What is “CalArts” style?
By Joe Bursley
Adventure Time. Gravity Falls. Steven Universe. Star vs. The Forces of Evil. It’s not hard to argue that this past decade has seen many great cartoons with well-developed characters, beautiful music, and deep stories begin to overtake the episodic wasteland wrought by Spongebob Squarepants and others. But that is not all these shows have in common, according to some. These and other modern cartoons all suffer, supposedly, from a disease called CalArts’Style by many who critique/complain on the Internet. But what exactly do these critics mean by the term “CalArts” Style?
Also called “Thin-line animation,” the term “CalArts” style is used to, more often than not, criticize the simpler character designs of many shows over the last 8 years or so. Many fans of Western animation have griped about the “simplistic” design of these cartoons, which all seem to feature round eyes, noodle arms, “bean-shaped” heads and “worm-shaped” mouths. And, as much as I hate to give credence to anyone who complains on the internet, I must say: they do have a valid point.
Image from The Roundtable YouTube
Before we get into the controversy of how this style affects, or doesn’t affect, the industry and creative landscape, let’s first examine the cause of this style. If many artists are using the technique to the point of viewers calling it repetitive, there must be a solid reason, right?
As stated earlier, this design style is called “thin-line animation,” which is most notable for the thin outlines that animated characters and objects have. This is in contrast to “thick-line animation,” which has bold and thick borders around animated objects. Thick-line animation was popularized during the 60s and 70s with cartoons from Hanna-Barbera and the like, then made a comeback during the late 1990s and early 2000s. These terms are used to describe basic art styles as trends come and go, as many artists during a certain period often influence others.
Image from TVTropes
The term “CalArts” is being used to degrade the current trend of thin-line animation in the industry, but it goes a bit further than that. CalArts refers to the California Institute of the Arts, which is one of the biggest and most well-known art schools in the country. CalArts alumni have influenced a wide variety of animated works, such as the Disney Renaissance, Pixar Studios (artists even hide the A-113 Easter egg throughout movies to reference the classroom where graphic design and character animation is held at CalArts.), and even television cartoons such as Gravity Falls and Star vs. The Forces of Evil. So, whenever someone uses “CalArts style” in a derogatory way, they are deriding all the artists who work on these shows as well as anyone who is attending or has attended the art school.
Currently, the trend of “thin-line animation” has less to do with everyone learning the style at CalArts (many of the creators of these shows didn’t even attend the school) and more to do with tension between new digital animation and the hand-drawn animation styles of the past. Thin-line animation makes the animation process easier and faster to do in Flash and other computer programs, which is why it is more popular now than in the 1990s and early 2000s, when most animation was still traditionally hand-drawn in some aspect. In addition to this, many artists influence other artists, which is why trends exist in general. Many of these artists have worked on two or three different shows this decade. For instance, Rebecca Sugar worked on Adventure Time as a storyboard artist before breaking away to create Steven Universe. Similarly, both Matt Burnett and Ben Levin worked on Steven Universe before co-creating Craig of the Creek, which premiered this past winter. All three shows have a similar art style, which some may call repetitive and lazy, but that art style is mostly due to these creators working closely together on the same projects.
One of the main criticisms of the CalArts style is that it shows laziness from cartoon creators. In addition, many complain that the style is too simplistic and brings less diversity to design and animation. And while it is certainly possible to see it that way, I personally find this a weak and pointless argument. To start out, many of these shows don’t have the exact same style, and many of the characters still have their own unique design.
While many of these shows have a somewhat similar design as far as general face shape and smile, there are many other factors that determine a show’s art style. Steven Universe is known for its unique background art. The Amazing World of Gumball features a mix of 2D and 3D animation for various characters. Star vs. The Forces of Evil has very fluid and rubbery motion, featured in many comical action scenes. To say that all these shows are “lazy” or “derivative” is an argument that itself seems lazy and derivative.
Image from Tumblr
The CalArts style hasn’t always been used to deride thin-line animation. The original criticism came from John K, creator of Ren & Stimpy, throughout the 1990s, directed primarily at Disney animation. He claimed that the CalArts style was basically a rehash of design styles from Disney’s original ‘Nine Old Men’ that was ingrained into the teachings at the art school. CalArts has a close-knit relationship with the animation industry, as many animators in large studios have graduated from the school, and the institute was essentially co-founded by Walt and Roy Disney in the early 1960s. The main transformation of the criticism came from a 2010 blog post by John K who used the term, which then spread virally across the Internet.
Regardless, there does seem to be a trend of shows focusing on thin-line animation. Between the reboot of Thundercatsto various cereal mascot redesigns, the simplistic style is certainly pervasive in the industry right now. However, this isn’t necessarily an issue.
Western animation, as stated earlier, has seen many trends that change every decade or so. Shows in the early 2000s had either very geometric styles (such as works by Butch Hartman, Samurai Jack, Total Drama Island, etc.) or styles very similar to Eastern anime (original Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gargoyles, etc.). During the 1990s, loose curves and rubbery movement was a popular callback to original Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons (Animaniacs, Ed, Edd, n Eddy, Hey Arnold!, the Disney Afternoon programming block, etc.). Its difficult to say that all shows during these animation eras were “formulaic” or “lazy,” even if some certainly were. And while the variety and amount of cartoon shows was greater then than now, there were certainly similar art styles among multiple creators in multiple studios just as there are now.
Image from Gizmodo
To say that art style is the only factor in a show’s quality or success is also completely false. Character development, plot, story arcs, dialogue, humor, and message are all important qualities to consider for cartoons just as they are for any other storytelling media. Gravity Falls will be known more for its mystery and lore than for its character design, just as Avatar: The Last Airbender will be known more for its character arcs and overarching action plot than for its “Animesque” style.
Overall, the CalArts style insult is inaccurate, lazy, and misses the bigger picture of the world of Western animation. Many shows may look similar, but that doesn’t mean they are simplistic or lacking in any other important story elements. But if the style is really an issue, there are plenty of other shows currently airing or coming soon that feature other art styles. DuckTales (2017) uses a more angular, comic-book art style as a callback to the original Carl Barks comics. Infinity Train is a new show coming to Cartoon Network in 2019 that has its own unique style. Milo Murphy’s Law shows the same style as Phineas and Ferb (both shows were created by Jeff Marsh and Dan Povenmire) but has a more plot-driven story compared to an episodic series. The Loud House showcases more zany and “cartoonish” art style that would have fit in with the 1990s and early 2000s styles. Whichever shows you choose to watch, be sure that you are enjoying them with good intentions.
Sources: TVTropes, Huffington Post, Steven Universe Wiki, Polygon, YouTube, iSpot
Images: Byte Staff, The Roundtable YouTube, TVTropes, Tumblr, Gizmodo
Joe is a sophomore Telecommunications major at Ball State. Joe’s focus at Byte is writing and editing for the Features section. After graduation, Joe hopes to work as a producer at a news studio and eventually publish a book or two.
Outrage over Cartoon Network’s Thundercats reboot resorted to a strange, old insult: ‘CalArts style’
[Ed. note: This essay originally posted when Thundercats Roar was announced as an upcoming series. It has been updated and refreshed to coincide with the release of the first episodes of Thundercats Roar on the Cartoon Network website.]
There’s always a debate raging in the world of animation, whether it’s the presence of women in the writers room or a cartoon geek’s constitutional right to Szechuan sauce (thanks to the rowdy Rick and Morty fandom). But the announcement of Cartoon Network’s animated parody series Thundercats Roar saw the animation fandom butting heads over a rare topic: college.
ThunderCats Roaris Cartoon Network’s reboot of the classic 1980s sword-and-sorcery animated series featuring feline humanoid aliens. Where the original show took its alien battles and good-vs.-evil conflict seriously, Thundercats Roar is a hyper, kid-focused take on the same characters, setting, and world. And the initial trailer sent a number of fans to Twitter to gripe about its artistic style by targeting a handful of alma maters. One school in particular, the California Institute of the Arts, was in the hot seat, as fans complained about how this lighter take on ThunderCats was drawn not in the muscle-rippling “realistic” style of the original show, but rather in something they derisively called “CalArts Style.”
What is CalArts Style? That depends on who you ask. Over the years, prickly animation buffs have come to use the term as a catchall for what they see as a cookie-cutter style of thin-frame animation that has dominated the 2010s. Pointing to shows like Disney XD’s Gravity Falls and Star vs the Forces of Evil, and Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, The Amazing World of Gumball, and now ThunderCats Roar, those fans note the similarity in the designs of the shows’ characters, charging that the originality and artistic quality of cartoons from back in the day has been lost.
Most animators, however, agree that the label is total hogwash. Rob Renzetti — who created the 2000s Nickelodeon show My Life as a Teenage Robot, and who’s directed on shows ranging from Dexter’s Laboratory to Gravity Falls to the new DuckTales reboot — fired back against criticisms by explaining that the use of “CalArts Style” has become utterly bled of any meaning other than “I don’t like this.”
Consensus pins the proliferation of “CalArts style” as a pejorative on John Kricfalusi, better known as John K, the disgraced creator of Ren & Stimpy who was accused of underage sexual abuse in 2018. Although Kricfalusi had been reportedly using the phrase since the early 1990s, a 2010 blog post where he wrote about the style helped the criticism take off. The post embedded a number of character designs from Disney movies and alleged that those designs had been essentially regurgitated by CalArts grads ever since.
“[Disney’s] Nine Old Men had a lot of skill going for them but the animation and design by the time they were truly old was decadent and formulaic,” wrote Kricfalusi. “They kept doing the same things over and over again — and that’s what all the animators copy today — the decadent stuff, rather than the skills. Unfortunately the people who grow up inspired by copies of copies of ‘60s Disney animation learn to accept these few superficial stylistic things and don’t realize they are doing it. They unconsciously absorb it and regurgitate it in their films until the next generation comes along.”
CalArts and the Walt Disney Company have quite a history. Walt Disney himself essentially co-founded the school in 1961, and since then, it’s developed a reputation as a feeder school for the animation industry. That reputation, according to an animator and CalArts MFA graduate who asked to remain nameless, is mostly unfair:
“One reason CalArts is an easy target for people like this is the (largely perceived) idea that CalArts is a direct funnel into the large animation studios like Disney, and that alumni from the school (who can be found in every major studio) tend to hire each other over other qualified people (the colloquial term for this is ‘the CalArts mafia’),” our source wrote. “Spoiler alert: it’s not a funnel. It has a lot of famous alumni, and a good name, and some continued connections to the industry based on its prestige and geographic location. But, as with any academic institution, those things are not a guarantee of employment.”
“The reality is that there is not, and has never been, a unified “’CalArts style,’” the source continues. “There are trends in animation, just like there are trends in any artistic medium. They grow and change over time … So ‘CalArts style’ means whatever the current general direction of animation happens to be, based on maybe a few influencers in the industry who happen to be from CalArts. But the perception of CalArts controlling the course of animation is pretty overblown, and easily disproved.”
That’s the kicker. Categorizing all contemporary shows as “CalArts style” isn’t just inaccurate on an artistic level, but wrong on a technical level as well. Steven Universe’s former supervising director, Ian Jones-Quartey — who also ran his own show, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes on Cartoon Network from 2017 to 2019 — has been reminding fans for years that he and his partner, creator Rebecca Sugar, both attended the New York-based School of Visual Arts. They’re part of a generation of major cartoon creators that cut their teeth on CalArts graduate Pendleton Ward’s seminal Adventure Time, and thus would have influenced each other’s styles. That generation does include CalArts alums like Gravity Falls’ Alex Hirsch and Over the Garden Wall’s Pat McHale, but many current high-profile creators simply did not attend CalArts.
For instance, Kyle Carrozza, the creator of Mighty Magiswords, attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia. The veteran John McIntyre, who helms the animation on Cartoon Network’s Ben 10 reboot, went to the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. (Neither Victor Courtright nor Jeremy Polgar, the producer and director, respectively, of ThunderCats Roar, have their alma maters publicly listed on IMDb.)
Then again, if those fans really wanted to know what CalArts styles actually look like, maybe they should actually watch some work from recent graduates.
Many of the fans disgruntled about this “CalArts style” also use another word, “chibi,” to derisively describe characters from shows like Steven Universe and ThunderCats Roar. The word is used to describe characters in manga, anime, or Japanese-influenced animation who have big heads, tiny bodies, and saucer-sized eyes — characteristics that the protagonists from the above shows, in addition to those from Gravity Falls, Star, and Gumball, all share. It also, as a Tofugu article from 2016 thoroughly and helpfully points out, has some offensive connotations of its own.
The frustration, in many ways, seems to stem from fans who disapprove of the “cute-ification” of characters they’re used to seeing as more realistically drawn — or at least with more muscles. ThunderCats Roar is under a special sort of pressure thanks to its status, alongside fellow Cartoon Network program Teen Titans Go!, as a remake of a beloved superhero property that drastically changed up the original’s artistic style, tone, and intent. Many of these fans were also frustrated by the Powerpuff Girls reboot for similar reasons, even though the major characteristics of the character models for its heroines are essentially unchanged.
The pushback against Thundercats Roar is a fair critique. Art is all about preference, after all! But art is also about evolution and personal instincts. Rebecca Sugar’s designs for Steven Universe come from her own love of video games and Bauhaus theory. The idea that Thundercats Roar’s style is part of a monoculture produced by college instruction fails to examine history; characters from Charles Schulz’s Peanutsalso share those characteristics, as does Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. In fact, there’s plenty of proof that so-called “chibi” style has been prevalent in American comics and animation arts for the better part of a century. (Marvin the Martian, anyone?) There’s a little irony here, too, as fans often also point to the hyper-realistic style used in many anime as an “antidote” to these so-called inferior styles, while rarely noting the ways in which works in that style, also reuse certain aspects in character design — especially for women characters.
Ultimately, though, all the hubbub boils down to this: fandoms love to toil over the unknown, and people on the Internet drift toward the caustic. Just wait until Dunkin’ Donuts takes a page from McDonalds’ Rick and Morty playbook and releases a Pink Lars donut as a publicity stunt. Then the real fun will begin.
John Maher is digital editor and associate news editor at Publishers Weekly and co-founder and editor of The Dot and Line. He has written for Time Inc. Books, Esquire.com, Real Simple, Pacific Standard, Thrillist, Kirkus Reviews, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and Hyperallergic, among others.
A Look Inside the Art Behind the Earliest Days of Steven Universe
Steven Universe has become one of Cartoon Network’s most beloved shows—for everything from its nuanced characters to its toe-tapping music, to its gorgeous and vivid aesthetic. The great news is a new art book promises to reveal boatloads of work that went into making Steven Universe so good, and we’ve got a first look.
Published by Abrams Books, Steven Universe: Art and Origins offers fans rare insight into the process of making the show, as well as tons of glimpses into the earliest days of its creation, back when series creator Rebecca Sugar was doodling images of a floofy-haired, stubbly teenager in her notebook while pitching the series’ pilot to the network. Alongside rare storyboards, concept art, background pieces, and character design iterations, the book—written by Chris McDonnell, with forewords and introductions by Rebecca Sugar and Genndy Tartakovsky—also features exclusive commentary from artists who’ve worked on the show, providing insight into the universe of Steven and the Crystal Gems on an unprecedented scale.
io9 is proud to reveal a few of the never-before-pieces of artwork you’ll see in Art and Origins, including looks at how Beach City’s vibrant waterfront was brought to life—and, amazingly, some of the earliest looks at sketches of Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst from the show’s pilot and beyond, some of which contain Rebecca Sugar’s early lyrics for the show’s catchy as hell theme song, “We are the Crystal Gems.” Don’t forget to click the magnifying glass in the corner of each image to enlarge it—and them in a new tab to see them at their full resolutions.
Steven Universe: Art and Origins will be available from July 11.
Its based off of my birthstone which is Amethyst. Based the ears and tail off of the animals they have transformed into. Jacket off of Sourcream's a bit. Background is just the paper. It seemed to suit it. Also for the color of purple it's just the color of Amethyst in different opacitys. With ChristaMic's skin and hair color underneath the purple. Also the gem would be behind Christa.
Anyway how did I do with the Steven Universe art style?
Can anyone guess what's the next drawing is? Based on the media.
Universe style steven art
American animated television series
This article is about the television series. For the character, see Steven Universe (character). For the film, see Steven Universe: The Movie. For the epilogue limited series, see Steven Universe Future.
Steven Universe is an American animated television series created by Rebecca Sugar for Cartoon Network. It is Cartoon Network's first animated series to be created solely by a woman. The show tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), who lives with the Crystal Gems—magical, humanoid aliens named Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall)—in the fictional town of Beach City. Steven, who is half-Gem, has adventures with his friends and helps the Gems protect the world from their own kind. Its pilot was first shown in May 2013, and the series ran for five seasons, from November 2013 to January 2019. The TV film Steven Universe: The Movie was released in September 2019, and an epilogue limited series, Steven Universe Future, ran from December 2019 to March 2020.
The themes of the series include love, family, and the importance of healthy interpersonal relationships. Sugar based the lead character on her younger brother Steven, who was an artist for the series. She developed Steven Universe while she was a writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time, which she left when Cartoon Network commissioned her series for full production. The series is storyboard-driven; the show's storyboard artists were responsible for writing the dialogue and creating the action in addition to drawing the storyboards. Books, comics and video games based on the series have been released.
The series has developed a broad fanbase and has been critically acclaimed for its design, music, voice acting, characterization, prominence of LGBTQ themes and science fantasy worldbuilding. The series won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids & Family Program in 2019, becoming the first animated series to win the award. It also received a Peabody Award for Children's & Youth Programming in 2019. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards and five Annie Awards.
Steven Universe is set in the fictional town of Beach City, Delmarva, where the Crystal Gems live in an ancient beachside temple and protect humanity from monsters and other threats. The Gems are ageless alien warriors who project female humanoid forms from magical gemstones at the core of their being. The Crystal Gems comprise Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Steven—a young, half-human, half-Gem boy who inherited his gemstone from his mother, the Crystal Gems' former leader Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to understand his gradually expanding range of powers, he spends his days accompanying the Gems on their missions, as well as interacting with his father Greg, his best friend Connie, his magical pet lion, and the other residents of Beach City. He explores the abilities inherited from his mother, which include fusion—the ability of Gems to merge their bodies and abilities to form new, more powerful personalities.
The series' first season gradually reveals that the Crystal Gems are remnants of a great interstellar empire. During their missions they visit ruins that were once important to Gem culture but have been derelict for millennia. The Gems are cut off from the Gem homeworld, and Steven learns that many of the monsters and artifacts they encounter are Gems who were corrupted by a Gem weapon of mass destruction and can no longer maintain rational, humanoid form. By the end of the first season, Steven learns that, millennia ago, the Gem empire intended to sterilize the Earth to incubate new Gems, but Rose Quartz led her supporters, the Crystal Gems, in a violent and apparently successful rebellion against this genocidal plan. The discovery and release of Lapis Lazuli, a Gem trapped on Earth for millennia, puts the Crystal Gems at risk from the Gem empire once more, leading to the arrival of hostile envoys Peridot and Jasper.
In the second season, Peridot allies with and eventually joins the Crystal Gems to prevent Earth's destruction by a Gem "geo-weapon" buried in the planet. During the third season, Lapis Lazuli decides to live on Earth with Peridot; Jasper is defeated and captured; and Steven learns that his mother assassinated one of the Gem empire's matriarchs, Pink Diamond. In the fourth season, as Steven wrestles with his conflicted feelings about his mother's actions, the Gem empire leaders Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond begin to turn their full attention to Earth. In the fifth and final season, Steven learns that in fact his mother was Pink Diamond, who faked her death to assume the identity of Rose Quartz; he uses this revelation to persuade the other Diamonds to try to take responsibility for and fix the damage they have caused.
In 2011, after former Cartoon Network vice-president of comedy animation Curtis Lelash asked the staff for ideas for a new series, Rebecca Sugar—an artist working for the network's series Adventure Time—described her initial ideas for what would become Steven Universe, and the project was chosen for development. While developing her show, Sugar continued working on Adventure Time. The series evolved from a short story written by Sugar entitled "Ballad of Margo and Dread", about a sensitive child helping teenagers with problems they cannot verbalize.
Cartoon Network executives commissioned the show after the crew's art presentation and Sugar became the first woman to create a show independently for the network. Before a production team had been appointed, Sugar tried to alter elements of the show's plot and developed the character's identity so her crew would have the freedom she did when she worked for Adventure Time.
When Sugar's show was commissioned, she resigned from her role as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time to focus on her own series. Sugar focused the pilot short on the main characters and their personalities to demonstrate the series' humor. The pilot is a slice-of-life episode that does not involve major events because the series' world was still in development. Sugar and her production team focused the plot on interaction between the Crystal Gems and Steven. Sugar strove to make her pilot distinctive in terms of its artistic and aesthetic detail but was hampered by the time limit imposed upon her by Cartoon Network. The problems with the pilot helped Sugar develop the show's concept; she said, "to know that there is so much more that you can't see and the way that knowledge frustrates and excites and confuses and scares you".
The title character Steven is loosely based on Steven Sugar, Rebecca's younger brother. During Steven Universe's development, Sugar repeatedly asked her brother whether naming the show after him was a good idea; she stopped asking when it was commissioned. Her brother had no problem with it and trusted Sugar to use his name wisely. In an interview with the New York Times, Sugar discussed developing the background of the show's protagonist, saying she wanted to base the character's viewpoint on her brother growing up "where you're so comfortable in your life because you get all the attention, but you also want to rise up and not be the little brother".
When the original pilot was presented to Cartoon Network executives, they told the crew the series would air in 2013. Cartoon Network released the original pilot in May 2013. Sugar and her team panicked because the series was going to be very different from the pilot episode. The pilot was popular when it was released, engendering forum discussions in which people expressed their hopes of seeing it on the air soon. Those who knew Rebecca Sugar from Adventure Time were also interested. Positive reaction to the show reassured its crew.
To prepare for the show's commissioning by Cartoon Network, Sugar began assembling a production crew. Jackie Buscarino was engaged as a producer in September 2012 and was tasked with hiring people and supervising the show's crew. During this period of development, Sugar and her team were moved to a building behind the main Cartoon Network studio and based on the same floor as the crew of The Powerpuff Girls CGI special. Some artists who had worked on the special, such as colorist Tiffany Ford and art directors Kevin Dart, Ellie Michalka and Jasmin Lai, were later invited to join the Steven Universe team. Cartoon Network also provided Sugar with a list of suggested writers; when she saw Ben Levin and Matt Burnett (former writers for Level Up) on the list she immediately asked them to join her team because she was familiar with their work. Freelance artist Danny Hynes, whom the former supervising director Ian Jones-Quartey knew from his own project Lakewood Plaza Turbo, became the show's lead character designer. Steven Sugar was assigned as the background designer after his work on the original pilot, and was assisted by Dart, Michalka, Lai, background painter Amanda Winterston and others.
During the art presentation, Jones-Quartey, Guy, Hynes and Steven Sugar created artwork that differed from their previous work. Jones-Quartey wanted to work with something new, retaining elements of the show's previous project. He worked with Elle Michalka, who later took over his role as background painter for the presentation, to create concept art for an "action-comedy" series. Around this time, Jones-Quartey added stars to the series' logo because he saw them as a versatile symbol. He later said he over-used them, and they were criticized at the art presentation. The art presentation's drawings were by Rebecca Sugar, Jones-Quartey, Hynes, Paul Villeco (a writer and storyboard artist) and Steven Sugar. Michalka did the painting.
During the development of the Steven Universe pilot, Sugar focused much attention on the design of the world, adding notes to her drawings. Inspired by the idea of foreign figures (Gems) living human lives, she drew many sketches depicting their world and history. The series' design was also inspired by her and her brother's interest in video games, comics and animation. After the series was commissioned, Sugar decided to redesign everything to make the series "flexible and simple" for future production staff to add ideas of their own. During this time, the art director was Kevin Dart, followed by Jasmin Lai, Elle Michalka, and Ricky Cometa. Dart's artistic style has remained a great influence on the show long after his departure. Steven Sugar praised Dart's work and was inspired by him in college years, saying Dart had more ideas for the art than he did.
In the pilot, only two locations appeared (the Temple and the Big Donut). The Temple was designed by Ian Jones-Quartey, Steven Sugar, Ben Levin, Matt Burnett, Tom Herpich and Andy Ristaino. The Temple's dual faces were based on Guy Davis' ideas. Steven Sugar designed the rest of Beach City for the series; he was painstaking in his attention to detail. Sugar also designed people, houses, cars, buildings and restaurants. Because of Rebecca Sugar's redesigned drawings, the two original locations had to be redrawn.
To find inspiration for the show's backgrounds, the Sugars and Jones-Quartey went to their favorite beaches. The series' setting, Beach City, is loosely based on Delaware beaches Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach, all of which Rebecca Sugar visited as a child. Steven Sugar drew Beach City with a boardwalk lined with a variety of shops. He wanted it to have a "specific style" so viewers could believe it was based on a real location; he drew the roads and shops consistently oriented with the Temple and a water tower. The concept for the primary setting was inspired by Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump, which features a small environment in which the recurring characters live where they work. Steven Sugar made the boardwalk the focus of Steven Universe's human world.
Main article: List of Steven Universe characters
During the early stages of production, Sugar worked on character appearance and personality development simultaneously; during this process of conception, she was heavily inspired by fantasy television characters she and her brother used to draw when they were younger. Lead character designer Danny Hynes, influenced by the design of Mickey Mouse by Disney artists, wanted the characters to be standardized, simple and recognizable. He proposed 24 human characters to the crew; Rebecca and Steven Sugar drew 22 designs—13 of which were made official. The coloring was done by Jones-Quartey. Rebecca Sugar merged several characters during the pilot development; supporting characters Lars and Sadie were originally created when she was in college. The Pizza family was based on Jones-Quartey's Ghanaian family, and Ronaldo was created by Ben Levin and Matt Burnett. Guy Davis, a childhood friend of the Sugars, designed the early monsters and Gem architecture.
Making a character "look alive" was always a priority in their design; according to Jones-Quartey, a character's emotions should be clearly delineated. The character design team's mission is for the characters to resemble a classic cartoon such as 1940s Disney cartoons, Dragon Ball Z or the works of Osamu Tezuka and Harvey Kurtzman. In drawing the characters for each episode, the crew has two weeks to make modifications. Character names and some designs were inspired by types of food, and some characters were redesigned because the pilot revealed discrepancies between appearances and personalities. Sugar planned for the characters' designs to receive visual benchmarks so the show's artists can draw them consistently. Sugar aimed to make the designs for her characters simple, flexible and consistent so the production team members would not become bogged down by over-complex details. This redesigning meant the appearances of the characters in the pilot episode differs substantially from their depiction in the television series.
Sugar wanted the Gems to resemble humans; she developed the Crystal Gems to ride a roller coaster of family life with Steven, whom they would treat like a brother. She wanted their gems to reflect their personalities; Pearl's perfect smoothness, Amethyst's coarseness and Garnet's air of mystery. According to Sugar, the Gems are "some version of me ... neurotic, lazy, decisive". Their facial designs were influenced by Wassily Kandinsky, who taught at the Bauhaus and encouraged his students to pair three primary colors—red, yellow and blue—with the three basic shapes—square, triangle and circle. Because of the characters' personalities, Garnet is square, Amethyst is a sphere and Pearl is a cone. Sugar wanted to give the Gems a superpower similar to those of classic cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny. The Gems' ability to shape-shift is a reference to older cartoons such as Tex Avery's work for MGM, where characters would change at will. Although the Crystal Gems are intended to be serious characters, the writers wanted them to be "funny and weird" as well.
According to Sugar, production for Steven Universe began while she was working on Adventure Time, her last episode for which was "Simon & Marcy". Working on both series simultaneously became impossible; she also encountered difficulty in the production of the episode "Bad Little Boy". Cartoon Network executives authorized the Steven Universe production crew to begin working after their pre-production presentation, for which the crew were well-prepared. The episodes "Cheeseburger Backpack" and "Together Breakfast" were developed at this time. Although Sugar works as executive producer on the series' art, animation and sound, she considers herself "the most hands on" at the storyboarding stage.
The episode outlines are passed to the storyboarders, who create the action for the episode and write its dialogue. The storyboards are animated, using paper drawings and the production crew's designs, by one of two Korean studios; Sunmin and Rough Draft and the production crew's designs.
During storyboard meetings, artists draw their ideas on post-it notes, which are then attached to walls, table and boxes in the corners of their conference room. The drawings play a major role in forming episode ideas; Sugar looks at these designs and occasionally makes changes to key poses. Sugar likes to review and re-draw scenes and characters to add extra pathos and emotion to storyboards. Each episode's storyboards are created by two artists, each of whom writes half of the dialogue and draws panels similar to comic strips. This process can be quite complex; the storyboard artists must create the cinematography and focus on scenic design in a way similar to film production. After the panels are made, the thumbnail-storyboard artists draw mannerisms and dialogue based on their own experiences; Sugar draws "quintessential" scenes from her memories of hanging out with her brother after school. The storyboard artists then discuss their work with the rest of the crew and make any necessary changes. After the team discussion, the storyboard artists draw a revised board—based on the thumbnail board—on a full-size panel with notes. The storyboards are again discussed, corrected and finally approved.
During the pilot development, Sugar wrote and sketched a number of plot ideas that later became episodes. The series' initial premise focused mostly on Steven's human side, rather than his magic side, but the premise was later changed. Sugar developed the Gems' history in conjunction with the pilot episode. While the first season of the show introduced the human and Gem characters and their relationships, Sugar began to plot and explore second-season storylines involving the Crystal Gems. Eventually, Sugar created a chart with taped printouts about a 2,000-year Gem and Earth history, with a number of events needing to be "fleshed out" for production. Although the series' overall plot is established, the writers improvise to arrive at its ending; according to Matt Burnett, the storylines will be resolved by the series' end. Sugar wanted the series to focus on comedy and positivity before exploring controversial subjects involving the main characters, thinking it was "more honest" to begin the show with happiness instead of action or drama.
The writers—formerly Levin and Burnett—would write the premises and outlines while the storyboarders wrote and drew the episodes. Everyone would wait at least a day to get together and discuss. The writers write potential episode names on paper cards, which they pin on the conference-room wall to review what they have written and plan their meetings. They discuss episode pacing and vary each season's texture by balancing "lighter" and "heavier" story arcs. Changes in major-character appearances—such as Yellow Diamond—in a storyline can be difficult for the writers. According to Ben Levin, writing a season of Steven Universe is like a "jigsaw puzzle" because the writing team must assemble a number of plot ideas, which are discarded if they do not benefit character growth. After further discussion and questions about the writing, an idea becomes an episode. After discussing a season's proposed episodes the "puzzle" is complete, and they begin writing a major story arc or a season finale. Burnett said writing a season is like an algebraic equation "where one side is the season finale, and the x's and y's are the episodes we need for that solution to make sense"; he cited "Ocean Gem", "Steven the Sword Fighter", "Monster Buddies", "An Indirect Kiss" and "Serious Steven" as examples. Those episodes led to the season-one finale as a minor story arc. To develop new ideas for episodes, the writers play writing games. In one, a scenario with characters is drawn and passed to another writer. The second writer adds a few sentences before giving it to a third, until the drawing has a three-act story. Episodes such as "Island Adventure", "Future Boy Zoltron" and "Onion Friend" were written this way. The writers also play drawing games, which design new Gem characters and technological ideas. Burnett said he and Levin use fewer ideas from the storyboarders than they previously did; storyboarders change fewer things than they did before because the episodes have a "stronger continuity".
According to Levin, he and Burnett try to balance the focus between the main characters—with Steven in the center—and the theme of episodes in their writing. The balance indicates Steven has the same interests on his human side as he does on his Gem side. Levin said the Gem mythology and drama would have been less interesting if Steven was not as well-developed in the first few episodes. Grateful to work on a show which is unafraid to be "sincere and vulnerable", he said if every episode was emotional the series would become formulaic; happy episodes balance out emotional ones. Levin said he and Burnett have found ways to integrate Steven's powers into the plot. The character's powers and home-world technology are revealed at a "measured (very slow) pace", satisfying the viewer and keeping the series clear of superhero territory.
Before significant plotlines air, the writers reveal information relevant to a "climactic" episode for the audience. According to storyboard artist Hilary Florido, much of the series' action and magic are narrative climaxes, demonstrating the characters' discoveries, difficulties and views. Florido said if a character's evolution is not directly related to the plot, there is no drama. The crew is discouraged from breaking perspective involving episode development as they want the audience to know the protagonist's point of view. Although the writers could hint at future events, they prefer to focus on plot and develop Steven in real time. Levin said if the pilot tried to present Gem history in five minutes, the audience and protagonist would be equally confused.
The production of background art begins after the approved storyboards are received. If the characters visit old locations, the pre-existing backgrounds are modified for authenticity; it is likely locations would change slightly over time. Steven Sugar likes to hide narrative bits in the backgrounds because he believes the key to world-building is "having a cohesive underlying structure to everything". Former art director Elle Michalka said the backgrounds' artistic style was inspired by French post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, whose apparent lack of focus belied detail and specificity. The art was also inspired by Tao Te Ching, whose work highlights the importance of empty spaces, "like the space within a vase as being part of the vase that makes it useful". During the painting phase, the painters see the lines as "descriptive bones" and color is used loosely, meaning the color is intentionally slightly off register, highlighting the distinction between color and line. The painters used "superimposed" watercolor texture before switching to Photoshop because the former made the backgrounds "very chunky". When painting the backgrounds, they use one primary and several secondary colors; Amanda Winterston and Jasmin Lai found suitable color combinations. After the primary backgrounds are painted, they are sent to the color stylist, who chooses colors for a character or prop from model sheets, matching and complementing the storyboard and background. The lines of the character or prop are rarely colored. The lines are removed when scenes need light effects. The coloring in early season-one episodes was experimental because the stylist would have difficulty if a storyboard's character and background mixed together or a bright character walked unchanged into a shadow. Mistakes became rare as the crew planned and checked storyboards. The primary backgrounds are made in Burbank; the secondary ones by Korean artists.
After the crew finishes constructing an episode, the production team sends it to animators in Korea. The animation is produced by Sunmin Image Pictures and Rough Draft Korea. The production team and animators communicate by email and sometimes use video chat when animating a major episode. Before sending the episode to one of the studios, animation director Nick DeMayo and his team create a plan for the animators after reviewing the animatics. They then add character movements on exposure sheets to guide the animators. Mouth assignments for the characters, describing mouth shapes and timing for lip-syncing, follow. The episode is then sent to one of the animation studios. The black-and-white version is sent first, followed about two weeks later by the colored version. The animation is drawn and inked on paper, then scanned and colored digitally. The crew then arranges a "work print" meeting to discuss the episode and review it for errors. DeMayo notes any errors, removes them and sends the episode back to the animation studio or to Cartoon Network's post-production department to fix any remaining issues. Minor animation mistakes or omissions are fixed by the crew.
American actor Zach Callison voices Steven. The role of Steven is his first lead role on television. For his audition, Callison spoke ten lines of dialogue from the pilot and sang the theme song while being recorded. Garnet, the Crystal Gem leader, is voiced by Estelle, a singer, songwriter and actor. Cartoon Network asked Estelle to take the part, her first voice-acting role.Steven Universe was also the first animation voice role for actor Michaela Dietz who voices Amethyst and The Party singer Deedee Magno who voices Pearl. Sugar wanted Tom Scharpling, whom she knew from his podcast The Best Show with Tom Scharpling, to voice a character for one of her projects before Steven Universe was conceived. She approached Scharpling for the part of Greg Universe, who was originally named Tom. The Ruby Gems are voiced by Charlyne Yi, to whom Sugar wrote to say she was confident Yi would be perfect for the role.Grace Rolek, who voices Steven's friend Connie, was 16 years old when the series began; Rolek has been a voice actor in animated productions since the age of five or six.
The show's four main voice actors—Callison, Dietz, Magno and Estelle—spend three to four hours recording per session; three to four weeks a month for ten months each year. Cast members record together or separately; they are often recording multiple episodes. Each recording session covers a new episode and includes retakes for that episode or previous ones if needed. In group recording sessions, a maximum of six actors stand in a semicircle. Sugar and voice director Kent Osborne attend the sessions, advising the actors about voicing the characters in specific situations. If they like a take, the production assistant marks it and gives it to the animation editor for the episode's rough cut. When a recording session begins, Sugar explains the storyboards and describes the sequences, character intention and the relationship between them; Osborne does the recording. Before the sessions, Sugar and the voice actors discuss new plot elements and shows them the advanced storyboards. Magno said she enjoys the group recording sessions because the funny faces the cast members make while recording lines requiring emotion or movement often cause them to laugh.
Steven Universe features songs and musical numbers produced by Sugar and her writers, who collaborate on each song's lyrics. Multiple drafts of the theme song's lyrics were written. Sugar composed the extended theme song while waiting in line for a security check at Los Angeles International Airport. The series relies on leitmotifs for its soundtrack; instruments, genres and melodies are allotted to specific characters. The music is influenced by the works of Michael Jackson and Estelle; and Sugar has cited Aimee Mann as "a huge influence". Sugar writes songs for the series during her travels, accompanying herself on a ukulele. Not every episode features a song; according to Sugar, she uses them occasionally, to avoid forced creativity.
Most of the show's incidental music is composed by the chiptune piano duo Aivi & Surasshu, with guitars by Stemage. Jeff Liu, who was familiar with producer Aivi's musical score for the video game Cryamore, recommended her to Sugar as a composer. Sugar asked Aivi to audition and agreed that producer Surasshu could join her. Aivi & Surasshu scored a clip from "Gem Glow", the series' first episode; Sugar liked their work and hired them as series composers. Before composing an episode, Aivi & Surasshu video chat with Sugar and the creative director to discuss the episode; they have a week to send Sugar a preview score. After any necessary changes, Aivi & Surasshu send the score to Sabre Media Studios for the final mix with their sound designs.
Each character has a leitmotif expressing their personality, which changes slightly depending on the situation. Pearl is often accompanied by a piano, Garnet by a synth bass, Amethyst by a drum machine with electric bass and synths, and Steven with chiptune tones. Sound palettes were produced for the human characters to represent the evolution of the series, its characters and their relationships. Sound motifs and palettes were also created for locations, objects and abstract concepts. When Sugar or the other writers write a song for an episode, they record a demo that is sent to the composers. The same musical style for a song and the character singing it is used for each song. Over time, the songs have become increasingly complex and production has become more difficult because the show's original musical style no longer fits perfectly with the newer lyrical themes. An example is "Here Comes a Thought", sung by Estelle and AJ Michalka (who voices Stevonnie). The two were less inspired by a specific musical style, but rather by the song's "feel", which Sugar had explained to them.
The pilot episode of Steven Universe was released on Cartoon Network's video platform on May 21, 2013, and an edited version was released on July 20. The pilot was shown at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, and Sugar hosted a 30-minute panel discussion about the series at the 2013 New York Comic Con on October 13. Initially, thirteen half-hours (26 episodes) were ordered for the first season; on November 14, the season was picked up for an additional thirteen half-hours. The series was renewed for a second season of 26 half-hours on July 25, 2014, which began airing on March 13, 2015, and for a third season of 26 half-hours in July 2015. In March 2016, a production shuffle saw the second and third seasons subdivided to create four seasons of 13 half-hours each, making a total of five seasons. Finally, in 2016, following the decision to end the series, Sugar petitioned Cartoon Network to extend the fifth season by three extra half-hours to wrap up the story, making it 16 half-hours total.
The series premiered in the United States on November 4, 2013, on Cartoon Network with two episodes. In Canada, it began airing on Cartoon Network on November 11, 2013, and on Teletoon on April 24, 2014. It began airing on Cartoon Network channels in Australia on February 3, 2014, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland on May 12 of that year.
Beginning in 2015, Cartoon Network often aired new episodes in groups of five over one week—marketed as "Stevenbombs"—rather than one episode per week. The hiatuses between groups have irritated fans, according to The A.V. Club causing "agonized cries of a rabid, starving, pained cult following". The format, which is also used for other Cartoon Network series, has, in the website's view, contributed to the network's spikes in Google Trends associated with each "bomb". The A.V. Club attributed the effect to Steven Universe's unusual—for a youth cartoon—adherence to an overarching plot, which can generate "massive swells of online interest"—similar to the release of full seasons of adult TV series—which are "crucial to a network's vitality in an increasingly internet-based television world".
In May 2018, Cartoon Network apologized to fans after one of the channel's promotional videos contained unaired footage with significant spoilers for future episodes. In response to the video, former series producer Ian Jones-Quartey noted in a later-deleted tweet that "being a Steven Universe fan is suffering", alluding to the series' irregular and unpredictable airing schedule. In an October 2020 art book for the series, Sugar stated that when clips from unaired episodes, giving away major spoilers, were leaked or those clips were used in official promotional videos, it was "very demoralizing for the crew."
From June 2, 2018 to July 29, 2018, Steven Universe aired re-runs on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang.
Main article: List of Steven Universe episodes
"Say Uncle" is a crossover episode with Uncle Grandpa that aired on April 2, 2015. In the episode, Uncle Grandpa helps Steven use his Gem powers when he cannot summon his shield. The episode contains an acknowledgement by Uncle Grandpa that the episode is not canonical. Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and other Cartoon Network characters from current and former shows made cameo appearances in the Uncle Grandpa episode "Pizza Eve".
Additionally, Garnet appeared in "Crossover Nexus", an episode of OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, which aired on October 8, 2018. In the episode, Garnet teamed up with K.O., Ben Tennyson from Ben 10 and Raven from Teen Titans Go! to stop the villain Strike.
Main article: List of Steven Universe episodes § Shorts
Two volumes of mini-episodes have been released by Cartoon Network. The first one includes the extended title theme "We Are the Crystal Gems"; shorts in which the Crystal Gems teach Steven about Gems in a classroom setting; an unboxing video of Steven's new duffel bag; and a short in which Steven's pet lion is playing with a cardboard box. The second volume contains fives minisodes that show Steven cooking, performing karaoke, reacting to "Crying Breakfast Friends!", video chatting with Lapis and Peridot, and playing a new song.
Cancellation and sequels
According to Rebecca Sugar, she was notified in 2016 that the series would be cancelled at the end of the fifth season. She prevailed upon Cartoon Network to extend the fifth season to 32 episodes, in order to have room to complete the story, as well as a follow-up television film, Steven Universe: The Movie. Along with the film, Cartoon Network also greenlighted an additional season of 20 episodes, which would become the sequel series Steven Universe Future, taking place after the events of the film. Despite the show's end, Sugar has indicated that more stories could exist, but has stated that she needs a long break before deciding how to approach such a continuation.
Main article: Steven Universe: The Movie
The follow-up TV film, Steven Universe: The Movie, was announced on July 21, 2018, at San Diego Comic-Con. A teaser was shown and was uploaded to the Cartoon Network YouTube channel. It was released on Cartoon Network commercial-free on September 2, 2019. The 82-minute film takes place two years after the events of the series finale; its plot centers on a deranged Gem, Spinel, erasing the Crystal Gems' memories to take revenge for her abandonment by Steven's mother.
Sequel limited series
Main article: Steven Universe Future
The limited seriesSteven Universe Future, intended to serve as an epilogue to the main series, was announced at the 2019 New York Comic Con.Steven Universe Future premiered on December 7, 2019 and ran for a total of 20 11-minute episodes, including a four-part finale airing on March 27, 2020. Its narrative focuses on Steven dealing with his own emotional trauma in the aftermath of the events of the series.
A number of companion books have been published:
- Steven Universe's Guide to the Crystal Gems (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183160) by series creator Rebecca Sugar, with information about the Crystal Gems.
- Quest for Gem Magic (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183177) by Max Brallier is a "colorful journal and activity book" for 8- to 12-year-olds.
- Steven Universe Mad Libs (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183092) by Walter Burns is a Mad Libs word-game book.
- Steven Universe: Live from Beach City (February 2016, ISBN 978-0843183498) is a music and activity book with chord charts and sheet music for the first season's major songs.
- What in the Universe? (February 2016, ISBN 978-0843183481) by Jake Black is a collection of trivia about Steven and the Gems.
- Best Buds Together Fun (June 2016, ISBN 978-1101995167) by Jake Black is a "quiz and activity book" for at 8- to 12-year-olds.
- The Answer (September 2016, ISBN 978-0399541704) by Rebecca Sugar is a children's-book adaptation of the episode, "The Answer". It was seventh on The New York Times Best Seller list on October 2, 2016.
- The Tale of Steven (October 2019, ISBN 978-1419741487) by Rebecca Sugar is a children's book companion to the episode "Change Your Mind". Inspired by Sugar's experience of coming out, it retells Pink Diamond's decision to become Rose Quartz and to create Steven from the perspectives of White Diamond, Rose and Steven himself, each readable by rotating the pages of the book in different directions.
Nonfiction books covering the development of the franchise and compiling production artwork have also been published:
- Steven Universe: Art and Origins (July 2017, Abrams Books, ISBN 978-1419724435) by Chris McDonnell, with an introduction by Dexter's Laboratory creator Genndy Tartakovsky and a foreword by Rebecca Sugar. The book contains concept art, production samples, early sketches, storyboards and commentary by the Steven Universe production crew.
- The Art of Steven Universe The Movie (March 2020, Dark Horse, ISBN 978-1506715070) by Ryan Sands, which contains preliminary character designs and storyboards.
- Steven Universe: End of an Era (October 2020, Abrams Books, ISBN 978-1419742842) by Chris McDonnell, with a foreword by N. K. Jemisin.
The tactical role-playing video game Steven Universe: Attack the Light! was released on April 2, 2015, for iOS and Android devices. It was developed by Grumpyface Studios in collaboration with Sugar for mobile devices. Players control Steven and three Crystal Gems to fight light monsters. A sequel, Steven Universe: Save the Light, was released for consoles in October 2017. Another sequel, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, was released exclusively on Apple Arcade in November 2019. It was then rereleased on PC (Steam) and consoles in February 2021.
A rhythm-based mobile game, Steven Universe: Soundtrack Attack, was released on July 21, 2016, in the United States. A player-created Gem flees her pursuer through side-scrolling stages set to remixes of the series' music. Another mobile game, Steven Universe: Dreamland Arcade, was released in 2017; it is a collection of arcade games with characters from the series.
Steven Universe characters appear in Cartoon Network's kart racing gameFormula Cartoon All-Stars and in the side-scrolling, beat-'em-up game Battle Crashers. In common with other Cartoon Network series, several browser-based games—including Heap of Trouble, Goat Guardian and Gem Bound—are available on the channel's website.
On February 26, 2019, Minecraft released a Mash-Up Pack based on Steven Universe, making it the second Cartoon Network series to receive one after Adventure Time.
On December 4, 2019, Brawlhalla, a free-to-play fighting game, added Steven Universe characters.
BOOM! Studios has published several limited comics series based on Steven Universe:
- A monthly comic series, written by Jeremy Sorese and illustrated by Coleman Engle, was first published in August 2014. It ended in March 2015.
- A graphic novel, the first in a planned series, was published by KaBOOM! on April 6, 2016. Also written by Sorese, drawn by Asia Kendrick Holton, and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, and based on a story by Ian Jones-Quartey, Too Cool for School is about Steven accompanying Connie to school.
- A four-part comic miniseries titled Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems was published in 2016. It is written by Josecline Fenton and illustrated by Chrystin Garland, and the covers are illustrated by Kat Leyh.
- A reboot comic series written by Melanie Gillman and illustrated by Katy Farina began publication in January 2017. It has also been written by Grace Kraft, and illustrated by Rii Abrego, Meg Omac, and Kat Hayashida. Since Issue 9 to Issue 12 and Issue 13 to onwards it is written by Kraft and illustrated by Abrego.
- A second graphic novel called Anti-Gravity was released in July 2017. It is written by Talya Perper and illustrated by Queenie Chan.
- A five-issue miniseries called Steven Universe: Harmony was first released in August 2018. It is written by Shane Michael Vidaurri and illustrated by Mollie Rose. The covers are illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage.
Toys and merchandise
In October 2015, Cartoon Network announced a line of toys based on Steven Universe, which would be sold by specialty retailers. For the 2015 holiday season, Funko made "Pop!" vinyl figures and Just Toys offered "blind bag" novelty products. PhatMojo sold plush figures and foam weapons, and Zag Toys released collectible bobbleheads and other mini-figures in early 2016. The following year, Toy Factory planned to sell a line of plush and novelty items. Cartoon Network sells a variety of products, including mugs, blankets and clothing, based on the show's episodes and characters.
The first soundtrack album collecting songs from the first four seasons, Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1, was released on June 2, 2017. The soundtrack debuted at number 22 on the Billboard 200, number two on the Soundtracks chart, and number one on the Independent Albums chart. In Europe, it reached number 28 on the UK Album Downloads Chart, nine on the country's Soundtrack chart, 56 on the nation's official Compilation chart, and 174 on the Ultratop Flanders album chart. An album of songs from the fifth and final season, Steven Universe: Volume 2 (Original Soundtrack) as well as a karaoke album were released on April 12, 2019.Volume 2 debuted at number 24 on the Soundtracks chart, number 28 on the Independent Albums chart, and number 14 on the Kid Albums chart. A soundtrack for the movie featuring its songs and score was released on September 3, 2019, peaking at number 57 on the Billboard 200, number five on the soundtrack chart, number six on the Independent chart, and number two on the Kid Albums chart. The soundtrack for Steven Universe Future was released on October 23, 2020.
Five albums featuring the show's score were released on May 29, June 26, July 31, August 28, and September 25, 2020 respectively 
Steven Universe has been widely praised for its art, music, voice performances, storytelling and characterization. According to James Whitbrook of io9, it is an "equally rewarding watch" for adults and children, and Eric Thurm of Wired has called it "one of the stealthiest, smartest, and most beautiful things on the air". Over the course of its run, Steven Universe has attracted a rapidly-growing fan base. In 2019, TV Guide ranked Steven Universe #61 in its selection of the top 100 contemporary television series, describing the series as "groundbreaking" with an "uplifting, self-affirming message".
Critics have praised the "breathtaking beauty", "intriguing, immersive environments" and "loveably goofy aesthetic" of Steven Universe's art, writing highly of its distinctive, soft pastel backgrounds and its "gorgeous, expressive, clean animation". Reviewers also enjoyed the diverse, ensemble cast's voice acting, particularly that of Tom Scharpling's Greg,Zach Callison's "exuberant and expressive" work as Steven and Grace Rolek "singing her heart out" as Connie.
All five seasons of Steven Universe hold a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The website's critical consensus for season five reads "Having blossomed into a sophisticated mythology with a deeply moving subtext, Steven Universe remains a sparkling entertainment and perfect introduction to LGBTQ representation for children."
Style and themes
Sugar wanted Steven Universe to be thematically consistent with hers and her brother's shared interests. As a coming-of-age series, the theme of family is important since Sugar based the titular character on her brother. Additionally, the theme of love was inspired by her relationship with Jones-Quartey. The series also expresses the importance of acceptance, and explores relationships, LGBT identity, body shapes and "hues of skin in a colorful sci-fi magic display of diversity". According to Kat Morris, the series' central concepts are developed over time in an organic way, rather than being "overly calculated" from the start. Former writer Matt Burnett said the series' simple-life theme prevented the inclusion of "cynicism" or "snarkiness". According to Burnett, the writers have no interest in a superhero theme.
The unusually strong female presence in a series about a boy—all major characters except Steven and Greg are female—is intentional according to Sugar, who intended to "tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children", considering it "absurd" that shows for boys should be fundamentally different from those for girls. She developed the series' plot towards a distant goal, with everything in between kept flexible, partly because her intentions have "changed since I've started because I've grown up a lot" while working on the show. Sugar described the series as "reverse escapism": the idea that fantasy characters would become interested in real life and would want to participate in it. Steven personifies the "love affair between fantasy and reality". Sugar said Steven Universe was influenced by the anime series Future Boy Conan, Revolutionary Girl Utena and The Simpsons.Steven Universe, according to Eric Thurm, is a low-key, slice of life portrayal of childhood, an examination of unconventional family dynamics, a homage to anime, video games and other pop-culture mainstays, and a "straightforward kids' show about superheroes". Jacob Hope Chapman of Anime News Network said the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon are Steven Universe's strongest influences visually and structurally, reflected by its "predominantly playful tone, interrupted by crushing drama at key moments", and its "glorification of the strengths of femininity, dilution of gender barriers, and emphasis on a wide variety of relationships between women, aimed at a family audience".Steven Universe also refers to Japanese cultural icons, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball Z, Studio Ghibli movies and Junji Ito's horror manga The Enigma of Amigara Fault.
According to Whitbrook, the series' "masterful sense of pace" allows it to integrate foreshadowing and worldbuilding into scenes, which makes an overarching, dramatic narrative emerge from what might otherwise be "monster of the week" episodes. The narration of a complex story from a child's perspective means its exposition remains "artfully restrained, growing in ambition with the series" and Steven's character.Steven Universe's measured pace allows its characters to become "more complex and interesting than most of their counterparts on prestige dramas", developing "as real people and not entities serving narrative functions". The series explores increasingly-challenging facets of relationships, such as the possibility Pearl may partially resent Steven because he is the reason his mother Rose no longer exists, and the growing self-destruction of Pearl's "all-consuming passion" for Rose. Its action scenes—such as Estelle's song presenting the climactic fight in "Jail Break" as a contest between Garnet's loving relationship and Jasper's lone-wolf attitude—are occasionally cast as philosophical arguments.
Main article: List of Steven Universe characters
Adams highlighted the "groundbreaking and inventive" portrayal of the complicated "mentor/caregiver/older sibling dynamic" between Steven and the Crystal Gems in a series which, at its core, is about sibling relationships. Thurm wrote that a notable emotional difference between Steven Universe, and Adventure Time and Regular Show, is that the latter two series deal with their protagonists' transitions to adulthood whereas during its first season, Steven Universe was content to be "enamored with the simplicity of childhood". Steven slowly grows from being an obnoxious, tag-along child to an accepted member of the Crystal Gems in his own right by the end of the first season, a change brought about by increased insight and experience rather than age. Joe Cain noted in The Mary Sue that unlike heroes from antiquity (Hercules) and modern fiction (Luke Skywalker), Steven is defined by his mother's legacy rather than his father's; the preponderance of mother figures in the series underscores their rarity in other fiction. According to Kat Smalley of PopMatters, the Gems' alien nature, which prevents them from fully understanding the world they protect, is handled with "remarkable depth and intellectual rigor", even as they deal with human issues such as "depression, post-traumatic stress, and self-loathing" remaining from the long-past war for Earth.
Smalley characterized Steven Universe as part of a growing trend of cartoons that appeal to adults and children alike, which includes Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005), its sequel The Legend of Korra (2012), Adventure Time (2010) and Regular Show (2010). This is reflected in the series' outreach to minorities that seldom appear elsewhere in animation and its broader themes: instead of delivering genre-typical, mustache-twirling villains, Steven Universe "deals with issues of extraordinary violence and horror, depicts its characters in shades of grey, and subtly plays with matters of philosophy, morality, and interpersonal conflicts, all while refusing to reset any development to a status quo".
Gender and sexuality
See also: Cartoon Network and LGBTQ representation
"Gender is at the forefront of the conversation surrounding Steven Universe", according to Erik Adams of the A.V. Club, who noted that "the show's superheroes are all women". As a self-aware pastiche of magical girl anime, the series subverts the genre's premises by having Steven embody the loving femininity of the typical magical-girl protagonist without ridicule or losing his masculine side. Whitbrook characterized the series as being "about love—all kinds of love", including non-traditional forms such as the motherly and friendly bond between Steven and the Gems, and Garnet as the "physical embodiment of a lesbian relationship".
When placing the series on the honor list of the 2015 Tiptree Award, which recognizes works of science fiction or fantasy that explore and expand gender roles, the jury wrote: "In the context of children's television, this show deals with gender in a much more open and mature way than is typical for the genre, and has some of the best writing of any cartoon ... In addition to showing men and women who do not necessarily conform to standard American gender ideals, the show also gives us an agender/non-binary character and a thoughtful exploration of growing up".
In 2015, Autostraddle's Mey Rude wrote that Steven Universe was the most-recent animated series for a younger audience with significant queer themes, such as the androgynous fusion Stevonnie and the romantic relationship between the Gems Ruby and Sapphire, whose fusion is the main character Garnet. This, according to Rude, reflects the growing prominence of these themes in children's cartoons; previous depictions were subtextual or minimal, such as the 2011 Adventure Time episode "What Was Missing", the 2014 series Clarence or (more explicit but unexplored) the 2014 finale of Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra. In Steven Universe, LGBT themes are prominent as early as the first season's second half. The fifth season's engagement and wedding between Ruby and Sapphire was reportedly the first same-sex marriage proposal in a children's animated series.
According to Sugar, her series' LGBT representation is not intended to make a point but to help children understand themselves and develop their identities. In her view, queer youth deserve to see themselves in stories as much as other children—and, given pervasive heteronormativity, not allowing them to do so can be harmful. She said, "I think a lot about fairy tales and Disney movies and the way that love is something that's always discussed with children. You're told that you should dream about love, about this fulfilling love that you're going to have. [...] Why shouldn't everyone have that?" During a 2016 panel discussion, Sugar said the LGBT themes in Steven Universe were also largely based on her own experience as a bisexual woman. A year later she said that Fluorite—the fusion of six Gems introduced in the season five episode "Off Colors"—represents a polyamorous relationship. In July 2018, she told an interviewer that she created the series' Gems as "non-binary women" in order to express herself, as a non-binary woman, through them.
The series' reputation as "one of the most unabashedly queer shows on TV" generated controversy in 2016 when Cartoon Network UK removed an embrace between Rose and Pearl but did not remove a kiss between Rose and Greg from its British broadcast. The network, which said the decision was intended to make the episode "more comfortable for local kids and their parents", was criticized as homophobic by fans and the media. In 2017, the Kenya Film Classification Board banned Steven Universe and other cartoon series from being broadcast for "glorifying homosexual behavior".
Sugar told Vanity Fair in March 2021 that she had been determined to make "queer couples and narratives" integral to the story in ways that are "impossible to censor," and had to fight internally for the representation. Obstacles from Cartoon Network executives included requests to make Ruby a boy, have the characters never kiss on the mouth, and not have a romantic relationship between Ruby and Sapphire, and warnings that if anyone on the crew, including Sugar herself, publicly "confirmed that the characters were LGBTQIA+, it might lead to the show’s cancellation." Sugar said that she began to talk publicly about why she "felt so strongly that kids deserve these stories" and won with the "support of Steven Universe’s young fans and the muscle of GLAAD behind them."
In June 2021, Taneka Stotts, a genderfluid writer for Steven Universe: Future told Insider that Sugar "went out of the way to make sure that their show was [staffed] as inclusive as possible", hiring talented people notice on Tumblr and Twitter instead of industry regulars. Sugar said that being at the forefront of LGBTQ representation meant that beyond what they were creating there was "very little queer content". She also said that apart from threats and backlash from homophobic viewers, she feared that her identity and content in the show could lead to its cancellation if she spoke about it openly, noting that support for the show was "often very qualified and hurtful". She also noted that non-binary creators such as herself have additional challenges, going through a world were non-binary people are dehumanized, and hoped that "visible queer content and multiple queer creators means no one has to feel isolated" in the ways that she did. The same month, Sugar told NPR that she wanted "little boys to experience girl show things" and vice versa, and for "nonbinary, gender-expansive kids to have a show".
In September 2021, Abbey White, a non-binary reporter for Insider and The Hollywood Reporter, told The Hollywood Reporter's "Hollywood Remixed" podcast that the whole idea behind the show is "an upending of gender expectation," with Steven as a "gender nonconforming boy" with a family of "feminine non-binary, non-gendered aliens," saying this is "laced in very conscious, purposeful ways throughout the entire series."
Aivi Tran and Steven "Surasshu" Velema's chiptune-inspired music has also been praised in reviews: Oliver Sava of The A.V. Club mentioned its range from "peppy retro" to Ghibli-esque "smooth jazz piano", Eric Thurm wrote that the musical numbers are characterized by "uplifting determination", and James Whitbrook wrote that they have evolved from being "little ... goofy ditties" to an integral part of the show's storytelling. Thurm wrote for Pitchfork that "music matters in Rebecca Sugar's work", more than in most musicals, by structuring the characters' lives rather than merely telling a story.
The series' music has also been widely praised. "Stronger Than You" has been referred to as a "queer fight song", and the end credits song, "Love Like You", has also been called worthy of being "the latest addition to the Great American Songbook".
Public interest in the series measured by Google Trends vastly outstripped that of Cartoon Network's other series in April 2016, which The A.V. Club called "definitive proof that Steven Universe is now Cartoon Network's flagship series".
Fans have campaigned against censorship outside the United States of the series' representation of LGBT relationships. A fan campaign persuaded Cartoon Network's French subsidiary to re-record the song "Stronger than You" with a translation making the singer's love as explicit as the original, and another was launched in 2016 to protest Cartoon Network's British subsidiary's practice of removing scenes of affection between Gems from UK broadcasts. Swedish fans originated a protest petition after flirting between Gems was changed to unrelated dialogue in the Swedish broadcast of the episode, "Hit the Diamond".
According to io9, "while most of the Steven Universe fandom is supportive and welcoming, there is a small subsection that's known for being extreme and hostile under the guise of inclusiveness". A fan artist attempted suicide in 2015 after she was bullied on social media because of the body proportions in her art, and in 2016 storyboard artist and writer Jesse Zuke quit Twitter after being harassed by fans over perceived support for a particular romantic relationship between characters.
A full-length fan-made episode titled "The Smothering", set in an alternate version of the story's continuity, was called "one of the more impressive pieces of work to come out of the Steven Universe fandom" in 2017 by io9. Beach City Con, a Steven Universefan convention, was held in Virginia Beach on October 13–15, 2017.
Influence and legacy
In 2019, Ian Jones-Quartey, who left the show in 2015 to develop his own show (OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes), noted how the focus of Steven Universe on identity struck a chord with audiences, while Noelle Stevenson, showrunner of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, described the show's effect on LGBTQ+ representation in Western animation, arguing that it changed the "landscape of animated shows when it first hit the air." In a later interview, Stevenson said their early conversations about queer relationships and characters in their own show were only possible because of Steven Universe. Additionally, in an interview with GLAAD's Raina Deerwater, Stevenson talked about queer representation in animation, citing Steven Universe alongside The Legend of Korra as an inspiring example of show that taught young fans to expect "nothing less than a variety of solid queer representation and central queer characters." Tracy Brown, a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times argued that the show, during its run became the "gold standard" for Cartoon Network itself.
In June 2021, a former Cartoon Network executive, Katie Krentz, said part of a shift more inclusion in animation, might be due, in part, to events at conventions, giving the example of rooms at Comic-Con filled up with Steven Universe fans in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Krentz further argued this sort of participation by fans gives executives and creators feedback on who is watching the show and will buy merchandise, and on a related note, what counts as "good" representation. Journalists for Insider also argued that the show was "the start of a wave of animated shows with LGBTQ representation."
In July 2021, Jade King of TheGamer reported that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power "wouldn't exist without Steven Universe", noting a story told by Molly Ostertag who said that her partner, Noelle Stevenson, used Steven Universe to prove to Netflix that shows with queer representation "have value, audiences, and a right to exist to show young people that being different is nothing to be ashamed of."
Awards and nominations
- ^For episodes of Steven Universe Future aired during eligibility year
- ^ ab"Amazon: Steven Universe Season 1: Amazon Digital Services LLC". Amazon. Archived from the original on January 23, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
- ^"Steven Universe TV Review". Common Sense Media. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
- ^McLean, Thomas J. (September 11, 2012). "Cartoon Network Greenlights Steven Universe, Uncle Grandpa Series". Animation Magazine. Archived from the original on September 27, 2014.
- ^Sugar, Rebecca (August 20, 2014). "I am Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, and former Adventure Time storyboarder, AMA!". Reddit. Archived from the original on December 13, 2015.
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 19
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 14
- ^ abcMcDonnell 2017, p. 25
- ^ abcdMcDonnell 2017, p. 43
- ^ abcdefghiMcDonnell 2017, p. 24
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 24–25
- ^ abCavna, Michael (November 1, 2013). "'Steven Universe' creator Rebecca Sugar is a Cartoon Network trailblazer". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013.
- ^ abcMcDonnell 2017, p. 60
- ^Ito, Robert; Jeremy Egner (July 26, 2013). "Rising Animators Spring Into Motion". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 3, 2013.
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 77
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 48
- ^ abcdeMcDonnell 2017, p. 49
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 48–49
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 49, 54
- ^ abcdefgMcDonnell 2017, p. 55
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, pp. 55, 60
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- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 20
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 169
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 18
- ^ abcMcDonnell 2017, p. 81
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 52–53
- ^Sugar, Rebecca (August 20, 2014). "I am Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, and former Adventure Time storyboarder, AMA!". Reddit. Archived from the original on August 22, 2015.
- ^ abcdMcDonnell 2017, p. 106
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 150
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 54–55
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 77; 80
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 80
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 9
- ^Sugar, Rebecca (August 20, 2014). "I am Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, and former Adventure Time storyboarder, AMA!". Reddit. Archived from the original on November 11, 2015.
- ^Sugar, Rebecca (August 20, 2014). "I am Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, and former Adventure Time storyboarder, AMA!". Reddit. Archived from the original on November 11, 2015.
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 148
- ^ abKohn, Eric (November 1, 2013). "Adventure Time Writer Rebecca Sugar on Steven Universe, Being Cartoon Network's First Female Show Creator And Why Pop Art Is 'Offensive'". Indiewire. p. 1. Archived from the original on November 3, 2013.
- ^Sugar, Rebecca (August 20, 2014). "I am Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, and former Adventure Time storyboarder, AMA!". Reddit. Archived from the original on November 11, 2015.
- ^Levin, Ben (May 15, 2015). "15 May 2015". Archived from the original on May 18, 2015.
- ^ ab"Interview: Steven Universe Creator Rebecca Sugar". Hot Topic. June 6, 2014. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015.
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 207
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 118
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 119
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- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 21
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 43, 48
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 111
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 105
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 107
- ^Jones-Quartey, Ian (January 22, 2014). "Hey! I am a screenwriting student from Emerson..."Tumblr. Archived from the original on November 17, 2016.
- ^Nordyke, Kimberly (March 30, 2017). "Cartoon Network Greenlights Two New Series as Part of "Holistic" Multiplatform Slate". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 2, 2017.
- ^ abcdeMcDonnell 2017, p. 110
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 107–108
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- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 197
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 197–198
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 198
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 199
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 202
- ^ abPolo, Susanna (October 15, 2014). "Our Interview With the Cast and Creator of Cartoon Network's Steven Universe!". The Mary Sue. Archived from the original on August 21, 2015.
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 155
- ^Sims, Chris (July 30, 2014). "No, You're The Joke: The Cast Of 'Steven Universe' At Comic-Con 2014 [Interview]". Archived from the original on July 18, 2015.
- ^Del Castillo, Chris (August 7, 2014). "SDCC 2014: Regular Show and Steven Universe cast and crew interviews". Nerd Reactor. Archived from the original on March 23, 2015.
- ^Freeman, Crispin (May 28, 2014). "Interview with Grace Rolek". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016.
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 156
- ^McDonnell 2017, pp. 155–156
- ^McDonnell 2017, p. 22
- ^ abMcDonnell 2017, p. 160
- ^ abEric Thurm (January 16, 2016). "Dropping Gems: An Interview with the Composers of the Score for 'Steven Universe'". noisey.vice.com. Archived from the original on August 14, 2016.
- ^"Heft!". Archived from the original on July 8, 2016.
Steven Universe: Art and Origins (Outline & Review)
Steven Universe: Art and Origins is not just an art book–it’s also a collection of early material, a reveal of many initial concepts, and an amazing experience to sort through.
Finally getting around to importing my review to Tumblr. I wrote this on the release day.
In my review I’ll give you a description of the structure and overview, while also collecting notable information for fans. Obviously just about everything is “notable” with a book of this magnitude, so this may get long, but I’ll try to include anecdotes that have some unique insight or perspective on the main source material–with as little of “OMG this was the original idea for this!” as possible.
This is illustrated with some low-quality pictures of the book and it gets super long, so I have to cut. But please read. :)
After a foreword from Rebecca Sugar and an introduction from Genndy Tartakovsky, we get:
Part 1: Origins. This contains some narratives about Rebecca Sugar’s early life as an artist–inspiration, family, college projects–all illustrated, of course, with childhood photos and early art. Rebecca mentions having wanted to bury her femininity for a while, but coming back to draw female forms and include dancing after she learned to sort through her issues using art.
Her college education and connections with other artists are discussed–some in interview format, some in narrative–and there is some background regarding her time on Adventure Time. The story moves on to talking about developing the pilot and what went into her character and plot ideas. Character design is discussed in depth, with Rebecca giving initial sketches to a design team and developing the characters’ initial pilot look.
Some really slick promo art is shared–posters, sketches, great concepts that were designed to bring in new viewers and make them curious about the show. The pilot succeeded in getting the green light to develop it into a TV series.
Part 2 discusses the show’s Green Light and Development. Rebecca and some of the other crew, in interview format, talk about getting the team together and allowing for both nailed-down character essentials and flexibility for the writers to explore and collaborate. Developing the setting was also a big part of the to-do list; coming up with Beach City itself, its businesses, its residents, and also the creatures the Gems would fight.
Some cute stories are shared about the early Crewniverse hanging out at a cabin and talking about the show all the time, hashing it out. There are some great, loose character model sheets for early versions of Greg, Connie, Sadie and Lars, and the four main characters.
Part 3 is about Character Design. They discuss how the pilot got released and fans grew attached to what they initially looked like, only to be “outraged” by the changes, making tons of assumptions about who was controlling the process.
Rebecca shares some thoughts on her development process and her philosophy on letting different artists draw the characters differently while gripping onto specifics she set. Main, palette, and distance models are discussed, with some technical details of what different artists do on the team and how they handle props or special poses.
There are many sheets of how to draw the Gems on model (with pointers on what NOT to do), and then there are some Homeworld Gem ideas that didn’t get used, and finally, some sketches and concept art for Lapis Lazuli, Peridot, Jasper, and Bismuth.
Part 4 is on Writing and Storyboarding. More Crewniverse interviews provide insight into the process, including how much is revised from the early days and how collaborative everything is. Some specific episodes, like “Ocean Gem,” “Monster Buddies,” and “Island Adventure” are put into perspective with how they were written by the group.
There’s heavy discussion of how the process works and why processes that work on other shows wouldn’t work here, and what “rules” are firm and what’s just a suggestion, and what’s changed as the show’s plot became more complex and important. Steven still having access to the “side” stories, the ones that involve Beach City humans and non-world-shaking stakes, is still very important to the story that the original Crew wants to tell. Cute images from the Crew’s thumbnail storyboards, Gem designing, and technology designing workshops are shared too.
There’s some good continued discussion of concepts in Part 4, especially about fusion and relationships and the larger message the show is sending. How do you tell a story and why? There are many answers to that, and sometimes it’s about fun and sometimes it’s about a message and sometimes it’s about wanting to make an episode about something you’ve never seen a cartoon do before–something specific to you that other people can suddenly see represented.
One of my favorite parts of it is when they discuss Steven discovering the Gems’ weaknesses over time and having that NOT make him think less of them–more like he admires them for being strong enough to shoulder the burdens he didn’t know they were carrying before. Storyboarder Lamar Abrams talks about the importance of growing up not just being about becoming bitter, and I really like that.
Part 5 is on Sound and Vision. There’s some history of how they found the voice actors for the major roles, and some of the actors give perspectives on their relationship and experience on the show.
Aivi and Surasshu, as the composers, discuss their process as well, with some anecdotes and discussions of why musical palettes work better for characters instead of assigning them themes. Places and objects have their own sounds too.
Part 6 covers Background Design and Painting. Steven Sugar takes the stage and explains general background thoughts as well as specifics for certain settings. His focus on detail is really fascinating to read about–it’s really him who nails down the locations in Beach City and where an outlet is in a house on the wall.
The directors and other Crewniverse folks discuss the use of color and background items in the show, and how they use it to create mood or feel changeable enough to be real.
Part 7 discusses Animation and Post, with a spotlight on the work they do in Korea at animation studios Sunmin and Rough Draft. The process is described–how and when the material is transformed from animatics to animated cartoons.
Nick DeMayo discusses timing and adding the sound effects and whatnot. There’s also some design instruction that’s provided to the animators in Korea.
Some special highlighted drawings and pieces, like the “C.L.O.D.S.” zine or some keys for Ruby and Sapphire, are included.
Even the bumpers and end tag animations are discussed here. And of course they had to mention a couple very special episodes, such as when Takafumi Hori from Studio Trigger came in to do “Mindful Education,” or when they did the musical episode, “Mr. Greg.”
And Part 8 is called “Onward.” The intention of the section is unclear at first based on the title of the chapter, but you can quickly see they’re discussing the forward-thinking message the show has–how its representation of its creators’ experiences has also struck a chord with people who wanted and NEEDED its diversity.
Zuke says a very wise thing when they state that they want the show to provide “insight … not a solution.” That’s one thing this show does well; it spotlights problems and situations and feelings, but only shows you how those things can be dealt with, not necessarily how they SHOULD, in all cases, be dealt with.
Representation matters, and seeing evidence that you are a part of this world when you’re from a marginalized or underrepresented group is valuable in a way that you can only know if you DON’T have it.
The show’s writers also weigh in on good vs. evil and how it’s too black and white; that we needed a show with nuance, and has a message of love and tolerance. Kat Morris acknowledges that there are more important things than making a feelsy and entertaining piece of media, but as she says, the point is to let people see themselves in something and be challenged.
And the creators are able to see at conventions and online that people are responding emotionally, viscerally, to their work. It puts a lot of pressure on an artist to do it right, but in the words of Dogcopter, “Just be true to yourself and people will appreciate your honesty.”
The book closes with some photos of the Crew and a few more pages of art. And it kinda leaves you with a squishy feeling. :D
1. I was relieved to see Rebecca state it plainly in the foreword: the items you see from the development phases of this show are not to be taken as canon or as “real” insights into how you should interpret it now. She specifically mentioned that she does not consider the Gems “girls” or “goddesses,” and that was particularly important to me.
Throughout, you’re supposed to see the contributed bits and in-development pieces in the context of what they were: early drafts, embryonic. We all become different from what we were even though we grew from it and may have roots in it still, but that doesn’t mean you can point at the seed and say its flower is meant to be understood surrounded by dirt.
2. The original designs for the Gems fluctuated a lot, and in a couple cases even names flopped around. An early name for Garnet was “Onyx,” and if you’ve seen the pilot, you know Pearl got her signature nose later and Garnet’s hair took a while to become the splendid square afro. Amethyst seems to have changed the least.
Themes were given to them initially (like Amethyst being “flora and fauna,” which you can sort of see in her pilot intro with her lying on big cats). You can still see some of the original intentions in how the ideas manifested, but the first ideas do not gel particularly well with what the show became.
This is particularly interesting because non-creatives commonly think creative people simply receive inspiration and birth their creations into the world wholesale. Inspiration exists, but it’s much more common to take an inspired idea and REALLY WORK ON IT. This book’s origins section does a great job showing how that works.
3. Some early sketched-out ideas for episodes seem very far from what would fit into the show now (such as an idea for an episode where Pearl is obsessed with the pizza guy??), but one seems to be the roots of “Bubble Buddies,” which implies that Steven’s original crush was “Priyanka” instead of Connie. (That’s now Connie’s mother’s name.)
4. The pilot’s title was “The Time Thing.”
5. Initial notes for Garnet say she should have the coolest shoes of the three, that she’s commanding and outer-spacey and also weird, and that she’s inspired by Grace Jones, boy Michael Jackson, and Estelle in “I Can Be a Freak."
Initial notes for Amethyst insist on the "fanny pack” pouch and suggest her clothes are cut, her hair is in chunks, and she should have an animal theme with a wild texture.
Initial notes for Pearl indicate a desire to have her opposite Amethyst in her formal way of dressing and needing to have an outfit that would allow her to be hung upside down, possibly with a pearl stone theme for baubles in her hair. (Rebecca indicated she needed the most help with Pearl.)
6. Early versions of the show included the idea that the Gems might be trying to hide being Gems in public, and that they kept magic away from Steven for the most part instead of encouraging him to use it.
A “lost” episode about Steven summoning his shield (later incorporated into the episode “Gem Glow”) had him saving Greg with it and dreaming about his mother, and having Pearl drive a crappy old car (later incorporated into “Last One Out of Beach City”). Rebecca and Ian reveal that the dream Steven had in it was used a little in “Rose’s Room,” and that a song called “The Meatball Sub Song” was involved which could have contributed to the show getting picked up despite that we never got to hear it. (Imagine that, Steven singing about food!)
7. There’s a note in the early character design section that says “the girls can all turn into Steven” with an accompanying illustration of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl shapeshifted as him.
Cute, because we actually got to see them do this in the episode “Keep Beach City Weird” with the exception of Pearl.
8. Rebecca Sugar shares an anecdote about thinking there was a “best” way to draw that was objectively correct (influenced by some art-school stuff), and through that she arrived at the idea that Pearl was a cone, Amethyst was a sphere, and Garnet was a cube, because all of those things say something about who they are (pointedness, fluidness, stability).
She evolved from that idea to a more flexibile idea of how drawing works for different artists, but that was part of what helped her nail the characters down. Steven, eventually, was fixed to having a heart-shaped face.
9. The Tiger Millionaire and Purple Puma flyer shown in the episode “Tiger Millionaire,” presented as something Steven drew, was actually drawn by Lily DeMayo (daughter of Nick DeMayo, animation director) when she was seven.
10. Guides are made for the Crew to use featuring reminders on drawing the characters. It’s kind of adorable to see common drawing errors or misconceptions or inconsistent details discussed in a how-to format for the people who actually work there.
11. A timeline exists for the show and it encompasses TWENTY THOUSAND YEARS of Gem and human history. It was too spoilery to be in the book, but there is a LOT of lore that is laid down, and this tool mentioned in Part 4 established that this document is referenced often to make events make sense in the timeline.
12. It’s been established before, but Amethyst’s origin in Earth’s Prime Kindergarten was not initially known as part of her character when she was invented, and that was discussed in Part 4 of this book–how the writing retreats the Crew takes to discuss the story sometimes result in huge revelations like this. “Oh, that makes sense, that’s why we wrote her like that” is one of those things I recognize as a writer–you know a character has a certain vibe, but you don’t know what explains it. You just trust that something does. And eventually, sometimes you find out what it is and it all makes sense. Interesting to know they did this with Amethyst.
13. “Lars and Sadie make out even though they’re not together” was the basic idea for making “Island Adventure.” And the original idea for “Onion Friend” had a “Grandma Shallot” character.
The writers sometimes play writing games to brainstorm, and those were shared. Some ideas for a story which was later used in “Future Boy Zoltron,” covering Mr. Smiley’s romance/comedy partnership with an old flame, were shared with more emphasis on the characters being lovers.
Garnet’s part in the story was more explicit too, with her giving people future predictions that are not at all nice or gently delivered, and they have to shut down the business in the wake of Garnet’s badassery. Weird.
Other ideas were used but not as they’re presented, like one where Greg learns about fusion from the Gems (but witnessed the fusion of Pearl and Amethyst, not Pearl and Rose), and a complicated one where cross-Gem fusion is a new idea in a flashback and Rose wants Garnet to fuse with her to teach her about it but she’s too unsure of her own fusion relationship as such to risk it. The idea was that Pearl would be jealous and Pearl, Rose, and Garnet would actually fuse in the episode. This has not been done in the show.
14. Rebecca Sugar apparently just pops up with concepts she wants the writers to work in. Like “I want Steven to be in a mushroom forest” (which hasn’t happened yet) or “I want Steven to have cats on his fingers” (which, obviously, happened early on). Rebecca gets little concepts that are sort of dreamlike, and they figure out which episode they can put them in. Working those things in sometimes seems like as much of a priority as getting plot elements in!
15. I like that they dish a bit about the fan reaction to Garnet’s Fusion status. They thought they were being a little too obvious to not get caught, but Ian said the fans figured it out and then got bored of the idea and decided it must be even more complicated than that. People were apparently worried that Garnet would be replaced by her component Gems in the story if she were to unfuse, but obviously since Ruby and Sapphire want to be together, that doesn’t happen.
16. Kat Morris’s “rules” as discussed in Part 4 are “Garnet never asks questions” and “the story has to stay in Steven’s perspective.” I love how strict they are about Garnet not asking questions (except in the episode “The Answer,” though there have been a couple ~technical~ questions from her; she usually just finds a way to ask a question with a statement, like “tell me what you saw”).
17. A great quote from Zuke on the incidentally queer content of the Gems’ relationships and gender: “Personally, I’m happy to not have to think, ‘I’m writing a character based on my queer experiences.’ That would be so hard! I’m just writing from my perspective, and I happen to be queer. I think that’s what makes the show feel natural when it comes to that. It’s a fine line between defining something so that people are aware it exists, which is so important, but also letting it breathe, so it’s not forever contained in a box labeled 'queer media.’”
18. In Part 5, Michaela Dietz relates her experiences as an adoptee to relate to what Amethyst deals with as an “adoptee” into the Crystal Gem family without knowing where she really came from or what it means to be a part of that. She’s said this before in some other interviews and panels, so it’s not new in general, but it’s probably new in print. Deedee Magno Hall, who plays Pearl, obviously relates to Pearl’s maternal nature.
19. Tom Scharpling and Charlyne Yi were voice actors that Rebecca specifically had in mind for her characters (Greg and Ruby respectively). Rebecca’s illustrated letter to Charlyne explaining Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship and Ruby’s role on the show is really adorable.
20. Music nerds like me will very much appreciate the photographed notes on music motifs–the Diamonds each have a solfège syllable and a chord (White is F#M7/Sol, Yellow is BM7/Fa, Blue is EM7/Fa, and Pink is AM7/Mi), and Steven’s powers and modes are coded with instruments and styles.
21. Some world maps provide new possible insights. Greenland in our world is Blueland in theirs. South America is called Pangea. Aqua Mexico is labeled about where Mexico is in our world. India is the Indian Islands. There’s an Australia and a New Australia. A big sea in the middle of Asia is called the Tunguska Sea. Rose’s Fountain is in Spain or Portugal; the Sky Spire and Strawberry Battlefield are in Norway; the Shooting Star Shrine is in the middle of the drastically different Asian continent; the Galaxy Warp is in the Tunguska Sea; the Lunar Sea Spire is off the coast of Canada; Mask Island is in the Atlantic near Beach City; the Comm Relay is in the Western United States.
22. It was known from interviews that Shelby Rabara (voice of Peridot) is a dancer and provided the foot sounds and coaching to create the short tap number in the episode “Mr. Greg.” But what’s great is here, there’s a visual reference included! Photos of Shelby doing the dance are lined up next to the drawings of Pearl and Steven in the “Mr. Greg” number doing the steps! She poses in dance moves with her husband for the Greg/Pearl dance for “Both of You” too.
23. There’s a really cute story in the last section about Amber Cragg ascending from fan to Crewniverse member through posting Pearl art in response to the pilot and eventually getting contacted to take a board test. That is the kind of thing so many online artists dream of!
[SU Book and Comic Reviews]
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Steven universe art style comparison
:star: Hello people of the internet :star:
Ok so you probably noticed that I haven't posted in a while well it s because I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO POST!I have also been through A LOT lately and it's been really hard.Please show me some support by double tapping :hearts: .I have done some blogs lately and I have worked REALLY hard on them and they just haven't got likes.Im not saying OMG give me likes its just that I don't want to waste my time on blogs if it's not what you guys want,after all you are the ones reading them.So please if you have some suggestions comment down below :kissing_heart: .
Anyway onto the blog
Ahh beloved Steven Universe,It's gone through A LOT especially when it comes to its art style!
The pilot : Ok,so I think that everyone knows that the pilot episode of Steven Universe was VERY different!Myself I'm extremely happy they changed it!Like honestly it was just weird!And it wasn't just the pictures it was the storyline to!Honestly the episode was about Steven shouting comebacks at Lars :unamused: .
Ok as you can see the art style is HORRIBLE and really it puts you off the show without even watching it!
The series: YAY!,The show looks over 9 THOUSAND TIMES BETTER!
What?!,It had to be done.The characters are the ones we know and love :blush: but REALLY if you watch new episodes like Mr Greg or something compared to arcade mania or something it actually looks quite pathetic.
When you first watch it you never really notice how bad it is compared to what we have now. Amethysts skin colour looks HORRID!
Modern series:At first most people actually don't realise that much has changed!But if you go back to the older style you realise a lot.We are very blessed to have such an amazing art style!Amethyst and Steven have got shorter (which they should have) and cuter :3 not to mention ALL the characters looking better.
one thing EVERYONE noticed was Lapis' hair.
Warp pads/home:Pilot vs Series
Ok as you can see the second one looks more clean and polished and actually 'crystal'.The first one looks like they are really dirty people and I CANT imagine Pearl living there!You see how mad she is with Amethyst about not being clean.Maybe Pearl one day just went off on a rant and said
'WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR LIVES!'
And gave everyone a makeover and cleaned the house COMPLETLY!You can kind of tell the second house is very 'Pearl',the warp pad in particular.
Ok in the pilot he looks horrible and far and just *shakes*. Ok so my mum thinks Steven is just so cute and she thinks all the other characters are weird then I showed her this
'Steven what happened to you your pore darling did one of those bad fan do this to you?,it's just off'.
Just so you know she doesn't exactly watch it I just show her clips sometimes because I need some where to Fangirl!Anyway onto the series Steven.
He looks kind of bloated still and his colours are a bit off BUT definitely better! Through season 1 they fixed that a bit but honestly I didn't really notice until I watch the modern episodes and go back.Really it's not that bad but once you go black you never go back I mean once you watch the new episodes you can't go back to the old episodes.
Modern Steven is PERFECT :ok_hand: 🏽.He is small and cute not to mention loveable.Theres really not much to say apart from that he's just :ok_hand: 🏽.
Ok so Amethyst is supposed to look 'messy' so in the first one it's not that bad.But the others aren't that why I'm not ranting to much about her to much.What I don't like though is her skin tone in the pilot and the series,it just doesn't look good it's not purple enough.Of course she does look better in the modern series because she is 'reformed'.
Ok so the worst thing is the pilot,just no it doesn't go with her personality and it's just no.She looks like an alien,well I know she kind of is but just no!The series is definitely better and reflects her personality better but she's to skinny and it's just not very good again compared to modern day Steven Universe.The modern one is again amazing :ok_hand: 🏽 especially in mr Greg.
Ok in the pilot my life is questioned.WHAT IS GARNET WITHOUT HER SQUARE HAIR!!!SHES SQUARE MOOONMMMM!!!!!Yeah,the hair just is a no and the outfit is no.Did you really expect me to be happy about this? in the series it's pretty good like there's no skinny issues or anything and she's square :tada: :smile: :tada: :joy: .Of course the series looks way better but it's not to different. ----------------------------------------The Child abuse:
Ok so the pilot didn't exactly have child abuse in the intro BUT it's abusing children by seeing the horror in it :joy: :joy: :joy: :ok_hand: 🏽.
DEFINATELY THE WORST!Poor Steven
Modern Steven Universe
Ok better he's kind of used to it and there not hitting as hard BUT STILL!
----------------------------------------Ok guys so that blog took 2+ HOURS TO MAKE!!I have NEVER spent that long on a blog and I hope it's worth it!As I said please show me some support by double tapping it will mean the world to me remember
:star: Stay Fabulous :star: