Chatting with Riot's Senior Artist, Jonboy Meyers
Jonboy Meyers joined Riot Games in 2012 as a Senior Artist and works on Visual Development for League of Legends. Before joining Riot, he was an illustrator and concept designer working in animation, video games and comic books.
In his 15 year career, Jonboy's developed and worked on an expanse of popular IPs, including Thor, Hulk, She-Hulk, Spiderman, Justice League of America, Danger Girl, X-Men (comic book), World of Warcraft TCG (illustration), Masters of the Universe, Batman (Mattel Toys concept development) and Star Wars (Hasbro).
Jonboy enjoys corndogs on a stick, but hates polka, Japanese body pillows and people who dress their animals as people – they scare the beejeezus out of him.
We had a chance to chat with him a bit about his work with Riot, and we got to pick his brain about his creative process.
Where do you start with art ideas? Are you given info on the type of character needed? (IE. need a support/tank/etc.) Or do you find inspiration and go from there?
As far as ideas, I can only speak to how the Visual Development team does it. We think about what the world and people of Runeterra look like. We draw on a lot of our champion designs, considering what part of Runeterra they come from and what kind of country, city or landscape they'd live in. What would this place look like? What does the army look like? What about the buildings?
For example, right now I'm working on explorations on what soldiers, magic users, and assassins look like outside of our Champions... and doing my best to keep the design consistent and functional. These explorations and designs can help provide a base or jumping off point for our Champion designs also help inform the buildings, level of tech (or lack thereof), etc. It’s a nice blend of form and function applied externally to the world around the champions. .
I work with a talented team, so I don't have to look too far to get inspired. Usually we see something cool someone on the Champion Design team or Splash team is working on, and we try to create something just as awesome — it’s really just a perfect storm of creativity and design that we are all inspiring one another to do our best and push what we can, where we can.
How many characters do you design that never make it in game? Do some come back later?
Actually I don't work on Champion Design. Currently I'm working on Visual Development and Special Projects, but what I do know is that though we create a lot of champions for League of Legends, we don't release any champion that doesn't hit our quality bar. If the gameplay, visual read and overall kit of the character isn’t quite right, the team usually goes back and figures out what isn’t working and fixes it before releasing to players.
As far as how many Champions that never make it into the game... I’m really not sure but an excellent example of one that was developed then shelved was Elise, the Spider Queen… visually her original design and kit was pretty weak and because of that she was shelved — but later the team went back and gave her a lot more love and attention and an awesome visual redesign, and now we have an champion that players really enjoy.
Do all the characters a take on a popular character? Or all original? Or a mix of the two? For instance, Nautilus seems to be inspired by the Big Daddy from BioShock.
Well, I think all the things we are fans of personally or influenced by do make into our design… That said, there really isn’t anything new under the sun, but what we can do is try to do our own take on something and make it our own. It’s all about archetypes – using them and making them unique in the League of Legends world.
Speaking to Nautilus specifically, beefy underwater armor is no new thing and can be seen in a lot of 1940s artwork. We take our inspiration from various cultures, historical moments, ancient religions, and diverse fantasies. It'd be wrong to pin inspiration on some specific and recent example of pop culture. Any artist worth his salt has been exposed to many thousands of images across a variety of cultures and is obligated to think much more broadly than the last 10 years of pop culture. Even Superman was inspired by earlier myths, including 1930s pulp fiction heavyweight Doc Savage.
Is the choice of character and weapon based off gameplay at all? Or do you just design something awesome and let the other guys deal with how to get it in? "She wields a giant gut-ripping scythe of death. She's meant to be a healer? Then it's a healing giant gut-ripping scythe of death. Problem solved"
Hmmmm, great question, and honestly it’s kind of both ways. Again, it’s really a perfect storm of ideas that form champion design, their kits and abilities. Sometimes the idea stems from the Concept team. Other times it can some from someone in Finance. Everyone at Riot is passionate and plays the game, so we all can offer ideas regardless of our roles. It’s doing great things for players that we’re most focused on and concerned with.
As far as characters... let’s take a Champion like Singed, who of course carries this huge bottle of chemical death on his back and he deals damage to opponents he runs around — this is a great example of how we incorporated a very cool design element for his In-Game Read which in turn helped to inform his gameplay/abilities into the Champion’s kit.
How much does your comic experience influence what you create?
A ton! By default, I’m always thinking in terms of functionality, design and dynamics. Everything in comics is over the top, and that style lends itself very well to League of Legends since champions are essentially the superheroes of Runeterra.
Which characters have you personally created? Which is your all time fav?
I was fortunate enough to help out a bit with our New Spirit Guard Udyr Skin, which I’m so looking forward to playing! As far as favs, I’m a Garen man all the way. I love his gameplay since he's a lot like me. He's very much an apple pie kind of guy who is the ultimate boy scout.
When you decide to redo the art on a character, what's the impetus behind it? Does the art just feel stale?
Well, we are always listening to players, and we do have characters on our radar we want to — not say rework — just tweak in the sense of making the splash art better and the in-game model better, so they match the types of champions we are currently creating. Reworking these champions really gives a good sense that all of these characters exist in the same world.
A good example is Twisted Fate. His old model was a bit derpy with pizza feet, so we just did a pass on him to put him in line with our other current champs, which would be a more realistic believable design and overall fidelity rework for in-game, and so far it’s been well received.
We've been raising the bar on ourselves over time, so something that was "average" for us in 2010 is likely to be far below today's quality bar. We're not shy about reworking some of the earlier artwork.
Same goes for our splashes. Usually when we do a champion tweak, we try to tweak the splash art as well just to keep the look consistent.
What are you currently working on for League or even Riot in General? Anything hints you can drop about new IP's or champs?
Doing Visual Development for Runeterra and Our Spirit Guard Udyr Skin!!! Which is going to come out soon and I had a hand is helping our team on that and I think it will be a very nice Surprise for our Players!
What are your future plans if any for champs? Anything we should look out for?
We are always trying to put out new innovative champs. The idea is not to repeat the same gag (elements, gameplay) but do the next best thing for players.
We're always thinking about players and how we can make the game better and more engaging. If that means creating more cool trailers, or cooler champions, we'll always push for better – because we are players ourselves.
How has it been working for Riot? Are you still doing comics?
Been a blast — I think I died and went to art heaven. I'm still doing comics — I’ve been doing G.I. Joe covers, as well as design for the DC Comics New 52 re-launch and some other projects. Prior to that I was working in animation on shows like Generator Rex and Black Dynamite for a half a second. I also pitched in to help Gazillion on their Marvel MMO game. So comics are something I will always continue to do in some capacity. There is just something about first loves that you never let go of or get over, though sometimes it does have to wait since playing League of Legends takes up a lot of my time. :)