Swankivy's Reviews > The Art of Steven Universe: The Movie

The Art of Steven Universe by Cartoon Network
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it was amazing

The Art of Steven Universe The Movie was released March 3, 2020. It's a wonderful journey through the concept art, character development, and experience of fashioning these ideas into the movie we all love.

Nuts and bolts: The book is published by Dark Horse, and it was designed by Ryan Sands (a zine specialist), with commentary by Takafumi Hori, Kat Morris, and Rebecca Sugar. It includes art by Rebecca Sugar, Kat Morris, Takafumi Hori, Alonso Ramirez Ramos, Angie Wang, Ashley Fisher, Becky Dreistadt, Chromosphere, Danny Cragg, Elle Michalka, Hilary Florido, Ian Jones-Quartey, Jasmin Lai, Jeff Liu, Joe Johnston, Julian De Perio, Katie Mitroff, Leonard Hung, Miki Brewster, Patrick Bryson, and Paul Villeco.

An introduction explains the same origin story that Rebecca Sugar told us in the movie DVD's commentary: that she accidentally restored her phone to factory settings and lost years of important stuff, and she ended up applying that devastating premise to her movie. That combined with the concept of "breaking" the main premise of a TV show to make a movie was how she got started developing the story.

The opening of the movie styled like a storybook is blocked out with some great drawings and breakdowns of which narration would go to what storybook pages. This is combined with some partial sheet music for "The Tale of Steven." Rebecca writes about how she felt having to wrap pre-production on Season 5 only to take on this even bigger movie challenge. The biggest challenge was writing all these songs in such a short time--six weeks--and having to deal with the stress, being crushed under all that pressure while still wanting to do this story so badly, and it was humbling to still have to work so hard to sell the idea. The feeling of relief to finally be done that Steven expresses in "Happily Ever After" is very similar to what Rebecca went through feeling like she wanted to be finally done but still knowing what she had to do to climb an even bigger mountain.

Some very cute Steven-at-age-16 and Connie in Space Camp clothes follow. Notes indicate that Steven and Connie are the same height now, but his poofy hair is just slightly higher than her head.

Notes from 2017 also give us the "Neckstravaganza": design notes on Steven's new form, with a neck and a jacket. It's very cool.

Some beautiful Joe Johnston boards follow, with sequences from the "Happily Ever After" song. We also get Angie Wang's final design (with Ashley Fisher's color) of the injector, including some sketchy concept art for it from Rebecca Sugar and Hilary Florido. In the rough concept notes, they call this the "Mega Injector," with notes for Takafumi Hori to use for scale. It looks beyond huge in a Leonard Hung drawing.

Spinel concepts are next. Some notes explain that aivi & surasshu (the usual composers) were involved very early since it was a musical, and Rebecca included them when pitching the story to the Crew so they could organically develop the sound. The heart shape was central to Spinel from the beginning, and early versions of her had an entire heart shape to her head.

(There's a doodle of what looks like a cartoon dog in the pile of drawings shown in this section. It's not clear what that was.)

Spinel was given the heart imagery partly because Rebecca had learned early on about the importance of symbols, and when it came time to assign one to Steven, the star was chosen because it's so positive and is read as gender-neutral. Rebecca still hadn't used hearts for anything, so it was time. They also incorporated really old, dated character design ideas to make Spinel feel like an outdated cartoon from the rubber hose era.

The aspect of her design with the running mascara versus cute eyelashes predated the rotation of her Gem. Rebecca likes to start with more realistic sketches when she's figuring out a character, and then she'll move to making it more cartoony. A quote from Miki Brewster is shared: "Spinel can do anything, as long as it's entertaining!" Her "best friend" form is described as "a doll for friendship fun & games! Of a different era--hokey, charming, weird...super gullible and trusting. Incredibly loyal, constant entertainment machine!"

When it comes to developing her "worst enemy" form, Rebecca explains a bit that she has a really complicated relationship with old cartoons because nostalgia is not compelling to her--the animation from the 1930s is so neat, but considering the social limits and the way the industry was at the time, Rebecca doesn't think she could have participated. Especially considering nowadays she even had to struggle to be allowed to tell the stories she needed to tell and it would have been impossible five years ago. The norms of the time aren't entirely extricable from the art itself.

Takafumi Hori weighs in with commentary on how fun it was to animate a scary but fun character on top of Miki Brewster's boards for the "Other Friends" fight sequence.

Next, moving on from the central new character, they also spend some time discussing Steg. Rebecca first explains "Steg Multiverse" as a character so uplifting he can make you fly, combining Greg's unending support and Steven's positive power. She makes reference to the early "stegosaurus" concepts they had for his look, but they didn't want to lose the opportunity to have his hair flow. Rebecca confirms that the pompadour idea was established in "Steven and the Stevens" so they wanted to give it to Steg, and she credits Paul Villeco for really finalizing his design and bringing him to life.

And of course the poofy hair from Steven and the double-necked guitar was essential for Steg.

Next, the book gives us a whole page of handwritten notes about "Drift Away." Kat Morris explains the intentional duality of the scene--how Spinel should be shown seeing her own past with new perspective, being embarrassed, blending together who she was with who she is. The partial lyrics to the song and some sketchy boards are offered.

Rebecca shares her personal connection with the subject matter--how she once left a stuffed animal in her garden and the side facing the sun faded. It really made a mark on her as a child that things changed without her, because of her actions, and that she'd left this treasured toy alone without thinking about it all that time, letting it be affected by the elements without her interference. She wrote "Everything Stays" for Adventure Time based on that plushie, and realized that she was writing about it again for the Steven Universe movie.

Many beautiful miniature boards are shown in this section.

Partial sheet music for "Drift Away" is also offered here. It's credited to Rebecca Sugar and Aimee Mann. The music sheet is followed by some lovely images of the garden by Julian De Perio, Patrick Bryson, and Leonard Hung.

Takafumi Hori returns for a discussion of the final fight sequence during "Change," which he animated from Jeff Liu's boards. He discusses trying to keep the fight feeling dramatic and serious even though Spinel's fighting style is funny. He wanted to keep her tension. Hori-san throws in a word of thanks for being allowed to work on his favorite show again, praises Jeff and Miki, and compliments Rebecca Sugar's demos. He hoped we'd get a soundtrack album. (Of course, we did.)

Some final boards by Rebecca Sugar and Becky Dreistadt of the characters in their show gear descending the steps close out the book. There are also some cute little doodles at the end on the credits page, like a head of lettuce with caption "lettuce adore you" and Spinel in a drifting go-kart laughing, captioned "drift away."

The back cover pictures Steven with his arm around a heartbroken Spinel, comforting her.

Overall, the book is wonderful--the accompanying information is generally not new to anyone who watched the DVD's documentary and commentary, and many of the sketches have been released one way or another directly by the artists through Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr blogs. There was still plenty of wonderful new concept art that wasn't already out there, and looking at some of the iterations Spinel and Steg went through was particularly captivating.

There was no new insight into the development of the plot beyond the premise and the Spinel-related conflict, though; nothing about how they decided to focus the Garnet storyline, the Pearl storyline, and the Amethyst storyline for how they would each get their memories back, and there was no spotlight on their movie versions--modern Cotton Candy Garnet, copycat baby Amethyst, and factory settings uncustomized Pearl. I was hoping especially for some Amethyst stuff because the movie was the first place we got to see her with the simple default outfit and segmented limbs.

It was primarily an art book with commentary on some of the most definitive movie aspects--it didn't reach the depth that Art and Origins gave us. It has a start-to-finish feeling in a sense, but it's mostly just splashes of information that are fun to know. It's a great companion and definitely should not be missed by any fan of the movie. I recommend it heartily!
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Reading Progress

March 3, 2020 – Started Reading
March 3, 2020 – Shelved
March 3, 2020 – Finished Reading

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