Exclusive Interview: Roger Craig Smith Talks Giving Sonic A Fresh Start In Sonic Boom

Roger Craig Smith is a voice actor who has worked on a wide range of projects. In addition to voicing superheroes like Batman and Captain America, he’s also been the voice Sega’s iconic video game mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sega recently announced that Sonic was getting a bit of a makeover in Sonic Boom, a new animated TV series and video that gives Sonic a fresh start with a new design. Smith talked to us about what its been like working on this big, new, Sonic project.

You’re currently working on Sonic Boom, which I know isn’t the first time you’ve voiced Sonic. Were you a fan of the Sonic games growing up?

Of course! I mean, I was right in that prime...this is an interesting thing, to be a 38-year-old guy, and be working in so many different video games and video game characters, when I can remember getting Intellivision. My family got an Intellivision, my Dad bought for everyone on Christmas Day, and I must have been 4 or 5 when this came out. And sitting down and playing Astrosmash on what was probably a black and white TV, for all I remember, and going, “Man, the graphics on this Intellivision are so much better than Atari!” And now, cut to this many years later and I cannot believe where video game have come.

Considering, just to grow up and play Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis back in the ‘90s, and now voice the guy since 2010 is surreal. I just went back and watched an old interview with Jaleel White, talking about having voiced the character for one of the first animated series, and hearing him talk about it and his approach to it and it’s just amazing. There’s the guy that I know as Urkel from Family Matters, and it’s so bizarre.

I remember going back and playing NHL Hockey on 16-bit and it was like, “Wow, 16-bits! Incredible!” And of course, Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first games that I just thought, I cannot believe how fast these things are going, and how fluent, and how incredible the graphics are now.

So, of course, I was a fan of Sonic growing up, and it was prime time for all those video games. The console wars were happening, and there’s that book that just came out, Console Wars, and it was a real thing, and it’s crazy to be on this side of it now, but growing up right in the midst of it at a prime time for me playing video games as a young kid. Definitely surreal. I keep overusing that word, but that’s definitely how it is when you’re all grown up and getting to play the characters of your childhood.

How did you end up getting involved with voicing Sonic?

The boring answer is just like any old audition. Got a call from someone that I worked for in the past and they set up a time. I went in and they showed us some videos of previous versions of Sonic. They said they’re trying to stay in the same vein, but wanted to try something a little different. I went in, auditioned, got a call back and I was in the game. I think Freeriders was one of the first ones that we had done, and then from there it became Colors and then I think Generations from there. It was just another job that you were going in to audition for and see if you could get what the previous versions of the character were supposed to sound like, and that’s what came to be.

And now to be involved with Sonic Boom, to where we’re taking these characters and having so much fun with their relationships with one another, between Eggman and Sonic, and Sonic and Amy, and Amy and Knuckles, and everybody involved. We are having such a blast in the recording sessions for the TV series, and the game itself is epic. I cannot believe the scope of this game, as far as Sonic games go, I am chomping at the bit to get a chance to get my hands on the game and super excited for fans to kind of get a Sonic game that I hope they feel is one, like we feel, that we’ve taken so much pride in doing what we’re doing, that hopefully the fans are going to get a massive kick, because we’ve all had a ton of fun and are very, very proud of what we’ve done.

When you found out that they were rebooting Sonic with Sonic Boom, were you ever concerned that they might change the voices of the characters?

Not really. I’m actually okay with, and when you think about it you kind of have to with any of these iconic characters…do you think that Christian Bale’s Batman is anything close to 1960s TV Batman? No, but they’re still part of that same character family that we know and love. I think anytime that you’ve got characters that have been around for a very long time you have to keep kind of tweaking and refreshing them to keep them relevant, and keep them fresh.

So I wasn’t worried about it, if anything I was excited to see us explore this world of Sonic a little bit more, because it’s been so familiar for so long, I wanted to be a part of a little bit of a different attempt at trying to maybe freshen it up a bit. Not that it was getting stale or anything like that, but trying to do something different with it. If anything, if it makes you a little uncomfortable then, 9 times out of 10, that’s a good thing to be a little bit uncomfortable, because you might grow from something, or you might learn from your little mistakes here and there.

Any time you’re talking about a character as widely recognized as Sonic, a redesign – if you want to call it that – is never going to be so drastic that people go like, “Wait a second, all of a sudden he’s a turtle?” They’re going to keep him that familiar blue hedgehog and not mess with it that much, and I love the new designs. It think they’re really, really cool. They have a really neat, definite sort of action hero vibe to them, and that’s how I’ve always looked at Sonic. He’s a superhero. He’s just a little, blue, fast hedgehog.

Are you trying to do anything different with Sonic’s voice for Sonic Boom, or is it mostly as it was?

It’s going to be very similar in some respects, but I think because of the way we’re sort of exploring new, and having more fun with, the relationships, it might be a little bit different, but it’s still going to be that same attitude. Not egotistical, but that punky little dude that we know and love. His attitude is going to be, essentially, the same. He’s Sonic, tried and true, but I think, inherently, when we’re exploring different relationships and having fun with those relationships it might be a really fun take on the character, to see him in a different vein. And that’s what we’re so excited for.

In terms of the game, and gameplay, vastly different medium than an animated series. So that, for sure, is going to be Sonic, tried and true, all the way through.

Is there anything particularly unique about the situation where you’re developing Sonic Boom as both a series and a video games at the same time?

Yes, but again, because they’re such different forms of entertainment, you’ve got an animated series that’s going to involve a different approach to storytelling than, say, a video game. Because the player is controlling, not the story element, but just the pace of things and when certain events are triggered and what not, from a recording session standpoint you’re doing a lot more to cover all those unknown possibilities of things the player might decide to do. If they want to sit there and jump against the wall, over and over and over again, you’ve got to cover all the sound effects, and grunts, and whatever of your character jumping against the wall.

With an animated series, you have a much more rigid script. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with the dialog, but you have a much more rigid skeletal structure to try to accomplish in terms of, “This is what we’re going to say, this how we’re going to get from point A to point B,” where as in a video game there’s a lot of things that are beyond your control. So you kind of have to cover your bases as best you can.

And you’re having to do all the informational things. It’s no different than all the dialog that Batman does when he’s kind of repeating himself out loud, saying “there’s got to be a door to get out of this room. I wonder if there’s a way to get out of this room. I’ve got to go get a keycard the security guard gave me to get out of this room.” All of those things he’s saying are for the player’s benefit so the player can keep furthering the action, and the storyline and all that.

So there’s differences, but ones not necessarily more challenging than the other, because, at the end of the day, you’re still doing the character and you’re just acting out that character the same way you would if it was live action. You’re trying to perform what’s best for this character. And if it’s a video game or an animated series, it’s still the character, just a little different versions of the tasks at hand that have to be accomplished.

Is there any bleed between the two, where they take something recording for either the game or the show and repurpose it wholesale into the other?

I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s their intention or what they plan on doing, that’s part of the reason I’m just as excited as everyone else. I am still a member of that Sonic fanbase, just like anybody else, and to wait and see what everyone has done creatively, as a big collective and collaborative effort, I don’t know. They might incorporate one thing into the other and vice versa, I really don’t know.

I love when fan ask me to tell Sega something, or they’re like, “Hey, you need to tell Warner Bros. this,” and, yeah, I don’t really…I’m in a booth with a voice director and a writer, maybe, and a creative director or a producer, but I don’t’ necessarily have the ear of these massive companies

Usually we’re also the last people to know about these things, because they’re such closely guarded secrets. I’ve done jobs where they won’t give you the entire script of what it is you’re working on, because they don’t want any chance of someone getting it inadvertently, or you tweeting something out that you shouldn’t have, or making a mistake. A lot of these things are very closely guarded secrets, so I honestly don’t know whether they plan on doing it or not.

Sonic is a pretty drastically different character from the more serious Batman and Captain America. Do you ever get any sort of character whiplash going from one to the other?

There are certain days when you get home and you’re like, “Why am I tired?” when I’ve really done nothing physical outside of grunting and doing weird things with my voice. But yeah, there are times when you put on five or ten different hats in a day, and it’s a trip. You’ll wake up and you’ll do an episode of Yard Crashers or House Crashers, or you’ll narrate an episode of Say Yes to the Dress, or you’ll do a retail spot for an automotive campaign, and the next thing you know you’re off in the car, stuck in traffic, and you get to Cartoon Network and you do something for Regular Show or for Clarence, and you get in the car and you go to Warner Bros. to do something for Batman, or Captain America, or whoever it might be. So there are time when you say, “What am I doing today?”

Thankfully, that’s where you kind of lean on your director. I’ve actually had directors say, “Wow, it sounds like you’ve been doing narration today,” where they can pick up on the fact that you’re more mindful of your diction and the clarity of your words, and you’re going in a very staccato, and there’s a definte pattern to your tone of voice and speaking, and then you realize, “Oh, that’s right, now I’m acting. I’m just being a character right now.” I’ve got to remember that this character wouldn’t necessarily care about his diction or the clarity of his syllables and all that. That’s a challenge, but really, at the end of the day, is that a challenge? Or is it that you still can’t believe that this is your job, and you go get a cup of coffee, and the next thing you know you’re walking into Batman, or to Sonic, or to Captain America.

I know it’s still kind of early, but is there anything else in particular that you want to share about what’s coming in Sonic Boom?

It’s going to be the Sonic that we know and love, and what’s great about it now is that we have a lot of opportunity for comedy, as well as exploring other little elements, again, with these relationships between all these characters. We are having so much fun with this. I don’t want to give away too much, because I know we’re going to be learning about these projects as the year goes on, but I just know that absolutely everybody is so excited for this project to come out, both versions. Both the TV series and the game. I really, really think that the fans are going to get a massive kick out of this because I know that we have had way too much fun being a part of this.

So if I can share anything it’s that, just like you guys, I’m really excited and can’t wait to see it come out. The worst part of my job is that I do something and then it’s like a year later before I see what, creatively and collectively, everybody made. So, you know, I don’t have anything to share with firsthand knowledge right now because they don’t tell me anything [laughs]. We go in and birth this vocal baby and it leaves the nest and it’s like, ugh, bring my baby back, I want to see what happened. And we’re so excited. Any chance to play around in the Sonic universe is so much fun. I know once the game and TV series come out, the fans are going to see what it was that we were doing and they’re going to love it just as much as we loved being a part of it.