A Sonic Fan-Made Animation Series: Interview with John Rivera
Ever since the Internet came along, Sonic as a franchise and character has become associated with a very active fanbase. Take a trip to DeviantArt and type in “Sonic” or anything associated with him, and you’ll get pages and pages of pictures, stories, poetry, Second Life avatars, original characters, and even a good helping of porn!
Yet despite all of the bad fanfiction, the Sonic fandom has banded together to create some very impressive works of art. In 2013, Blue Core Studios put out a short live-action Sonic movie that, while not an award-winning piece of cinema, is still an impressive project given its size and scope. And let us not forget the 2.5D Sonic Remix project that was made in the Cry Engine (and then shut down by Sega sometime in 2011).
So when John Rivera approached WeTheNerdy about his Sonic animated series titled Mobius, I wasn’t all that surprised to see the attempt. What fallows is my interview with Mr. Rivera about the next large project from Sonic’s active fandom.
Wethenerdy: Why? Why Sonic? Why all this work for a character whose best days were on the Sega Genesis in 1994?
John Rivera: Why Sonic? I want to create a series that redefines Sonic. I’ve had a Sonic story playing in my head for far too many years with nothing but two seasons of Sonic SatAM that played it out to my enjoyment.
All the work for the character is because most people that are original Sonic fans would say Sonic’s best days are behind him. That bothers me, and I don’t want to accept that. I believe if Sega would be a little more creative, then Sonic would have his best days in front of him.
WTN: Do you think Sonic’s fanbase supports the character more than Sega does?
JR: No. The fans buy whatever the company puts out. It seems the outcry for a good Sonic cartoon and/or game isn’t loud enough. I’m trying to put this whole thing together with the help of the fanbase. I ask for lots of recommendations and opinions as I go along creating characters.
Some [fans] are afraid of change…lots are afraid of change, and I feel Sega is afraid of losing sales. As a result, we don’t have much change. So you see very gimmicky changes to the character over the years: Sonic is in a band, Sonic is a Knight, Sonic is a werewolf.
I sincerely crave something serious. If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
WTN: You say you want to “reinvent the character” of Sonic. Could you elaborate on that for me? Does this reinvention apply to more than just his physical appearance? Going by your models, you certainly seem to be going in direction Sega has yet to tread. Is your aim to add something more than edge to Sonic as a character? What you have is, honestly, kind of scary looking.
JR: I want the characters to look like they are in a world that is being taken over by robots and are on the losing end. I want an evolution from the original boxart.
To be technical about the Sonic model used in games, it hasn’t translated well into 3D. If you look at the original or later 3D model of Sonic (excluding Sonic Boom), it has problems standing straight in a T pose. Its also hard to animate multiple poses, for example: Sonic scratching the top of his head or tilting his head down. So animators manipulate camera angles to hide the flaws of the design, and it is painfully obvious at times.
Looking at the new Sonic Boom character saddens me as well. Sega gave Sonic a neck–good he needed a neck so his head would have better mobility–but then they put a scarf around it. This is a prime example of the fear of change. As I work more and more with fur and hair descriptions, I understand how hard it is to control, but I think it’s something that could have been explored in one of the many Sonic titles. I like the way the were-hog looks. I’m sure the fur was complicated, but I enjoy the design.
I could have made a brighter render of Sonic with a nice sunny background, but I can only make one first impression, and I don’t want it to be ambiguous. I want people to know this is a dark series. Sonic will be Sonic, joke-filled and impatient as always, but this is a serious world.
WTN: I feel like Sega has already tried a darker version of Sonic with Shadow the Hedgehog, and I’m told the Archie line of comics got a bit grim. Do you consider Shadow a successful character, and how do you plan on setting MTAS apart from the other attempts at making Sonic a bit darker?
JR: I felt like Shadow just talked with a darker tone. I believe he had potential, but I never thought about what he would or wouldn’t be like in MTAS‘ world. With that said, I believe he was successful character for Sega; I just don’t know what they are going to do with him next.
When I talk about making MTAS darker than any Sonic game or show, I mean more serious. I’ve seen Sonic stand side by side with Dr. Robotnik and have a discussion, and I always wondered, “Why doesn’t Sonic just take him out right there? The planet would be saved.” I don’t believe that you could have a scary character like Dr. Robotnik doing goofy things and always getting away. If the antagonist was an evil genius that always had a plan B,C,D,E, ect, I would enjoy that more.
Maybe I should call MTAS a more grown-up version of Sonic’s story.
WTN: Do you think Sonic can realistically work in a serious world? The character is a blue hedgehog whose super power is running really fast. He’s fairly silly by default.
JR: Indeed he is. I would like the world to match the character. I don’t want things too realistic to the point where people would watch it and think what’s happening looks like it’s in the physical world, because its not possible in the physical world. I feel that takes people out of the [story]. So the world will match the character in the same way a Disney film setting matches their characters.
The movie Wreck It Ralph is one of my main inspirations [for MTAS]. One day I paused the movie and looked at the character textures throughout the film: They are very realistic. Take a close look at the clothes, the stitching, and little pieces of lint hanging. That’s kinda my goal, but with slightly darker colors and characters.
WTN: Sonic has a wide history spanning all sorts of media. Is there any specific point in his career that you’re taking inspiration from? Comics, old cartoons, a specific video game perhaps?
JR: My inspiration has always been Sonic SatAM seasons 1 and 2 mixed in with Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic and Knuckles, and of course Sonic 3. Some comic inspiration as well. And to be honest, years of Sonic fan art. There is so much that can be done with this character! My imagination can go on for days.
WTN: I see that you worked on the Sonic the Hedgehog fanfilm (I actually stumbled upon it last year and watched it). Do you plan on doing a similar mix of live action and animation, or will MTAS be entirely animated?
JR: Funny thing about that is I started making characters for MTAS, and when I found that [Blue Core Studios] were looking for a texture artist, I showed what I had. They asked me to help. It was a great point in my life as it was the beginning of my freelance career. Before that I was making logos and tattoo designs. So for the next year I worked on texture art, modeling, animation, and solving technical problems. The characters I worked on were Sonic (animation and tech), Motobug, Buzz Bomber, Egg carrier, Egg carrier 2, and Knuckles.
However, I never thought it was a good idea to make Sonic live action. We did our best to make it work with limited time and resources.
Everything in MTAS will be computer generated.
WTN: When you’re further in production, will you be bringing in people you worked with on other projects to help out?
JR: I wish. MTAS is a huge undertaking, and it would go much faster if I had help. Thing is, it’s a non-profit project, and people don’t like working for free, especially at a high skill level. I do it because its a passion of mine. I would be paying people out of my own pocket if I need to, for example music and sound design.
WTN: Right now you’re working alone. When you do get further along in the project and can actually start placing episodes together, do you plan on reaching out to the Sonic fandom for volunteer help? I can’t imagine you plan on voice acting all of the characters, for example.
JR: I would love help. Anyone can try out, from animation to music composition. Of course I want professional people that are good at what they do. If you do wish to help, please have a demo reel, a voice acting reel, or a music/sound effect reel available. It would help if it was online with up-to-date contact information. The more people that help, the faster things will come out.
I’m no voice actor. After I create animatics for the first episode, I will hold auditions.
WTN: The director of Sonic Boom has stressed that he wants to focus on characters development and do something similar to Adventure Time. What can we expect out of MTAS in that regard?
JR: Boy, I have so many problems with Sonic Boom. I’m not 100% against there being a comedy oriented Sonic cartoon, but I believe there is room for both, [a kid’s Sonic and an adult Sonic,] in this world. In the good old days, I used to watch Sonic SatAM and Adventures of Sonic, and of course I liked Sonic SatAM way more. I would like MTAS to be the darker version for the people who like Sonic and grew up and want something more than a comedy.
WTN: I’m honestly really curious to know more about some of the story you have planned, though I understand if you want to keep that closely guarded for now. Care to share anything on that front?
JR: Sure. MTAS all takes place before Sonic meets any of the Freedom Fighters. I want to see where Sonic came from and his attitude at that time. As the war wages, Sonic will become more serious and a better team player. If I go on about the story, I could be talking about the world forever.
In the near future I will be posting the script for the first episode on the MTAS Facebook page.
WTN: So far I see Sonic and Sally on your Facebook page. What other characters can we expect to see when all is said and done? Will they be getting a similar “reinvention of character?”
JR: I have a completed Motobug, and I plan to create Uncle Chuck. As the series goes on, I want to make the characters as they come along, so it will depend on my writing whether Tails or Dr. Robotnik are created first.
WTN: Will we be getting new, original characters in MTAS, or should we only expect to see familiar faces from Sonic’s past?
I don’t want the Freedom Fighters to be just the characters we are already familiar with. I have lots of ideas, and the fans have lots of characters to create and develop personalities for. I don’t even have to think much–I can easily find some cool fan art and start modeling. Of course I would love the fan artist to be involved.