There's a good chance that if you're a fan of Sega or its mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, you've seen the colorful animated shorts that were released as part of the promotion of Sonic Mania Plus and Team Sonic Racing. The hand-drawn animation of the short videos, which ultimately tally up to around 20 minutes total between the two series, were extremely well received online, and for good reason: they are, and remain, very charming. So when the opportunity presented itself to find out how that all happened, we took it.
More specifically, ComicBook.com recently had the opportunity to speak with Sega's Director of Animation, Yukio Kusumoto, who produced both Sonic Mania Adventures for Sonic Mania Plus and Team Sonic Racing: Overdrive for (you guessed it) Team Sonic Racing. In this first part of our interview, Kusumoto explains exactly how that ball got rolling, what the company was looking to accomplish with them, and some of the hurdles the folks making it had to overcome.
ComicBook.com: How did these animated shorts come about? How did this all come together?
Yukio Kusumoto: I joined Sega about two years ago and this creating short-form content was a brand-new initiative following Sega's last effort of creating a series called Sonic Boom. And production wrapped for Sonic Boom, and we were thinking about doing something new. Thus, this short-form content idea came, and the original purpose of creating this short-form content is to create something like a companion piece to the game, really. And at that time, when I joined, Sega previously released Sonic Mania game, as a digital download I believe. And then when I joined there was a plan of creating additional SKU. It's a physical package branding called Sonic Mania Plus, and Sega had the idea of adding a few new elements to the game, and we thought, why not create a short-form content to highlight that new element and start with a companion piece, but also promote the brand as a whole. And it was, again, it was a brand-new initiative. Sega had the idea for a while, but they just didn't have a person to do it. So I joined, and that was the very first thing I did with Sega and we created six episodes so far on Sonic Mania Adventure series, and it's been a great success.
What was the actual process like for creating the series? Designing stuff, making sure things looked right -- that the series was what you wanted it to be.
So as you know, Sonic Mania the game is all about nostalgia, if you will. It's recreating the old side-scroll platform game. So I wanted to make something to speak to that. So my first mission is to find somebody who's really in tune with the original world of Sega. The creator I hire has to be a big fan of Sonic, and has to know about Sonic in and out, and it wasn't too hard to find that person. We were very lucky to have Tyson Hesse as a director who has been working with some Sega projects on and off prior, but at that time I believe he was a storyboard artist, and this was a really nice opportunity for both sides to make something brand new and having Tyson as a supervising director.
And then once we have Tyson on board, we had been discussing how we can replicate this innocent, untapped original world of Sonic, and how we can replicate the ‘90s Saturday morning cartoon type of feel. So our conclusion was we're not gonna do 3D, but let's do hand-drawn animation. And that was a challenge itself, 'cause as you know, only a very handful of production houses does hand-drawn animation at this time, and we were searching Japan, Korea, the U.S., but finally we reached this production house called Neko Productions, located in Burbank, actually not too far from our office in Burbank, and it's a little bit small production but they have a really good pool of hand-drawing animators. And we talk about the style and something close to the game, yet original. So we came up with this look that is hand drawn and not too polished to have kind of, you know, “for the fans, by the fans” type of feel. And we spent a few months designing the character, and we worked very closely with Mr. [Takashi] Iizuka, the head of [Product Development] here, and we finally nailed the look. And the rest is history.
Have you seen both sets of Sonic shorts? Would you be willing to watch more? Let us know in the comments, or hit me up directly on Twitter at @rollinbishop to talk all things gaming!