Netflix’s Arcane Interview: Editors on the Action and Emotion

Arcane is now available on Netflix, and it brings the world of League of Legends to life as an animated series. Two worlds collide as tension builds between the rich city of Piltover and the underground city of Zaun, and in the middle of all the carnage are Vi, Jinx, Caitlyn, Jayce and Viktor. The series has been praised by fans and critics alike, with a 100% Tomatometer and a 96% Audience Score. (Check out our review here).

One of the many highlights in the Netflix and Riot Games series is the editing, with the pacing allowing viewers to truly absorb the world-building and the emotional story. Nerd Reactor had the chance to interview Lawrence Gan and Ernesto Matamoros-Cox, two of the editors of Arcane. Check it out below.

Nerd Reactor: Can you give us some insight on how you have worked together on this project?

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: Sure. You know, animation projects or animation, in general, tend to have multiple editors for different reasons. If it’s a show, we’re doing multiple episodes at a time. Or if it’s a feature, you have an associate editor, you have assistant editors, and sometimes different things are assigned to different people by the main editor if it’s a feature or different episodes if it’s a series. Lawrence and I, along with the editors at Fortiche in France, would split up episodes and also tackle different things within the episodes as well.

What was the collaboration like since you guys are doing this remotely?

Lawrence Gan: With anything, we definitely miss a lot of the sort of in-person, like being in the same room, being able to brainstorm together. But after, [it’s] a little bit of getting used to the tech stuff, kind of finding your rhythm again. Honestly, Ernesto and I work pretty well together. We hate each other’s guts all the time. [laughs] But we have very different approaches to storytelling and things like that, and we actually complement each other really well. When it comes to it, the thing we usually go with is if both of us like the idea, then it’s usually okay. But if one of us doesn’t, then there’s usually a good reason for that.

Was there ever any like, “No, it’s got to be like this,” or “I believe in this”?

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: Like any collaborative creative process, people have their tastes and their style of doing stuff. While we do have our own flavor of things, we actually tend to align pretty well on a lot of stuff more often than not. Actually, we tend to align on a lot of things, which is part of the reason why we partnered up since Arcane. When we were on Arcane originally, we were actually on the lot at Riot, which was really great. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Riot lot, but it’s like a campus. It’s amazing. It’s like it was created by kids and geeks and nerds that love the stuff. So everywhere you go, you’re like, “Oh my god! That’s amazing! Oh, that’s incredible! Hey, that’s really great!”

Lawrence Gan: VR rooms, arcade rooms. That kind of stuff.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: But yeah, it’s like any creative process. You voice your opinion if you feel strongly about something. You defend your opinion. I think we both have started using the word challenge rather than disagree. And I think it helps like, “Okay, well, I’m not saying that that’s a bad idea, but let me challenge that idea with something.” Or “This is why I think that we should challenge this idea, and let’s see if maybe we can make something that one of us disagrees with into something that we both really like.”

Lawrence Gan: Mutual respect is pretty important. Because if I didn’t respect Ernesto’s opinion, I wouldn’t take a step back if he was like, “This doesn’t quite work for me.” I was like, “Okay, there might be a good reason for that.” And it’s time to look a little deeper kind of thing.


Before tackling this project, how big of a fan were you guys of League of Legends?

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: So me personally, I came onto the project first and I was actually not aware of League of Legends at all. It was so weird because I do play a lot of video games, and I watch a lot of animation and anime and am really into geek culture. So it was really weird that it went under my radar. But once I was asked to come aboard, I definitely did a lot of research even before I went in for the first interview. I was just blown away by the quality of stuff that they were producing, not just the video game, but the cinematics that they were producing. The music videos that they were doing were just phenomenal. And it really got my attention in a way and sparked excitement. I think that it’s been a while since something had really grabbed me like that. But since then, we play League all the time and deep dove into the entire universe. I think we both did.

Lawrence Gan: Yeah, I definitely knew of League. I played a little. This kind of dates me too, but I was a Cassiopeia main-mid and Veigar main-mid, basically. So I knew of League, but I will agree with Ernesto that once we joined the project, there were weekly team battles where we would [have] art versus writers or editors versus whatever. Culture is huge at Riot. Ernesto really hit it on the head. It’s like being on a campus created by geeks and nerds. That’s part of what makes the series good is that it’s being created by the people who are fans of it, who play it and want to see these characters more developed in their universes.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: It wasn’t just outsourced to a vendor to say, “Okay, well, hey, make this for us.” The partnership with Fortiche in France was so symbiotic. It wasn’t just, “Okay, well Fortiche, we come from the animation and film world.” This was my first time, and I think Lawrence’s first time as well, working at a video game company that was doing something like this. We had to really quickly get rid of the term vendor because they weren’t a vendor. They’re not a vendor. They are creative partners. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. And it shows in the quality of the show. The moment you see it, you really get into it. You’re like, “Oh, this was made by people that aren’t just great animators and great artists and whatnot. This is made by people that love this property.”


What was that like working with the people that are just really entrenched in this League of Legends lore? Were there any inputs on if this character would be like this, or this character would be like that, or moments where you see, “Oh, this is definitely something they would do.” For example, Vi when she gets the gauntlets, something that pleases the fans out there.

Lawrence Gan: Yeah, there are no shortcuts. When you’re working with the people who created the property, you can’t just brush it to the side like, “Oh, we’re just not gonna do that in this TV show.” Our main characters obviously have abilities in the games and things like that; I was pretty impressed at how organically we were able to work in their abilities into the show.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: Yeah, it wasn’t like all of a sudden they were just like, “Yo, hit the ‘R,’ hit the ‘R’ now!” Like randomly. As people that worked on the show and edited on the show, even we at times were like, “Oh my God, that’s right.” We were surprised by things that we had forgotten about.

Lawrence Gan: It’s because you get so caught up in their stories. While the game is a lot of fun to play, it’s not particularly a narrative, intensive game. So this is the first time, as fans, we actually get to kind of dive into the stories behind these characters. You get so caught up in the story that, honestly, when those fanservice moments come, you’re like, “Oh, that’s right. That’s their thing.”

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: Lawrence and I have spoken about this in great detail. The creators love the property; it’s their property. They made sure that it wasn’t just fanservice, fanservice, fanservice, fanservice. Because it has to be something that somebody that doesn’t know about League can jump into and watch it like, “Wow, this is a really cool show.” Yeah, it’s like any anime that you would watch, but that you may have never seen before. You jump into it. You may not have read the Attack on Titan manga, but if you jump into Attack on Titan, you’re like, “Oh, this is great right!” Or Fullmetal [Alchemist]. You may not have done that, but you jump into the show, you’re like, “Oh man, this is amazing!” Arcane definitely hits that checkmark where it broke through a lot of the video game adaptation hiccup and stigma. It really broke through and was like, “Wow, this is a really good show.”


The show has a lot of emotional aspects and also violence. I didn’t expect that from this animated series. There are other Netflix animated series that really go hardcore, like Love, Death & Robots. But this one, it’s still a video game trying to cater to different types of crowds. I still was shocked by certain moments, like the fights, the choreography, how hard the punches were. What was it like for you editing that and asking, “Is this too much? Or can we go even further?

Lawrence Gan: This is something Ernesto and I talk about all the time. A lot of our background is animation editing, and so we’re very, very familiar with the pigeonhole that animation gets put in oftentimes. It’s usually one of the two things: either family-friendly (like four-quadrant pictures) or it’s kind of your late-night sitcom (like Family Guy-esque kind of stuff), right? And so, Christian Linke approached us with Arcane and told us his vision for the show. You touched on it with Love, Death & Robots. The idea of doing an animated show that wasn’t in one of those two buckets, that was essentially just a live-action show that had all the raw, emotional core of human struggles and philosophical questions. That’s a rarity in our business and something we’re super excited about doing more of, frankly.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: It’s so funny, you hit on something that isn’t very commonly pointed out. And you said when the punches hit, you really feel that thing. Yeah. We played with Fortiche. The guys at Fortiche are also huge geeks. One of the main directors, Arnaud, we used to get lost in comic book talk for hours. He loves anime, he loves manga, and we played a lot with the illusion of force. Something that anime does really, really well is that moment of impact. [Does hitting sound] You can create really super fast moments, but you need to let that moment of impact really hit and feel. You’ll notice in later episodes how Fortiche artistically plays with this idea in such a beautiful stylistic way, and you can see it sometimes in the trailer as well. That shot where Vi jumps down and she punches that dude in the armor. There’s like a flash frame in there that if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it. But it goes almost into this 2D flash frame where you really feel that hit.

Early on when we were on the lot, we did get a chance to go to France way before everything shut down. I have a really strong martial arts background and Lawrence does as well. And we got to play around a lot with the choreography with Fortiche and the directors there, so it was super fun. We have some videos and pictures of things, like deep-dive stuff, where you see us in the basement there just talking about choreography and punching and moving, and this is super fun stuff.

Was there motion capture?

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: No motion capture.

Wow. Because of the facial animation. I was really impressed by it. It’s probably the best that I’ve seen on Netflix.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: Love hearing that.

Lawrence Gan: The action hits hard. The emotions hit hard as well. You know the things we’re talking about as far as like they really kicked you in the gut, like both ways.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: I think all of us collectively, even Christian Linke, when we talk about how excited we are about everything and all the episodes, I think we all go to the same place, which is the end of episode three.


It’s very emotional for episode three, and there’s going to be some tension between Jinx and Vi. I really liked how the show just really focuses on that, and the rise and fall of their relationship. I love that the show just lets it sit and lets you see where it goes and how far things will collapse.

Lawrence Gan: Right, like, it’s really fascinating to both of us. This is a video game company. Riot Games really brought their A-game when tackling this property. They’re not holding back, they really wanted to create something that people will remember, and I think we succeeded.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: You know, the show really touches on different themes. There are the haves and the have nots, the relationships, the things that we all kind of can relate to like grief and loss, and mistakes that we wish that we could take back. And that really affects lives moving forward. I think that fans have always asked the question, “What happened to Jinx that made her this crazy?” Whatever it was, it had to be something that people could be like, “Oh, yeah, that tracks. Yeah, absolutely.” We think that did a really good job, making people feel that and really understand and also build to that as well.

Lawrence Gan: Also, I want to say that I think we found a good way to make it topical too because we’re dealing with all these fantasy and fictional characters. But one of my favorite ones, I think Heimerdinger is the one that says it that feels very relevant today, it’s the idea that this world used to be a single, single world, and then now it’s a house divided. I feel like everyone kind of relates to that sentiment nowadays. It’s just so cool that something that we started so long ago just happens to kind of align with the way society is right now.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: The topsiders are leaving us further and further behind.

I do want to talk about the original songs. What are the guidelines for that, and did you have a lot of leeways?

Lawrence Gan: I think from the get-go, music has always been a pretty strong element to the show. I mean, I don’t know how much people know about Christian Linke, but if you do a little bit of digging, you’ll find that he also has a pretty strong music background. So when we were told that we’re going to be having people like Imagine Dragons and things like that on the show, it really wasn’t necessarily a surprise that we were gonna be doing stuff like that. But it was important that we found organic places to put them. Some of them, as you’re aware, is more upfront than others are, but we do find ways to weave original songs. It’s a killer album, frankly, of songs for the first season.

Ernesto Matamoros-Cox: They’ve released a slate of songs that are going to be coming out in incremental drops. And when we were working on the animatics for it, originally the song that ends episode three during all that shenanigans, we had a temp version of that song all ready to use in the animatic. And when I first heard that song, I think I played it on loop 1000 times, mainly because it was just instrumental for so long until the chorus and it was Christian Linke singing at that time. And he did, I believe, the 10th vocals for it. And yeah, to follow up on Lawrence, he was a rock star in Europe for many years before he moved to the US. He’s a really, really successful musical musician. And so it was really great because the tones, the mandate for music and stuff like that was very clear right out of the gate. We had a lot to play with, and it wasn’t your typical animated series.

The interview of the Arcane editors has been edited for length and clarity.

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