The Birth of Evil: Teemo

By ADillonMostDirty and Mhija [1]

Teemo the Birth of Evil Article

You love him, or you hate him - but if you love him, you're crazy. Teemo Teemo is the worst.

We talked to Jeff Jew (Producer), Colt Hallam (Senior Game Designer), and Brandon Beck (CEO) to delve into what went into creating League's greatest monster - and more importantly, why someone would decide to inflict him upon the world.

Teemo’s Nightmarish Origins

What kind of sadist thought Teemo was a good idea?

BRANDON BECK: Teemo comes from an earlier time, really. It was the wild west back then -- we were all over the place with ideation; the League Universe was just starting to come together. Yordles emerged as a result of Teemo and became a bucket for champs not originally conceived as such, like Amumu. You could say Teemo made that all possible.

JEFF JEW: We knew we wanted a diverse cast of characters, with everything from terrifying evil badasses to cute little guys you could root for. Personally, I've always been a fan of moogles, ewoks, and things like that, so I was really interested in developing some small but mighty champions that could embody the inspirational / underdog end of the champion spectrum. After Teemo and Amumu, we began designing more tiny, intrepid characters like Corki and Tristana, and they all ended up coalescing as this group that brought a really fun, plucky personality to the champion roster.

Great Hunt Teemo

Great Hunt - Teemo (by Riot Artist Paul 'Zeronis' Kwon)

"...But he's so cute!"

Why is Teemo so (frustratingly) adorable?

JEFF JEW: I love Teemo’s look, I really do. It’s a pretty timeless take on League’s style, with a great niche on the more light-hearted end of the spectrum. There’s a reason he’s a lot of players’ first favorite. The funny thing is that his look contrasts so much with his gameplay identity -- you see this cute little guy and don’t realize he’s a huge asshole until you see him work his magic in game.

COLT HALLAM: Based on his look we pretty quickly pegged him for a cute scout identity in-game. I actually have a real-life Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster buddy, so I drew a lot of inspiration from him.

JEFF JEW: We’d ended up with a couple of these similarly small and cute characters, and decided since they were all such good buds they might as well be the same race. We started theorycrafting (they can’t lie, they love hats, that kind of thing), but actually didn’t have a name yet. Then Paul “Pabro” Bellezza showed up one day and was like “Jeff, I’VE GOT IT.” Apparently, the night before he’d had a dream about Yoda and Yaddle from Star Wars, and woke up saying “Yordles.”

Teemo BirthofEvil article 03

Yordles (Fan art by Quirkilicious)

Inside Teemo's Toolbag

How'd Teemo end up so trolly?

BRANDON BECK: I definitely recall my first time seeing this little scout-looking dude with a frakkin’ blow gun, and immediately seeing something trolly about what he’d represent in game. It’s no surprise he became the annoying little shit he did.

JEFF JEW: We knew we wanted him to be fast. Like, in a world of Garens and Katarinas, how does this little guy fight you? He’s not gonna overpower you -- he’s gonna be fast, use his blowgun to blind you, and wear you down. It really started to come together once we hit on the mushroom idea. His personality started to really emerge and he changed from a guy who just kited you to a mischievous shit who could lock down whole areas and really piss off the entire enemy team.

We had some interesting steps along the way. I shit you not, he used to shoot a nuke. We’ve always loved making homages to our favorite games, and this was pretty much NUCLEAR LAUNCH DETECTED, complete with laser targeting from stealth. While it was certainly cool, we eventually came to our senses and saw that it wasn’t super interactive and didn’t really fit with the flavor and pace we were going for.

Teemo BirthofEvil article 04

Teemo (Fan art by Tvonn9)

COLT HALLAM: This was way before we’d solidified champs into roles like ADC and Mage, so we were just looking for unique play patterns. We started developing Teemo as this guy who would go out scouting and lead the way for his teammates. His original passive was “Pathfinder” or “Leading the Way” or something like that -- basically he left a trail behind him that temporarily granted vision and made allies faster. Two pretty funny things about that though. One, Teemo is, of course, squishy as **** so pathfinding tended to get him obliterated, and two, our tools weren’t great. The ability worked by leaving -- you guessed it -- an invisible minion every 100 units. Of course, it didn’t take too long for that to create MASSIVE slowdown.

The nuke was actually our second ult idea. The first one, while smaller in scope, was a true terror. Basically, it was a beefed-up poison dart that whacked you with a super strong DoT and put you to sleep for six seconds. Originally the target would wake on damage, but we switched it to invulnerability after a bit. It also burned mana, and a flat rate at that, so it would basically leave non-mages completely dry. Bruiser hell, I tell you. That obviously didn’t last too long, nor did the nuke, and after those we settled on the idea of him setting traps to fit his whole scout thing.

Finishing Touches

What inspired Teemo’s iconic mushrooms?

Teemo BirthofEvil article 05

COLT HALLAM: We were close to lock on Teemo and I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out how to make landmines work, since they easily can be pretty dang toxic. Eventually, we settled on making it a DoT effect. At that point we didn’t have any visual resources, though, and I had no idea what we were gonna do. One morning, I was just zoning out, staring at Summoner’s Rift, at nothing in particular, when I saw something. There, in the jungle somewhere, was a tiny little mushroom. I ran over to the artists, asked them frantically if they could cut it out from the map, yelled ‘ENHANCE’ and all that… It was perfect. Exploding mushroom = poison DoT. It happened to spin, but we just said hey, it’ll read better. I actually don’t think we ever figured out why they spin.

So obviously, that’s what we ended up shipping with, though he still had a couple post-launch changes. We gave him the badger dance at some point, and his stealth / speed aspects eventually got updated a bit. I never got to make the most important change though -- Badger Teemo already has mushrooms, but I meant to get his dart changed to a snake and complete the homage.

Teemo BadgerSkin
The Many Skins of Teemo

What went into Teemo's wardrobe?

JEFF JEW: I headed up skins for a while back in the day, and I guess Teemo just somehow ended up with seven skins before some champs had two. I mean, I had the data -- Teemo skins were super popular with players, but let’s just say I never met a Teemo skin I didn’t like.

My favorite skin is Astronaut Teemo, but I’ve got a heck of a good reason. When I ran skins I’d joke about the idea all the time, until my birthday rolled around and Chance “SpaceStallion” Rowe dropped by my desk saying he had a present for me. He’d mocked up a prototype in his spare time. Being 100% impartial of course, I gave it a hearty “SHIP IT!”

Teemo AstronautSkin
Love Him or Hate Him

Wait, you mean some people actually like Teemo?!

JEFF JEW: He really is that polarizing cute yet asshole character -- whether you like him or not, he’s fodder for discussion. He’s arguably one of the most unique and recognizable champions, which makes him a huge League connector. His hat is cool, he’s cute, and he’s probably responsible for bringing more players to League than any other champion. He’s a great mascot -- neutral yet interesting on the spectrum of champion identities, and really representative of League’s diversity. To top it off, he’s the kind of cute that has worldwide appeal.

COLT HALLAM: Every game needs a villain, ours is just adorable. Love him or hate him, there’s so much passion around him. The global taunt is real, and there’s nothing in League quite like killing the little bugger or, conversely, getting surprise shroomed to death when you’re low. There’s just this great dichotomy between the player having so much fun and his opponent shaking with hate.

BRANDON BECK: Teemo’s ended up repping something super iconic about League today, namely the vast diversity in the champ roster. He straddles the grim vs. whimsical line that you see throughout League’s roster, which I think is a big part of why he appeals to so many different players. Teemo lightens the game, and so many other champs are possible because of him. It’s just gravy that all his elements came together in the perfect way to make him one of the most polarizing characters in League.

The fact that players have latched on so strongly to Teemo has inspired so much -- be it hats, his inexplicably large skin collection (sorry!), the Astro Teemo mini-game, or even the teemodies stream. I love the dimensionality he brings, the unique stuff he offers for players to connect to and engage with League. I mean, he’s a freakin’ unit of in-game measurement!

He’s a great League indicator for new players -- we want to capture the badass, but also to chuckle. The irony in his cute theme is that he’s actually one bad mother****** who’ll take pleasure in dancing on your corpse. Think about that leaked, never-finished Dominion cinematic from a couple years ago -- Teemo shows up, chuckles while doing a cool flip, blinds Mordekaiser, then dies brutally. That’s Teemo at his best.

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Teemo (Fan art by robynlauart)

Rigging the Nightmares: Tech Art meets the Devil

By Moonyoung 'ANDMoonY' Oh and Jeremy 'JesterCapp' Putnam [2]

Teemo LittleDevilSkin

"Hi guys! We’re technical artists Moonyoung 'ANDMoonY' Oh and Jeremy 'JesterCapp' Putnam. As tech artists at Riot, our main job is preparing character models for animation. To better explain this process, we’re here to share how we helped create the most diabolical creature to ever prowl the Rift: Little Devil Teemo.

RIGGING 101

Early in a champion’s development, his or her (or its) character model is like a doll, still and lifeless. Tech artists turn that doll into a puppet with bones, joints, and controls that animators can then use to create movement. This process is called rigging.

Teemo LittleDevil model 01

Technical artists at Riot use the program Maya to create rigs for champions and skins.

Rigs are made of components, which themselves are blueprints containing code for the joints and controls of common character features. Components are basically body parts; there are components for arms, legs, spines, swords, capes, and so on. Tech artists use these existing components to build new rigs for champions and skins. Basically, we tell the program to put two arms there, a head here, a spine there… and then the program uses the scripts attached to each component to create a unique rig. When necessary, we can also create new components, such as Little Devil Teemo’s tail.

Because many rigs are built from the same components, they share the same base code. This means that if we make a change to the blueprint for the “bendy arm component,” then EVERY character with a “bendy arm component” will also change. We can still alter individual champion’s rigs, but the major benefit of this blueprint system is that it takes minimal manual effort to change a bunch of rigs at once—we alter the code in one place, and then the change occurs wherever that component is used. If we obtain or create new technology, such as a “bendy tail,” we can easily update all of the champion’s rigs that would benefit from that tech (such as Nidalee or Rek’sai). Recently-created rigs are built differently than ones made in League’s earlier years, because our knowledge, processes, and standards have evolved. For example, we changed the way we name components, and this is sometimes problematic when using animation tools. If a tool designed to move a champion’s arms is coded to find the elbow joint named “L_Elbow,” but that elbow joint is actually named “L_Arm,” it won’t work.

Teemo LittleDevil concept 01

Early Ideation for Little Devil Teemo

Furthermore, some outdated rigs just aren’t compatible with new technology, such as a recently-added feature that allows animators to open and close champs’ fists by moving a slider. Some really old rigs have poorly designed elements, like multiple controls sharing one name. And, once in awhile, old rigs break when adding new animation.

For these reasons, one of the first questions we ask when preparing to rig a new skin is, “Is the old rig functional, or should we make a new one from scratch?” If we decide to rework the rig, it’s as much work as rigging a brand-new champion. But if the base rig stands the test of time, we can modify existing elements or add new components. Teemo’s existing rig was armed and ready, but Little Devil Teemo had some fiendish new features that required new components.

TALE OF THE TAIL

Creating a tail for this tiny fiend was no small task. The component for a tail this length (similar to Gnar, Wukong, or jungle wolves) has six bones and joints. In order for the tail’s movement to look natural, each of these joints would need to be individually animated so they match every move Teemo makes. Creating an animation set of this size takes a lot of animator time—too much time for what would be a relatively minor element of a skin.

Teemo LittleDevil model 02

Teemo’s tail’s rig is made of four bones and joints.

Instead, we utilized a specialized control system called a jiggle rig. This system establishes a parent/child relationship between each joint, or control, along Teemo’s tail, which then causes the controls to adjust their movement based on the point above’s motion. So if Teemo’s model jumps, then the top tailbone jumps shortly afterwards, and then so does the second one, and then the third… It’s basically follow the leader.

Animators can also control exactly how each joint reacts to the movement above it. They adjust the delay between joints and can “dampen” some movements so they only react to drastic motion. Using these levers, animators fine-tuned how stiff (and bendy) Teemo’s tail should look. The resulting tail moved naturally and automatically with Teemo’s body, saving animators a ton of time.

Jiggle Tail00:28

Jiggle Tail

Animating Teemo’s Tail: WIP and Final

FACING THE DEVIL

With the tail sorted, we were still short one final feature, an element to fuel nightmares everywhere: Little Devil Teemo’s other face. Like most champ’s, Teemo’s “regular” face is pretty static—League’s camera is too far away to noticeably depict subtle animations like facial expressions. The exception to this rule is if a champion has a particularly large head (i.e., most Yordles) or if there’s a reason to show extra expression; Teemo fit both of those bills.

To transform Teemo’s friendly face into one of malevolent lunacy, we created a second face for the Little Devil, complete with a complex facial rig. This rig allowed animators to freely contort the Yordle’s face, specifically during his recall and death animations.

Facial Rig00:16

Facial Rig

Little Devil Teemo’s Facial Rig

We now had two faces for only one body, and we needed a way to tell the model when to show the amicable face and when to turn up the terror. To do this, we used a system of submeshes and submesh events.

Submeshes are parts of a character model that can be hidden or displayed as needed. They’re often props in champions’ emotes and recall animations, such as Bewitching Morgana’s cauldron or Santa Braum’s sleigh. Submesh events tell these items when to appear and disappear. For example, an animator sets a submesh event at the start of Bewitching Morgana’s recall that tells the cauldron submesh to appear for seven seconds. After those seconds pass, the cauldron once again vanishes.

Death Animation00:13

Death Animation

Little Devil Teemo’s Death Animation

Teemo’s devilish face, and its animations, were coded as a submesh, so it’s hidden for most of the game. Animators then designated Teemo’s recall and death animations as submesh events, which tells the model to put that friendly face away and bring out the maniacal one. Once Teemo’s recall/death animations concludes, the submesh disappears, and Teemo’s deceivingly adorable expression returns.

Teemo LittleDevil model 03

Which Teemo is the real Teemo? Runeterra may never know…

SCOUTING AHEAD

Being a technical artist on League often means looking for small improvements—we’ve made a lot of skins over the years, and we’re still learning how to make them better. When the team is passionate about an idea, it inspires us to push the tech envelope. Designing smarter components and new tools is important to us because it helps us deliver cooler skins more frequently.

Plus, now we sleep easily at night knowing our work finally transformed Teemo’s outside to match his insides. No more tricking us with that lovable, fluffy demeanor, Teemo. We’re onto you.

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