner had the potential to be significantly different. And we picked Sugar Rush since it was cute, but in a different kind of way than Dragon Trainer.
Once we had the three directions locked, we did a final pass to make sure they looked different enough from each other and her previous skins. Then it was voting time!
Where We're At Now
Janelle “Riot Stellari” Jimenez, Product Lead: For most skins, the final say in which concept we make lies with the skin's product lead and the team, but in this case, the final say was up to you!
In a typical case, once we greenlight a concept we begin brainstorming and exploring for the thematic. Sometimes we even start production before a concept is finished, but in this case, we had to wait some time until we heard the results from the vote. The voting process actually extends skin production by several months, all said and done.
Next comes the part of making the vision a reality. Some people imagine skin production to be like an assembly line—we start with a concept, hand it off to one person, then they hand it off to the next person, and so on. But we actually try to work very collaboratively. Everyone can share ideas and insight during the concepting stage, and every member of the team provides valuable feedback throughout development. Once we've decided on the direction, it's time to validate our blue sky ideas.
Demon Fire and Souls
Kevin “Sirhaian” Leroy, VFX Artist: We usually work in parallel with character artists on skins, but I often like to explore a bit in advance, as I find visual effects can help inform some of the character model elements, such as its source of power. Sound effects almost always come in later, as sound designers need the VFX to be (mostly) done so they can match the timing and feel.
Making VFX is a very iterative process: We start by creating what we call a “first pass,” which is basically a very rough in-game representation of what we want for a skin. This can be as simple as a just a few colors or shapes, as long as we get the general feel of the kit. We then start building upon that first pass, refining it and adding more details.
The first VFX iteration I did for Tristana was the obvious “demon fire” look: red and menacing, with hot fire colors and shapes, mixed with burning sparks and dark smoke. To add a little more “demonic” uniqueness to it, I also added some purple undertones and runic shapes.
I personally like to make a semi-complete kit to get the feel of an idea before deciding whether to continue in that direction, although this isn't always possible. Some champions, like Zoe with all her sparkles or Elise with her double kit, have much more complex VFX. (In those cases, I usually focus on their most iconic ability and try to make that feel as good as possible.) With Tristana being a much simpler champion in terms of VFX, I could easily make a first pass exploration on most of her kit, as seen in the video below.
The main issue we encountered was how similar it felt to Dragon Trainer Tristana, who also features fire effects. The kit didn't feel unique enough, even with the added demonic elements. So I scrapped it and started in a different direction. This happens often with VFX, which is why we always start with very basic elements to get the feel of the kit before committing to adding the details and love. And as you can see in the gifs below, those feelings are generated through a lot of different elements, colors, and textures which form a whole once merged together.
Making VFX relies a lot on “feels.” It's often less about color theory, technicality, and painting than it is about making an entire package that feels good and in-thematic. We often use random words like “shinies” or “wooshies” when talking about VFX, and we also really like enacting them by making very exaggerated hand movements. Of course, never forget to make all the sound effects with your mouth! Very, very important step of creating VFX. (I'm not even kidding, it actually helps to get the timing right!)
This second iteration of “spirit fire” already felt more unique and interesting, with its blue mystic fire filled with souls and agony. It was also getting closer to how her hair looked in the concept, and it helps unify her source of power. We liked the idea, so I made a full first pass for the kit. The main idea is basically blue fire, with a hot and bright cyan core, subtly cooling down to purple tones. I also wanted to try making the effects look like ghastly ectoplasm, so I added some goo fall-off on impacts.
We're feeling pretty excited about this direction—it feels more unique and different to Tristana, considering she already uses orange and red fiery effects in some of her other skins. Here's a preview of some of the explorations we're doing now, where her source of power is actually souls. The model is a proxy, which is a temporary model built using other skin's elements and simple shapes. Of course, this is all very WIP and subject to change. What do you think?
Illustrating the Little Demon
Jennifer Wuestling, Illustrator: When creating splash art, we always seek to find the most iconic and vivid moment for the champion. It should spark imagination and let everyone connect more to the fantasy world where it takes place.
Before I start sketching, I like to do some research and gather everything that might be useful for my process. There's always an opportunity for a story moment in every splash, so I looked into Tristana's lore, what connections she has with other champions, and what splashes she already had to find what moments and abilities were (or weren't) already featured.
Other artists at Riot who've worked on splashes with a similar theme or ones that even play in the same universe can be a great resource for feedback, so I try to keep an eye out for them too. Last but not least of course is playing Tristana, paying attention to her animations, voice, and interactions. Knowing what makes me excited about a champion can be the best inspiration—what caught me for Tristana was her lighthearted walk and how she curiously looks around, plus the cute size-relation between her and the heavy cannon :)
Based off the ideas from our splash brainstorm, I make some sketches. For the sketches I usually start super rough; it's a way to warm up and better get to know the champion visually. This allows me to see what poses work in general and how I could implement some story.
The next step is to clean the sketches up a bit, so I can present them to the team and see if we like some of the directions.
From there, the team picked out their favorite thumbnails. I fleshed those ones out some more, adding details and light and shadow to test out the scene.
This is where we're at now—the team is most excited about option 2 and option 9. Which ones are your favorites? You can let us know in the comments!
… And We'll Be Back
With that, you've made it through what'll (probably) be our biggest update. Next time, we'll be sharing details on how we're bringing this feisty Yordle from hell into the game, with updates on her character model and rigging. We might even have a sneak peek of some of the sound design.
See ya on Nexus in two weeks!
Little Demon Tristana: Model & SFX
BY EDBIGHEAD245, ANDMOONY, RIOT BEINHAR & SEMIPRICEYSOAP
It's been about four weeks since Little Demon Tristana began production. In our last update, we shared why we chose Tristana for this round of voting, some of our VFX explorations, and an early look at her splash art.
At the same time all of that stuff was happening, other members of our team were busy working in parallel—but we didn't want to write a 10,000 word essay on skin dev! (At least, not all in one post… ) Today we've got new stuff to share about her character model, rigging, animation, VFX, and SFX. Let's jump in.
Sculpting the Little Demon
Trevor “EdBighead245” Carr, Senior Character Artist: The model for a skin or champion is basically the character you see in game. It's made up of a bunch of polygons with textures wrapped around them. Making a character model is a bit like digital sculpting, with a bunch of techy stuff mixed in to get the sculpture to work in the game engine.
Traditionally, character modeling begins after the concept art is complete, but on League, we usually start helping out before the concept is completely locked. Most of the time that means we sew pieces of older character models together to see how the concept might work in the game. We want to make sure the 2D drawing won't run into any issues when it's moving around in 3D, like clipping (which is where one part of the character passes through another) or other things that don't look right from League's top-down camera angle.
We call this first hodge-podge model a proxy. For Little Demon Tristana, we frankensteined her proxy using her base skin's face, Demon Vi's horns and hair, the body and gun from Omega Squad, and some wings and a tail from Little Devil Teemo.
After the team is sure the idea is going to work, the real fun begins! I sculpted Tristana's concept in 3D using the program Zbrush to get all the main shapes in and to get the essence of the design translated into something that you can turn around and look at from any angle.
This is as close to real sculpting as we get, since these programs use millions of polygons to simulate a surface that can be worked like clay. This is also the time I get to ask the concept artist what the heck they were trying to show when they scribbled in some shapes they thought no one would see—like Tristana's spiked belt that was previously covered by her hand.
There were some things about Tristana's outfit that weren't all that fleshed out, so I took a few ideas from the early splash layouts and from Demon Vi's original skin (since it was pretty sweet), and I made up a few of my own. Once the team felt like the essence of Little Demon was fleshed out faithfully, it was time to move on!
The final model sculpt has way too many polygons for our game engine, so we need to optimize it and make the final in-game mesh. When we “retop” a model (which is short for “retopologizing”), we rebuild a new mesh on top of the one we originally sculpted. This new mesh is our final “low-poly” model, and it's what you'll actually see in the game. For League, these low-poly meshes are made up of around 7,000-10,000 triangles. It's like tracing in 3D! I draw the low-poly mesh on top of the high-poly sculpt.
When creating this mesh, it's important to think about the character's silhouette. I want to have enough polys so that all of the curved edges feel smooth from the in-game camera distance, but not so many that a potato computer will choke and die trying to render it, since the game engine (and your graphics card) are thinking about all the points in this mesh in real-time, every single frame! I also worry about animation, since each joint needs enough polys to be able to bend properly without breaking or looking goofy.
I'm still working on her texturing now, so next time we'll have more to share about her character modeling. (But for a preview, you can check out the videos later in this post!)
Bones, Joints, and Tails
Moonyoung “ANDMoonY” Oh, Technical Artist: At first, a champion or skin's character model is still and lifeless, kind of like a doll. For Tristana, I helped turn that motionless model into a real demon yordle, with bones, joints, and controls that our animator can then use to create her movement. This process is called rigging.
All rigs are made of components, which are like blueprints containing codes for the joints and controls of common character features. These components are basically body parts; there are components for arms, legs, spines, wings, and so on. Tech artists use these existing components to build new rigs for champions and skins. Basically, we tell the program to put to arms there, a head here, a spine there… then the program uses the scripts attached to each body part to create a unique rig.
Sometimes we need to create new components when there's something new to rig, which is exactly what I had to do for Little Devil Teemo's tail! (Yes, I'm the father of the Little Devil himself… ) For Tristana, I was actually able to use the tail component I built for Teemo, which can help animate tails and capes much faster automatically. When I tested the setup, Tristana's tail was a little too “sticky,” so I adjusted it using the tool, which made her tail's movement more “soft” and natural-looking.
Bringing Tristana to Life
Einar “Riot Beinhar” Langfjord, Associate Animator: As an animator on a skin you are responsible for the movement and the personality of a character. It's very important that the animation of a character reads easily and feels good to play. One of the most noticeable animations we make for Epic skins is the recall animation; it's a great way for us to showcase what makes the skin special through a story beat. But we'll talk more about the recall next time since I'm just getting started on it!
As animators, we also look for opportunities elsewhere in the skin to add some extra animation flavor to the character without changing it so much that it feels very different to use. We saw some cool opportunities for some unique animations for Little Demon Tristana. For this skin, we focused on a new animation for her fiery hair, a custom fly animation when she uses Rocket Jump, and giving some life to her tail.
For her W, we knew we wanted to include her wings somehow. What's the point of having spooky bat wings if you're not planning to use them? We started looking at options for how Tristana would land after her jump: Does she use the momentum of the air to dunk her gun down as she lands? Or maybe she dives face first into danger, asking questions about if that was a good idea later!
We went with the face-first dive bomb because we felt like it embodied the spirit of Little Devil Tristana the most, plus it secretly embodying the spirit of “Solo Queue hero mode.”
We also took a look at Tristana's hair animations. I know, that sure sounds exciting! Let's up the stakes a bit: What if the hair was made of DEMON FIRE? How would this fire hair move compared to regular, boring normal hair? We first have to research fire a bit. Fire can be very erratic and aggressive; even flames in a fireplace can be pretty wild and exciting.
The problem with this type of fire is that it can be very distracting in game. So many elements in the game are fighting for your eyes' attention already. We want players to focus on what's happening on the battlefield, not on Tristana's explosive hairstyle, so we have to dial her animations back a fair bit. A burning candle seems more up our alley, keeping the hair feeling constantly alive, but not so distracting that it steals players' attention. Here's where we're at currently.
A Song of Screams and Fire
Alison “semipriceysoap” Ho, Sound Designer: Hello! I'm semipriceysoap, Tristana's sound designer. Tristana's Little Demon concepts provided a challenge as her gun is a creature that breathes fire… which is something her Dragon Trainer skin also includes. However, seeing Sirhaian's spectral VFX and reading through initial reactions from all of you to the Little Demon announcement, many people seemed to crave a more hardcore and aggressive Tristana. Dragon Trainer Tristana's gun leaned into the cutesy nature of Riggle, so this gave us some room to explore fire from a darker and spookier direction.
These are some of the raw screams and breaths we previously recorded for Little Devil Teemo and other projects: link
I then combined them with library sounds of fire and animal vocals and put it through some processing, which gave me this: link
I'm using this and other spooky sounds to build out Tristana's kit. You can hear her work-in-progress sound effects in the video below, in addition to the direction we're heading for her VO processing (more on that next time!).
Kevin “Sirhaian” Leroy, VFX Artist: We've refined and polished Tristana's VFX! Everything is still WIP, but we're liking the direction of the spirit fire, so I'm going to continue polishing it up until the end of production. So far I've added more soul effects and replaced the Teemo bomb with something more easily identifiable and less noisy (the soul orb). I've also started adjusting the colors over her whole kit, trying to differentiate her projectiles to make sure her basic attacks, crits, Q, E, and R all read as their own unique effects. There's also some new VFX on her wings in the W jump, runes in her R, and more details overall!
Here's a preview of the current in-game state for Little Demon Tristana:
We'll keep polishing the kit until we feel like it's good to go, and we'll also have her recall VFX to make.
At this point, you've seen a lot of the work that goes into making a skin! *whew* But we're not done. We still have to finish up her recall, sound design, splash art, and all of the other things needed to wrap up a skin—like QA, localization, publishing, PBE launch, post-launch surveys, and more. In the next post, we'll be sharing more about Little Demon Tristana's SFX and VO processing, plus we'll have an update on her animations and character model.
But before we go… remember the splash art thumbnails from the last update? We heard that “little edgelord of hell on a throne” was the overall favorite, so we're moving forward with that design. Thanks a lot for all of your input so far—we'll be listening to your thoughts until the end of development, so keep ‘em coming!
The Latest on Little Demon Tristana
BY EDBIGHEAD245, RIOT BEINHAR, SEMIPRICEYSOAP & RIOT ZIMBERFLY
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.
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: Link
And here's a sample from the audio “building blocks” I created: Link
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. Link
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: Link
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: Link
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: Link
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. Link
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. Link
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!
Little Demon Tristana: Splash Art and Chromas
BY JENNIFER WUESTLING, RIOT LEXICAL & RIOT STELLARI
It's the penultimate update for Little Demon Tristana, and today we're sharing the latest progress on her chromas and how we created her splash art. Since Tristana just jumped into PBE this week, our final update will focus on the finishing touches that go into skin development, and we'll also have a time-lapse video of her splash art illustration to share.
Jennifer Wuestling, Illustrator: Hi, I'm the illustrator for Little Demon Tristana's splash art! A lot has happened since our first update, back when we posted the black and white thumbnail sketches for her splash. It's been a while, so here are those early sketches again.
Once the team decided to go with this design, the next thing I did was make some color variations, which is something we do to see what mood or color scheme fits the character and scene. We quickly decided that a warm color scheme would be a nice contrast to the cool blues she has in her hair and fire VFX.
Before I go full into rendering—which is where I clean up the image and round-by-round paint in more details—I refine the thumbnail, solving issues while the image is still small and tweaks are relatively easy to do without spending too much time. Composition, lighting, anatomy, and values should all be solid at this stage, and when it's viewed as small thumbnail, it should look close to what we want the final splash to look like. We call this stage the “greenlight stage.”
After it's green-lit by the team, I move into rendering. Before starting, I size up the image and “mask” the various elements—like her skin, clothes, horns, and hair—so that they're all on separate layers. I try to group things that don't touch or overlap onto one layer so that I can keep my layer count low and less confusing. Everything that has the same crazy color is typically on the same layer; for example, her hands, horns, and clothes are all marked in blue.
Not all artists in the team work the same way or with this method, and some artists separate layers later in the process. But it's generally useful to have the elements in layers, that way we can move things around without affecting other areas.
When detailing and cleaning up the painting, I usually go from big to small, trying to give all areas a raw finish first. Then I do another round going further into details. The sharp, small details—such as dents and scratches on her horns, her freckles, and the zipper on her jacket—and the VFX—like the sparks in the air and the golden light from the top—are painted in some of the final rounds.
Since the whole splash art process can take 4–6 weeks and it's easy to lose sight of what to improve, we do a review meeting every day for each other in the team. I usually ask for feedback there once or twice a week. We get lots of useful feedback; others might catch things I don't see anymore after working so long on one piece. Every now and then, we also do paintovers for each other which sometimes can be more helpful than words. In the paintover below, Alvin Lee (another illustrator) helped me make the perspective of the upshot more solid, specifically with the throne (see how it fits into the slightly bent rectangle) and the circle of Teemos.
I hope this gives you some insight on how we work on the splash art for skins. I'm excited to share the full process video in the next update!
Alexia “Riot Lexical” Gao, Product Manager: We begin making chromas for a skin as soon as the concept is locked, working in parallel to the skin's development. The first step is to kick off an ideation for the chromas, where we looked at the concepts for Little Demon Tristana as well as the original three pillars. While we want each of the chromas to feel different, they still need to be within the boundaries of these pillars—chromas are meant to give more customization options for a skin, not an alternative skin.
For Little Demon Tristana, our pillars were:
Adorable and demonic, not “edgy”
Right-hand yordle of Little Devil Teemo
Fiery and mischievous
We look to see if there are any areas or pillars which we can push a bit further. This is the fun part where we can go wild exploring directions before we rein it back in: What about fiery or icy devil Tristana? Shadow Isles demon Tristana? Or maybe even a banana devil Tristana who's out to punish all those who don't eat enough potassium?!? (Just kidding.) For each of the chroma ideas we like, we search for references to build a mood board. Next we sort these ideas by colors, which the concept artist will then use to create a variety of designs.
Generally, we try to create a spread of 8–10 designs so there's room to select the best. We review each of the designs as a team, and sometimes we'll mix and match elements between different concepts, kind of like a fun dress-up game. We'll also put these designs side-by-side with other Tristana skins to compare them, checking to see if any of the color palettes are already in use.
During this time, Little Demon Tristana's base skin is being tweaked and polished. We have to be diligent with these changes so that we can make the necessary adjustments to the chromas as well. Once we lock-in the chroma concepts, we bring them to life by painting the “peeled orange” for each of the chromas. We're essentially changing the design and colors painted onto this “peel,” which is also known as the skin's texture, rather than any other elements of the skin.
Once all of the chromas are done, we put them into the game to review. During the polish phase, we'll touch up the chromas, review, and repeat. This process happens continuously up to and through PBE to make sure that feedback is addressed and the team feels good about the chromas' quality. Like skins, we can perfect each chroma till the end of time, so at this stage, it's about balancing the extra effort with the additional value. There's no perfect science or checklist—it's a gut feeling that we validate through players' sentiments during PBE.
Ultimately, we want each of the chromas to be unique, which gives skin owners more personalization options from game to game. We do our best to continuously get better, and we hope that you like these chromas :)
Off to PBE!
Janelle “Riot Stellari” Jimenez, Product Manager: Well, you're probably feeling around now, “wait, isn't this skin done?” Yes, yes it is. This is around the point we'd call a skin shippable or ready to ship. As any artist or perfectionist knows, you can polish and “perfect” something forever (and still never release it). My job as a product lead and a producer is to know when to call a skin complete so our team can move on. This sounds easy enough, but with a very passionate team, all of us need to be told “okay, pencils down for real,” every now and then.
For Little Demon Tristana, we considered this skin shippable approximately two weeks ago and moved on to the next project. Our next step is to release this to PBE (where she's at now!), where we'll sweep for any bugs we didn't already catch, fix any errors in cohesion between the splash and model that we missed, and listen to player feedback. In the best cases, there's only minor bugs or tweaks to address.
In our final post, we'll be sharing what (if any) PBE feedback we applied to the final skin and why (or why not), as well as discussing how we look at results and team health. We'll also be sharing a time-lapse video of the splash art illustration. See you in two weeks!
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