Rise of the Thorns: Inside the Art of Zyra
The road to create a champion occasionally has some bumps along the way. Zyra, Rise of the Thorns, is no exception. Originally, the concept of a plant-based champion was in our designer’s heads for over a year. Try after try, it just never felt perfect. Different concept art, multiple kits, loads of designers – Zyra saw it all. Finally, the brush parted to reveal the final concept that just kicked ass and worked on all levels.
But don’t take our word for it: Katie "RiotTeaTime" De Sousa, Sam King, and Marco "OCRAM818" Bustos are here to dish out the inside dirt on Zyra, from the style of her splash art and abilities to the challenge of creating the soundscape for a plant person.
Riot: What aspects of her character had to come out in the splash? Zyra’s splash art feels a bit different than others.
Katie: She’s feral, she’s vicious and she hurts a lot. Zyra is also beautiful, but at the same time, you know just by looking at her that she’s going to hurt. You want to look but not touch – every plant mage has her thorns, you could say.
Drawing Zyra in the middle of the plants, in the middle of the thicket, lends itself to her predatory nature. She’s lurking and waiting in the trees.
Riot: Were there any unique challenges associated with her being a plant?
Katie: Rendering her materials. You know, what she’s built out of? I didn’t want it to be human skin, since she isn’t human, so I made it more of a speckly, iridescent material. She has sparkles and speckles that glint. Subsurface scattering was really important for her plant-like characteristics, giving her that translucency that plants have.
Riot: For the sake of our readers, can you explain what subsurface scattering is?
Katie: You know how you put a flashlight behind your hand and you can see some of the light pass through, and it spreads through the skin? Try it! That’s subsurface scattering – the way the light scatters as it passes through her body.
Riot: How does a champion’s role factor into her presentation in the splash art?
Katie: For a damage dealer, like an AD or AP carry, we make them look dangerous. For a support champ, for instance, we wouldn’t have that character punching a dude in the face. We have to make Zyra menacing, while still adhering to the established personality. We make the damage dealers look like they can do damage.
Riot: Zyra’s plants are a signature part of her kit. How did you incorporate the plants into her splash art?
Katie: Look closer! Her plants are in the splash art! You can see them on the far right, on the left. We didn’t want them to overshadow her, as they are a part of her, and the background elements are moving away from her to give her a path. It’s not malicious but nature moves with her, ya know?
Riot: Zyra’s spell effects and animations were particularly involved, especially those related to her ultimate ability, Stranglethorns. What were some of the challenges in creating them?
Sam: There are a lot of animation components to her abilities and ultimate. There aren’t a lot of effects on top of her abilities, so to speak, but they act as a framework to lead the animation. To make them look more natural, we decided to animate most of her abilities, rather than use a lot of heavy spell effects.
The ultimate is a good example of this: we wanted to blanket the field with vines and brambles and thorns and stuff. Really give it a busy feel, since nature itself was springing forth from the ground at Zyra’s command. We had to ask ourselves how we could create a bed of vines that didn’t get in the way of the action of the game, and didn’t confuse players, while still looking kickass at the same time. My thinking was to create some basic shapes that we could duplicate to grow as much as we needed.
The approach we took gave us a lot of flexibility to work with the ultimate’s vines. Now, Stranglethorns is many vicious vines in multiple layers, spread out over a bunch of duplications. It was truly the blanket of tendrils we were going for, without being a nuisance. We actually scaled back a lot from the initial concept because we wanted to see more of Zyra’s plants and spells interacting with her. It also needed to look thorny and vicious.
Animation made it look really cool and did the job well. If we had taken an effects-heavy approach, from a tech and “look” standpoint, the iterations would take longer. The way we did it took a shorter amount of time and looks cooler!
Riot: What were some of the challenges you faced with capturing Zyra’s look and theme?
Sam: Zyra’s art and assets all have to look like they come from our universe, with lots of design parameters, colors, color palette, animations – it all has to gel with the world we’ve created. When you’ve got Zyra and her plants, you have to keep the connection between them all.
Riot: So what does a plant sound like? Did you go outside and listen to plants?
Marco: I’ve never worked on plant sounds before, or even thought about what a plant sounds like. I went outside and started to hang out with plants, you know? Walk around with them, see how they move, snap one or two to listen and feel. One idea that came to me happened during a champion meeting. Someone said, “Did you know that if you put a high-powered microphone near plants, you can hear them scream?” There was something in there, an element to that I could use to give Zyra’s sound some depth, an element that would represent life.
I had started with a “magical” approach, something very much about her power and magical-nature. She’s a magical being, right? But as I kept going it just wasn’t matching and didn’t feel right to approach Zyra from a magical perspective – she needed to be grounded, so to speak, in the earth and with the heavy sounds of nature.
The new approach was to blend creature sounds like boars, lions, and other wild creatures together and then start hitting vegetables like bell peppers, celery, lettuce, and grapefruit to give her an inhuman sound. She doesn’t have skin, right? She’s got this plant-like shell around her. I wanted it to sound fibrous and crunchy, and add in some bigger sounds that were a bit juicy and slimy. She had to feel alive.
After I added all of those pieces together, I created a blend and texture as a base for her sound. Zyra was sounding pretty slimy, so I added in wood creaks, whip smacks, arrow impacts and more to give her a heartier sound for her abilities and her plants. You can hear it all inside everything, from her emotes to her spell abilities – Zyra sounds perfectly inhuman.
For the ground-ripping sound of the ultimate, I went with some natural devastation – avalanches, etc. Think about that natural rumbling sound. It felt perfect, since nature was literally shaking and rumbling and then violently erupting with vines before quickly pulling back in. There is the feeling that a huge creature is right below you.
Riot: What was the toughest part about Zyra’s sound design?
Marco: She’s very different, right? When you’re designing for a guy with a sword you go get a sword and swing it around for a little bit. For Zyra, she’s a plant that has to sound like she’s coming from this game world, so it was a bit trickier. You have to really use your imagination and figure out what a plant woman sounds like because it probably won’t be what you think.
Every day I’d come in to work and start playing Zyra, getting to know her. I watched to see if she needed an idle sound, or new approaches for the ways Zyra can combo her abilities. Making sure that the sounds were never in conflict with each other, so they didn’t sound edited or unnatural when abilities were used one after the other was definitely an involving process.
Riot: Do any of you have some big take-aways from Zyra or final thoughts?
Katie: I can draw vines now! A whole bunch of vines…
Sam: Zyra’s kit had to feel very organic, which is tough for spell effects since everything is moving; everything needs to be color-coordinated and themed correctly. You really have to get into the playing space to have something to jump off the cliff with, and then when you’re half-way down, falling out of control, you can pull something together to hold onto and create this really cool champion. The process requires a lot of faith, iteration, and teamwork, especially on difficult champions like Zyra. We’re really happy with how her animations and effects came out. There was a lot of collaboration that went on and I have to give shout-outs to every person who has had a hand in her creation.
Marco: I think we’ve set a new bar in terms of what plant-people sound like. She was a lot of fun, and a real unique challenge. I think players are going to enjoy the hell out of her.
Yessss, love Zyra's design and all evil girl infested look (Kerrigan).
Shame she isn't coming out this patch though... still she is worth the wait!
EDIT: To answer how I'm usually on the first page... I usually just get a gut feeling and check the Announcements and it pops up. They usually post about the same time each week and I guess I've developed a subconscious clock for it? This time I was refreshing every 3 or 4 minutes hoping to link to my Quality of Life thread for the patch notes. Not sure if they are coming out tonight, but EU got them (http://eune.leagueoflegends.com/boar...d.php?t=466019) and figured they'd be up here soon. For those interested in the QoL suggestion thread check it out here: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/....php?t=2026965
Nice Look, Can't way to try her out in the next patch after this one.
How does Stexe always make it on the first page of every annoucement lol.
Keep making these interesting reads!
Queen of Blades skin plx
So.. Is this supposed to hold us down until she's finally released at a later date? ):
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