“Arcane” and the Future of Animation

Rebecca Caulton, Staff Writer

After the trailer of Riot’s TV show “Arcane” dropped, the internet buzzed with anticipation due to the unique animation and rich worldbuilding displayed. While many were hesitant about the curse of mediocre videogame adaptations, “Arcane” pleasantly surprised its viewers by going above and beyond in almost every sense. Currently, it sits at 100% at Rotten Tomatoes with a 96% audience score. A universal praise of the show is how fresh and unique the art feels. 100% of students said that the art style seemed unique and they preferred it to traditional 3D animation. Junior Katie Cheng explains how the animation of “Arcane” felt like “something new… I do not like when 3D animation looks too realistic or cartoonistic, but ‘Arcane’ looks 2D but 3D.” Many people compared it to “Into the Spiderverse,” another animated work acclaimed for its unique style influenced by comic books. Behind the animation of “Arcane” was a small studio in France that rose through to the top through their innovation of 2D and 3D mixed animation.

Before understanding why this studio is so important to the future of animation you have to look back at the relationship France has with animation. France was one of the first countries to ever venture into animation and animation’s pioneer, Emile Reynaud, was a Frenchman who produced ’luminous pantomimes’ that were the first filmed cartoons. But as France saw a future as the leading animation producer, World War II destroyed the French economy and animation saw a halt. When polled, the average rating by IHS students of French’s global influence on animation was around 4 or 5 (with countries like Japan and America rated towards the top). In reality, France is rated #3 worldwide and #1 in Europe for animation production due to the many efforts made by the French government since World War II.  According to Faguowenhua, A pivotal moment in animation history that led to this investment in animation by the French government was the success of “Michel Ocelot’s 1998 film, Kirikou and the Sorceress… [which] marked a real turning point in the history of French animation, and proved the profitability of this type of cinema to investors.” While little animation was successful after WWII, “Kirikou and the Sorceress” saw a turning point as animation production sky rocketed.

To increase their animation presence, France has created laws to push original animations. According to Animation in Europe, “Local broadcasters France Télévisions (FTV), TF1 Group, M6 Group, Canal+ Group, Largadère Active and Disney are required by law to invest portions of their revenue into original animated content.” The catch, and a large reason why French animation does not tend to make it into international markets, is there is no requirement on what the original work is. With less money, funded studios take the affordable option is to make animated TV shows rather than movies. TV shows tend to have a hard time marketing themselves towards international audiences which has resulted in a massive branch of animation overlooked by U.S. audiences. To help illustrate just how important French animation is to American audiences, three of the top 10 animation schools are French, with the number one spot being held by Gobelins. While many Americans may not know Gobelins by name, many are familiar with their students’ required animated shorts, Senior Cynthia Han says, “[I watch] a lot of animation shorts… Just students as their finals.” Gobelins students are fiercely fought over and Gobelins is one of the most historic animation schools in the world, having been opened in 1964. According to Gobelins, “GOBELINS’ animation training programs have an insertion rate of close to 100%”. Within the animation world, Gobelins is a household name.

One of the hardest challenges of animation internationally is to match the magic of hand drawn 2D animation while using the technology of 3D animation. 3D animation is an obvious choice for many companies. It can be cheaper, much quicker and for a long time the world of 2D and 3D animation stayed separate. When 3D and 2D integration did occur, it was using 3D models for environments, characters, or camera movements. Think of animation sequences in “Tarzan” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame” with quick camera motions and changes in perspective. 3D is often also used to simulate particles as simulating a dust cloud in Blender is much faster and less technically challenging than hand animating. Where this ties into “Arcane” is how the French Studio Fortiche broke this precedent.

Fortiche’s first partnerships with Riot show of this subversion, as in their “Get Jinxed” music video rather than using 3D effects, Fortiche’s hand animated dust cloud, explosions, and light rays giving it a unique and cartoony feel. Their later collaboration with Riot on the “Warriors” music video shows another unique part of their current style, hand painted 3D models. While Fortiche is not completely transparent about their animation process, it is known that they use a very uncommon technique for Arcane of 3D sculpting and animating the characters first and then rotoscoping over the 3D animation with traditional 2D animation. This method is rarely used as it combines the costs of both a 3D animated movie with then almost re-doing the animation over as 2D while using the 3D as guidelines. This allows Fortiche’s works to include dramatic perspective changes that are simple in 3D environments that still leave 2D characters consistent and smooth. One of the fathers of this technique Juanjo Guarnido, an animation specialist who worked on films such as “Tarzan,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Atlantis” later collaborated with Fortiche on the “Freak of the Week” animation video for the band Freak Kitchen in 2014 and displays a gorgeous style influenced by Disney drawn over elaborate 3D rigs. According to  Cartoon Brew, “Juanjo Guarnido… raised over $140,000 on Kickstarter to produce “Freak of the Week,” a music video for the Swedish rock band Freak Kitchen”.

Overall, Fortiche’s collaborations with Riot before “Arcane” resulted in over a billion total views on their animated music videos. Sophomore Ryu Dy states this established familiarity with Fortiche’s style as a strength of Arcane “The plot is good but I think I like the unique art style because it really shows it’s like League’s animatics and cinematics, it’s consistent with some of the other stuff they’ve done.” Every IHS student I interviewed responded that they intended to support works with similar styles as Arcane in the future which is a promising sign that audiences are ready to see more animation that uniquely mixes the strengths of 2D and 3D animation.

Hopefully, with the success of “Arcane”, French animation will receive more global attention. While most of the IHS students I asked stated that they were not aware of the studio behind “Arcane,” freshman Emerson Lau told me that he knows “‘Arcane’ was created by a French animation studio,” which is hopeful sign towards greater exposure. What’s most hopeful is that all students I asked said that they would look forward to supporting more works with experimental and technical art styles like in “Arcane”. Within the next decade French animation might finally get its deserved global recognition.