Sonic the Hedgehog redesign

Paramount’s live-action/animation hybrid Sonic the Hedgehog movie is set to speed into theaters this fall, but the film has just hit a significant roadblock. This afternoon, director Jeff Fowler revealed on Twitter that he and his team are going to redesign the film’s version of Sonic due to fan outrage.

Jeff Fowler, a visual effects veteran who has worked at Blur Studios alongside producer Tim Miller (Deadpool) for years, is making his feature directorial debut with Sonic the Hedgehog. But while there’s been a quiet murmur online questioning the character’s design ever since it was revealed in a shadowy first look, it seems as if things hit a breaking point in the wake of the film’s first trailer, which debuted earlier this week.

For his part, Fowler seems to be keeping his cool in the face of an intense backlash so far, and today he promised to change the look of the character in order to make the fans happy:

Is this an unprecedented decision? Has a major studio film ever completely revamped its lead character’s design because of backlash from fans? And here’s a question that will probably piss off a lot of people: are studios and filmmakers paying too much attention to what fans have to say in this era?

Hey, I get it: if you alienate the fanbase, you run the risk of losing a chunk of box office receipts. But it’s 2019, and movies like this aren’t made to draw one small group of people into theaters. These are major, multi-quadrant properties, and if the studio wants to make its money back, they have to convince people who have never played a Sonic game to come see the movie.

But Sonic’s design seemed to be a point of contention from the start, with Miller previously explaining how his team clashed with the video game overlords at SEGA on that front:

“I don’t think SEGA was entirely happy with the eye decision, but these sorts of things you go, ‘It’s going to look weird if we don’t do this.’ But everything is a discussion, and that’s kind of the goal, which is to only change what’s necessary and stay true to the rest of it. He’s not going to feel like a Pixar character would because I don’t think that’s the right aesthetic to make it feel like part of our world.”

All this said…I caught an early look at some Sonic the Hedgehog footage at CinemaCon, and the footage we saw looked pretty abysmal. The problems seemed to run much deeper than merely the character design.

The visual effects industry is already nearly at a breaking point, so I feel absolutely terrible for all of the artists who are going to be working around the clock to totally revamp this character in the few months they have until the film’s release. And while I don’t know the specifics of the contracts, I imagine the VFX vendors who lobbied and fought and scraped for the chance to work on this project probably aren’t taking this news very well.

Vulture published a great piece last year about the evolution of visual effects in Hollywood, and I’ll quote a section of it here:

VFX companies generally get work by bidding on individual productions before a shoot starts. But with competition so intense, and faced with rivals that can take advantage of various subsidies, these companies often find themselves driving down their bids and slashing their projected costs…

And since many filmmakers and producers are convinced that anything can be done or fixed in post, entire sequences are often changed or entirely redone at the last minute, which means that very often the VFX houses don’t always know the full extent of what they’ll eventually be asked to do ahead of time. This not only drives the VFX artists themselves (most of whom are not unionized) crazy, it can also result in the companies actually losing money on productions, as they stretch their resources thinner, working overtime and hiring new contractors and freelancers in order to make their deadlines.

These employees have lots of long nights ahead of them.

Sonic the Hedgehog is currently scheduled to hit theaters on November 8, 2019.

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