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Interview With ‘Steven Universe’ Creator Rebecca Sugar

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Rebecca Sugar’s first show Steven Universe made its UK debut on Cartoon Network in May and is soon to be releasing its second series to an expectant fan base. Until recently Sugar worked as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time before developing Steven as the studio’s first female show creator.  The show centers around Steven (loosely based on Sugar’s younger brother, himself also an accomplished background artist working at Cartoon Network) following him as he lives partly in the magical world of the Crystal Gems and partly in the real world setting of Beach City. After inheriting his Gem from his mother Rose Quartz, it is up to Steven and his faithful friends Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl to learn to use its powers to stop evil as well as have a good time.

The show brings together the loose line work of Sugar’s own drawing and background in storyboards as well as all the design and boldness of story that we’ve come to expect of Cartoon Network’s contemporary range of shows.

This is your first series for cartoon network, how has the experience been for you?

It’s been amazing and overwhelming! Making a show has always been my dream and getting to work with the team on the show has been the most amazing part of it. I couldn’t really have predicted who was going to come on board to make this with me, so that has been my favourite bit about the whole experience working with the crew.

Your illustrative work and storyboard work is very fluid. What were the challenges of translating that to an animated production?

I learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work, there are things that can make a drawing look good and fluid but it’s not really functional. I think that’s what I’ve learned from this experience, learning to make those kind of choices translate into something that can be animated. I definitely have become super aware of how a drawing that is pretty and expressive is going to end up translated into animation, as I have now seen the whole process pan out in front of me as I work on the show, looking over the the board stage and looking at the animation when it comes back.

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I’ve tried to figure out what I was trying to achieve working in that loose expressive way during storyboarding, and see how I can make the show functionally be like that and work whilst still not being half decisions or fudged decisions; To make something look pretty. I want the thing to be like a meat and potatoes cartoon, one which functions but is also beautiful when it’s meant to be.

Given your background in storyboarding could you give our readers any advice on this aspect of production or insight into your own working practice?

It’s always different depending on the story, because storyboarding for shows means writing them and drawing them, conceptualising them and thinking hard about what the characters are thinking about. Once you know the technical aspects of it – how to number your poses and how to pose something out so it will animate well- it becomes invisible really quickly and then it’s about really getting in the head of characters and being able to write and draw them in a way that feels like them. Everything is great practice for this, comics were great practice for me as well as acting; We all have to be aware of how everyone’s acting on the boards, how to be convincing, that these characters are going though what there going through. Storyboarding taught me in a technical way about how to explore a character and use the expressiveness of that character, how it’s drawn to explain that story.

All the characters on your show are very different, do you have a favourite?

Greg is my favourite, Steven’s dad, for a ton of reasons. I think he’s the most interesting character in the show and he’s voiced by my hero Tom Scharpling. I’m a huge fan of the Best Show and it really helped me when I was moving from New York to Los Angeles to do this work, his radio show really helped me to feel tied to my home. So this character is very special to me.

StevenUniverse_still_001-2013091616505991721It’s so inspiring for me to work with Tom and to flesh him out as a character as he’s the bridge between the world of regular people and magical people and he’s so inspired by The Gems – he’s an artist. He’s very interesting, I really enjoy exploring him as a character. We see more of him as the show progresses.

Could you tell us anything about what’s coming up in upcoming season?

A lot will happen, one of the themes of the show is that there are things The Gems aren’t really very open with Steven about because he’s a little to young and I tried to design the show so that his coming of age story and his becoming aware of what’s going on with The Gems, why they act the way they act, why they are the way they are. As the ordinance you’re learning that with him. So as the series goes on, things come out in the open that explains why the world is the way it is, why Steven is the way he is and why they (The Gems) are the way they are that really what we explore and what I’m excited about showing, the reasons behind everything.

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All new episodes of Steven Universe will premiere on Cartoon Network UK this Fall.


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