Editor's note: Apparently, Paramount and Sega may agree that the design has some issues. Jeff Fowler, the movie's director, has announced a significant Sonic the Hedgehog movie delay. This will be a part of the efforts to address fan feedback and attempt to make the movie better.
We knew this was going to happen, didn’t we? As early as the fuzzy, oddly muscular silhouette from Paramount Pictures’ teaser poster, we knew that the new Hollywood design of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bit of an adjustment, to say the least. Sure enough, when the actual trailer dropped, the internet exploded in loud, pseudo-ironic reactivity. There were plenty of memes and jokes, reactions of genuine disgust at Sonic’s human-like teeth, attempts to use Photoshop to make it look better, and more. The response was overall so negative that director Jeff Fowler announced a redesign will be coming to the film. While many diehard Sonic the Hedgehog fans are happy to see the director and studio react with promises to “fix” the design, I have some reservations about the situation.
Here’s the thing: Sonic the Hedgehog is pretty much a finished movie at this point. The movie is filmed, the art is done, the advertising is in the pipe. There are only a few months away from the release date, which hasn’t seemed to change at all. Generally speaking, those last few months are reserved for building up promotional efforts, more than actual work on the flick. For example, before the teaser and trailer dropped, we already saw leaked marketing materials in the form of movie theater standees. A lot of this stuff is already made. Toys, ad deals, branded snacks, internet ads, whatever you could probably think of, is mostly already likely ready to roll, in addition to the movie itself. If Sonic’s design changes, so too does all that stuff change. All that work goes in the trash to get replaced (in theory), and the animation staff has to get back to work.
The movie studio can’t just flip a switch and change how Sonic looks. A lot of people have to get back in gear and make these changes. As far as anyone knows, the release date hasn’t changed. So everyone involved in everything changing has until November 2019, and likely earlier than that, to get these changes in and do them well. That means crunch.
This stuff isn’t easy at all, and you can check out Twitter threads from professionals in animation with several examples why. The labor that goes into animation is often overlooked by the general public, often due to the medium’s association with children. But in reality, we’re talking long, underpaid creative labor that may have already exhibited forms of crunch. Now, if there isn’t crunch, I’d be shocked.
As gamers, we should be no stranger to the notion of crunch. The past few years have been full of in-depth journalism reporting on bad work situations at various game developers. A major story was Rockstar Games and the nearly ten year journey to get Red Dead Redemption 2 out the door. More recently, we’ve heard stories of workplace abuse at League of Legends developer Riot Games resulting in an employee walkout and legal action. We’ve also recently learned of some particularly brutal and nearly constant crunch practices happening over the years at NetherRealm, developers of the Mortal Kombat and Injustice series. For every story we do get, there are likely several more that continue to go untold. The people who make the things we love are not being treated well enough, and this is just another potentially sad example.
Sonic the Hedgehog may end up being a fun movie, and I’ll more than likely take my kid to see it. We’re both into Sonic after all. Sure, the original design had some… quirks, to say the least. Perhaps whatever the studio comes up with will be an improvement. But no matter how much fun it is, that redesign comes at a cost. And it’s a cost that may have been unavoidable, if not for the same Hollywood hubris that led to the weird design in the first place. I should make sure to remember that.