The Spin: Why Sonic’s Movie Design (Probably) Shouldn’t Change

To say it has been a tumultuous week in the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom is something of an understatement, with the first movie trailer seeing release and receiving a less than favourable reception (at time of writing, dislikes outweighed likes by 2-to-1 on YouTube).

The negative tidal-wave reaction is understandable. Many seasoned Sonic the Hedgehog fans have grown tired of having to endure yet another major overhaul of their favourite character, which once again deviates from the tried-and-tested, recognisable design that has arguably worked for three decades. The average punter can be forgiven for recoiling at some of Sonic’s hyper-realistic features such as humanoid teeth, which puts his movie incarnation, at times, firmly into the uncanny valley.

It is however not the appearance of Sonic that has shocked me the most this week, more so the plot-twist in the real-life drama surrounding the movie. Via a statement on Twitter, Sonic movie director Jeff Fowler promised that the universal lambasting has been taken note of, and that the studio, with less than six months until the release of the movie, will now revise elements of the character’s appearance.

The concern with this is several-fold. Firstly, many online have already highlighted the consequences of what these late changes will mean for the workforce engaged with this movie, and the most likely invoking of the dreaded “crunch”. While endemic to most industries in modern society as deadlines approach, the crunch often appears to take on an incredible intensity and duration in digital entertainment. It is unlikely that the movie release date will be pushed back as this has been set in stone for several months, and thus the only way to cater for increased workloads is to increase the time in the office for those involved (this is before any considerations of branding and merchandise – probably already well into production).

To rework Sonic’s appearance in movie, as well as on branding and merchandise, is a gargantuan task.

Secondly, the ratification and design approval process, in any industry, is a time consuming one; undoubtedly the current incarnation of movie Sonic went through many iterations before it finished on what was seen in the trailer, with several sign-offs and a majority – if not universal – agreement by senior figures that the design was right for the film. This process will now need to begin again, albeit perhaps not from scratch, but will cut into time remaining to make these revisions; even then, the end result might still not satisfy audiences.

Fans have already set about “correcting” movie Sonic, and there are thousands of repainted scenes with a revised Sonic already in circulation, depicting what these artists feel are a better representation of SEGA’s mascot. Many of these are undoubtedly impressive re-imaginings, with many now including a comment to the likes of “why on Earth hasn’t Paramount hired this person to work on the movie?” Indeed, airbrushing a single still image is an ocean away from creating an animated character that gels well in a live action motion picture, nor does a single painting qualify an artist as someone capable of operating, or even surviving in the modern world of creating consumer entertainment.

Finally, and what I feel is an important question to raise – should anyone but the creative team working on the movie have any input on its aesthetic? One could go back to the point that no one should meddle with the archetypal design of Sonic in the first place – and again, this is a valid point. But cinema is an artistic process and completely open to interpretation; to constrain the process by having hundreds of thousands of individuals weighing in diminishes the original creative vision and sets a dangerous precedence.

I can’t help but draw parallels to Stephen King’s Misery in which Annie Wilkes, the self-proclaimed “number one fan” of writer Paul Sheldon, holds him hostage lest he write the manuscript that conforms to her own notions of how his next story of her beloved character should go. It is understandable that Sonic fans are frustrated with the design, but the ferocity of the response has been excessive.

At the end of the day, the success of the movie won’t be gauged on appearances or even what score it obtains via Rotten Tomatoes should the movie conform to the calibre of every other video game adaption that has preceded it; it will be by what it takes home at the box office. By that measure I would say that if the Sonic movie is to your disliking, then voting with your wallet is by far the most effective way of communicating your dissatisfaction.

Super Mario Bros. movie, anyone?

Perhaps I’ve softened in my old age, but besides the occasional shot of some shiny incisors, I don’t hate the movie design of Sonic; perhaps deep down I know this will be another redesign with a short half-life, and that I needn’t be concerned he will endure much past 2019. Additionally, some of us have waited 28 years for this movie, and regardless of quality, we are happy it’s here all the same – if for nothing else, it’s an excuse to talk about Sonic the Hedgehog with work colleagues around the water cooler. We millennials grew up on a diet of films that bore the name of many famous franchises and only very tenuously held any resemblance to them, but they still entertained us – and perhaps this movie will too.

What I do know is that this movie isn’t worth is the health and creative freedom of those working long hours to bring us the first live action adaption of Sonic the Hedgehog; for now, those who aren’t happy with the movie should perhaps just grit their teeth.

Article image taken from Edward Pun’s rework.

Published by

Adam Tuff

With a decade under his belt, Adam is one of The Sonic Stadium's most seasoned writers, with interests in the music and merchandise of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. Adam is the co-organiser for the Summer of Sonic convention.

34 Comments

  1. There wan’t be any major changes, certainly nothing like all these fan Photoshops. At most, it’ll be a few minor tweaks that can be squeezed into the existing schedule, and anyone expecting more is setting themselves up for a boatload of disappointment.

  2. I have a feeling they are only going to be making very minor changes and basically skin it over the existing animations.
    Either that or this might have been planned from paramount from the start. As in they made a fake trailer to get exposure and they already have a better design already made.
    Could just be a stretch but it’s not like outrage marketing hasn’t been used before

    1. Given how expensive CGI is, I seriously doubt that Paramount would take such a massive risk. Not only that, the design we saw in the trailer will have to have been signed off by at least a dozen people across all levels, and for all of them to be in on such a massive and potentially extremely damaging gamble is so far beyond the realms of reasonableness it’s not even worth thinking about.

      1. I mean if it was only for the trailer and not the full movie. Outrage marketing is very profitable and creates great exposure. The trailer spread all over the internet and ended up on talk shows because of how bad the design was. The on average films spend $1.6 million per trailer and $40 million on advertisement in total and Paramount just got a ton for free and is going to continue to get more once the new designs are released. I’ve seen people say they weren’t going to see it before but now that the director is being cooperative with consumers, they are now planning on seeing it no matter how the new design looks. Paramount doesn’t care how it looks on the IP as long as they get people in the seats. I also find it strange that a movie company would be so willing to listen to audiences when the release date is so close because if it does need to be delayed because of this it would cost the studio even more money. Most movies at this point would just cut there losses.
        Obviously this is speculation but it’s within the realm of possibility.
        If not I hope they delay and pay their crew accordingly.

        1. It’s still an extremely risky gamble, especially with a character that’s been around over a quarter of a century and who has a large and passionate fanbase. Paramount would have to be so unbelievably certain the ‘real’ design would be popular to even consider such a risky gamble.

  3. It seems the Movie Execs are treating their workers the same way they treated the Sonic IP, which is no surprise. Their horrible decisions are costings their artists months of their lives in “crunch”. These artists were just following what they were told. I feel so bad for everyone involved in this movie. So many have to suffer for a few people making the wrong calls at the top.

  4. “The concern with this is several-fold. Firstly, many online have already highlighted the consequences of what these late changes will mean for the workforce engaged with this movie, and the most likely invoking of the dreaded “crunch”. While endemic to most industries in modern society as deadlines approach, the crunch often appears to take on an incredible intensity and duration in digital entertainment. It is unlikely that the movie release date will be pushed back as this has been set in stone for several months, and thus the only way to cater for increased workloads is to increase the time in the office for those involved”

    Maybe the people behind the movie shouldn’t have been such talent-less hacks. If they had had the insight to say “You know, this design is crap. Let’s change it” before production got this far, they wouldn’t have to change it this late. They dug their own grave.

    “Finally, and what I feel is an important question to raise – should anyone but the creative team working on the movie have any input on its aesthetic? One could go back to the point that no one should meddle with the archetypal design of Sonic in the first place – and again, this is a valid point. But cinema is an artistic process and completely open to interpretation; to constrain the process by having hundreds of thousands of individuals weighing in diminishes the original creative vision and sets a dangerous precedence.”

    Sorry. The people who designed and approved that abomination of a design have clearly no taste, and don’t even come close to understanding what makes Sonic’s design work. They should have no say on the film’s artistry aesthetics. This isn’t some pet project of theirs, it’s a movie about Sega’s top franchise. Just like the Sonic Boom staff was forced to stick closer to the source material when they tried to give the characters designs really awful, unrecognizable designs, the same should be done to the film staff.

    1. You’re fun at parties huh?

      Working in the art industry is a hell of a lot more complicated than people being “talentless hacks”. These animators slaved over animating a character for entertainment.

      I don’t care how the quality looks to you this was hard work. Even making a bad movie takes a lot of work.

      You are treating this as their rightful punishment and you’re the kind of entitled fan that gives fans a bad name.

      1. You sound awfully salty. So I’m entitled for expecting quality out of a multimillion-project and disapproving of something that got mocked by nearly everyone on the internet? I’m sorry, but if you’re paid to do something and do a terrible work, you have no right to complain when your boss demands you do it again. The higher ups behind this movie are completely within their rights to demand the staff fixes this mess.

        1. You’re putting the blame on the animators despite the fact that the animators will have had little or no influence on the design, a design that will have been approved by several layers of management at the movie studio, Paramount, and of course, Sega.

          When the execs say ‘jump’, the animators ask ‘how high’. That’s how it’s always worked.

          1. Fair enough, but it’s not like they will have to re-animate everything. As I’ve just posted below, the previous animations should still be usable; they’ll probably just have to swap Sonic’s model with the updated one, re-render the animations, and retouch some effects. Compare with Toy Story 2, with was completely remade (not just model-swapped) within 9 months, with far older tools. By comparison, updating and replacing Sonic’s model within nearly 6 months should be doable.

  5. The design is shit. The fans aren’t at fault for expressing dissatisfaction with it. Hell, they aren’t even at fault for demanding it be changed. The director and executives in charge of the film are at fault for approving the awful design in the first place, and they are also at fault for sticking their feet in their collective mouths by promising change. Few, if any, fans were expressing desire for the animation team behind the cgi to go into some sort of hell crunch right before the movie is released, and none of them have the authority to make that happen even if they did want it.

    Regardless of whether you think the design is good or bad, Paramount is the bad guy here for valuing public relations over their animation team’s health and wellbeing.

  6. Whereas this article points the finger squarely at Sonic fans, it’s also important to note that the great majority of viewers of the trailer were unsettled by Sonic’s appearance. The director wouldn’t confirm changes to appeal to the small, vocal fanbase, they’re doing it because the overall reception, not just the one from lifelong fans but from viewers as a whole was negative.

    I agree that Sonic fans are a big part of this, but don’t forget that the general public’s reaction to the trailer was overwhelmingly negative (somewhere close to 64% dislikes at time of writing).

    In my opinion, they should not change the design. It’s clear that this movie went through some development hell and there was a lot of rumours of back-and-forth between SEGA and Paramount on the design. In the end, they screwed up very badly not just on the design but seemingly on the story (which seems bland and generic), the CG quality (Pause the trailer at any long-shot of Sonic to see what I mean) and just the overall premise of the movie.

    This is coming from a lifelong fan but honestly I have no idea why nobody watched the Sonic Unleashed opening cinematic and didn’t immediately decide to go for a full CG movie. Full CG Movies are more popular than ever. Sonic’s appearance in Wreck It Ralph was lauded and he had a bigger part in the sequel. People love that Sonic, even the general public. I’m not sure why we need to shoehorn real life into every franchise these days but in my opinion, nobody asked for this movie, nobody wanted a realistic Sonic. Nobody wanted a Sonic movie set in a rural American town. The entire project is misguided and will be completely forgotten a week or two after launch.

  7. I have no idé what kind of animation program they use but if that program can do like the free Miku Miku Dance 3D program that I have used for some animation. In MMD you can save the animation and then just upload it to a different model. If they can do that then they only need to work on a new model but as I said before. I don’t know if they can do it like that but if they can then it will not be that hard to do any changes to it. One can only hope that the animators do not have to overwork themselves now.

    1. If you change the model, you will almost certainly have to reshoot every scene the character appears in. And given we’re talking about the titular character, and one who’s likely to have the highest screen time, that’s an awful lot of movie to reshoot. Also, all the animations will have to be redone, as the animations for the old model won’t necessarily work on the new one.

      1. Not necessary. If the new model has the same bone structure as the old one then the animation will work fine. If you have seen an MMD video that has a Vocaloid character dancing and then later watching a model of Sonic dancing the same dance then you see that the Sonic model to not fit the animation since the bone structure is different between the two.

        But if you were to use another Vocaloid character then you will see that it work without any problem because they both have similar bone structure.

        When you animate in MMD it is the bone structure that you work with by moving it. It is a free program so if you want to try it for yourself you can do that and I can’t say if your computer is strong enough to work with a 3D program but if I remember there is an older version that does not take as much on the computer.

        1. I’m pretty sure the studio isn’t using MMD, so I’d caution against using that as an example.

          Even if somehow you’re able to change the model without changing the animations, that still doesn’t mean you can just model-swap and re-render. As this is a mix of CGI and live action, there’ll be very strict limitations on what can be done without requiring a reshoot, and getting it wrong could prove even more expensive than it’s already going to be.

          I guess what I’m saying more than anything else is this: Don’t expect anything more than minor tweaks.

          1. Never said they did but it would be really bad if a free animation program could do a simple saving of the animation that can be reused and used on a different model. Since the more professional animation program should be a lot better and be able to do more than a free program can.

            MMD happens to be my only experience with a 3D animation program so I don’t have any other example to take from but I at least know a bit how animation works thanks to it. I never aimed to become a pro and that can you see in my silly and bad animation that I have don.

            There is, after all, people better at it and that have the money to get a better program to use. English is also my second language so I have to apologize that I am not that good at explaining myself and so forth.

            I hope you have a nice day or night whatever time it is at your place right now and I guess I can say goodnight to since in my country it is soon 1 in the morning so I am going to bed. Good night!

  8. It’s kinda crappy to try and point the blame for all this at the upset fans rather than the… multi-billion-dollar corporation responsible for all of these decisions. What it really comes down to is that some executives bought a franchise license because it had talking animals and robots, hoping they could use it to snag both the Alvin and the Chipmunks audience and the Transformers audience, patterned it after those movies rather than the source material, and now they’re panicking because it doesn’t look like the safe money-maker they thought it would be.

    Voting with your wallet is absolutely the best way to give feedback, but without fans (and non-fans) also being vocal about WHY they’re not seeing it, Hollywood’s takeaway would be “People just don’t want a Sonic movie” rather than “We made a bad Sonic movie”. I don’t have any hope this movie can be saved, but hopefully it won’t be too long before somebody else steps in and tries to make a movie that celebrates the franchise rather than trying to dress it up like a different franchise.

    1. I don’t point blame anywhere here – it is absolutely the creation of Hollywood – but the design is probably the product of many hard working artists who have had to jump through hoops to end on this iteration – what I’m trying to make a point of here it is those people who will suffer in any redesign, and the process of approval will still be the same.
      I think the irony here is that regardless of opinion of what Sonic looks like, the majority of Sonic fans will go to see this movie.

      1. I don’t know why you’re so defensive about people… Doing their jobs.

        They’ll go to work tomorrow at their high paying jobs, and redo some work they submitted a few months ago. Then they’ll go home, same as any other work day. The project they were on before this redesign will be slightly delayed, and life will move forward.

        To say that going to work and redoing a task management asked you to redo… Is hell… Is absurd. It’s called work. They make good money. They actually have jobs. If they have to work extra, they’ll probably be compensated for that. I don’t think it’s the end of the world this article paints.

        1. I think this is possibly a naive take; firstly, salary is a wage for the work you do, not compensation for being worked into the ground.
          I’d suggest that neither you or I have any appreciation for the scale of this task, but you have trivialised it; conversely I don’t think I have painted this as either hell or the end of the world – those are your words.

        2. I;m a going to take a wild guess but….You don’t really have experience in the animation industry do you…..or any industry from the wording of the statement.

          Sounds to me like you should stop being so salty about the amount of money overworked and under appreciated people get paid to do their jobs of providing entertainment to ye unwashed masses and maybe start sending a ton of resumes and cover letters yourself.

          Don’t hate the player, hate the game

  9. Please make the stomach and the hands the same color as the mouth. If sonic ever take off his shoes the feet need to be the same color as the mouth. No no nooo, white fur please…. seriously no. Then I would be completely satisfied paramount!

  10. I see your point but it seems that the vast majority of people aren’t happy with the design, and by people I don’t mean just Sonic fans but moviegoers and gamers in general, some might not have been excited about the Sonic movie in the first place but now they dread it or just ridiculize it only because of Sonic’s design, at least it’s what I have seen regarding twitter, facebook and friends.

    I personally have the belief that if you’re making a movie you better make it right, it’s so common nowdays for hollywood to butcher well loved media into mediocre movies that we are getting too used to it but I still believe is right to criticize where its due, for that reason alone I applaud Jeff Fowler and the rest of the team for at least trying to make things right and do the franchise justice.

    Also I wouldn’t worry too much about the artists involved working overtime as most people say on the internet, I know a thing or two about filmaking and they will probably delay the movie and do a new contract with the VFX studios involved or just hire another one or two studios to help with the workload and meet the deadline, in either case it will be the executives who put more money, that’s basically how they are handling Dark Phoenix which has been delayed more than a year during production.

      1. Absolutely, even from the production point of view, Paramount don’t want this movie to be a stillborn and so they don’t want to ruin their chances to create a new and successful movie franchise, likewise this is Jeff Fowler’s directional debut and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want his new career to end so quickly.

        And there are other things to consider as well, the trailer as a whole got good reception, the only major complain was Sonic’s design but everything else seems to have clicked with audiences, it’s not uncommon for a movie to go through reshoots to improve the final product and there is even the precedent of changing a character design altogether.

        Furthermore Jeff and co must have realized is the best choice, take in mind they designed movie Sonic before the first trailer of Detective Pikachu, the pokemon designs are very faithful to the games even when they’re not anatomically coherent at all and that trailer still got great reception from audiences and it seems to be the strongest point of the movie according to critics so I think is easy to see why Jeff and co decided to change Sonic’s design.

  11. Sonic fans really stump me sometimes. “been waiting 28 years for this” should be an argument FOR a good movie, not for lapping up less than mediocrity.
    Honestly don’t get people defending this like its the fans who actually want something that resembles Sonic who are the bad guys and not the big company who couldn’t give two turds to even get the design right.
    I’d rather they leave the design as it is anyway as the whole movie looks like failure no matter what small adjustments you make, and people will be seeing this just to see the spectacle that is this amazing dumpster fire; may as well make it as bad as could possibly be. Shrugs

  12. They should just delay the film, they done messed up and the studio needs to correct itself.
    Its their fault anyhow, not listening in the first place.

  13. I think people are blowing out of proportion how much work updating Sonic’s design will involve. It’s not like they will have to re-animate everything. Given how 3d animation works, the previous animations should still be usable. I would think updating the scenes would involve swapping Sonic’s model with the updated one, re-rendering the animations, and retouching some effects.

    Toy Story 2 was completely re-done within 9 months (source: https://thenextweb.com/media/2012/05/21/how-pixars-toy-story-2-was-deleted-twice-once-by-technology-and-again-for-its-own-good/). It wasn’t just some model swap; they basically created a whole new movie, and it was done with far older tools too. By comparison, updating Sonic’s look within almost 6 months should be doable.

  14. At this point, it’s too late for them to change their minds. The trailer disappointed everyone on a wide level, and they said they would fix the design on a wide level.

    As for whether or not the design HAS to be changed, it’s one thing to let down fans, even casuals, but do the original creators have to live with this design too?

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