SDCC 2015: Steven Universe Creator Rebecca Sugar on the Future of the Gems for this Season

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief

If you haven’t heard of Steven Universe yet, we can say with certainty you’ve been living under a proverbial rock. This amazing Cartoon Network series—which was just picked up for another season, announced earlier during San Diego Comic Con (SDCC)—has won the hearts of fans across all ages. From its depth of characters, to its wonderful musical numbers, and the rich mythos creator Rebecca Sugar has built from the ground up since the pilot, Steven Universe is one of the best shows on television, which is why we were eager to take part in the Cartoon Network Press Hour at SDCC this year.

Steven Universe revolves around the Gems: an extraterrestrial group of beings and the son of their departed leader. Zach Callison voices the titular character Steven Universe and was present during the press hour. One of the most prevalent themes going on in Steven Universe is its characters’ growth. “The whole thing is a coming of age story,” said creator Rebecca Sugar.

Speaking about the growth that Steven’s gone through from the first episode up until the present, Callison said, “It’s really weird for me, because I’ve grown up with it. I was 14 when we did the pilot and now I’m 17. He’s grown up a lot, too. His voice got deeper, his personality is stronger. His powers have grown too; he’s stronger and can do more. I’ve really appreciated being able to grow with him.”

What some fans might not already know is that Steven Universe came from Sugar’s close bond with her brother. “[Steven Universe is] very personal, because it’s about my brother. It’s very personal to me.” It’s not a surprise, though, considering the quality Steven Universe has as a show. When people love what they do, it shows in their work and it’s clear that Sugar and the entire team are passionate about the story they’re creating.

Anyone who’s watched Steven Universe knows the level of detail the creative team puts into the animation and the background. There are multiple fan videos online that show evidence of popular fan theories and the series has dropped a lot of hints along the way about the past of these characters. Supervising Director Ian Jones-Quartey admitted all these hints and references embedded throughout the narrative are “really purposeful.” He added, “Early on, we had this dream of a show where you see the characters do things and in the background there’s something there, but it doesn’t get touched until like ten episodes later. It’s fun to hide certain things. We try to take extra care if something is coming up and foreshadow.”

Sugar and Jones-Quartey agreed that this was a key element in the storytelling technique Steven Universe employs. “One of our writers, Matt Burnett, has always said,” Jones-Quartey said, “‘It’s better for fans to feel an “Aha, I knew it!” feeling than a “Where did that come from?” feeling.’”

It’s not a surprise that Sugar’s work has such rich hints coming through the visuals, considering her background as an animator. “Being a storyboarder helped me understand writing and the writing process really well. I care so much about the animation because I’m an animator. And working with the team, I’m running around all the time. I’m never doing one thing or working on one episode. I’m always working on ten or twelve at a time.”

Of course, it would have been remiss not to mention the music that adds to the unique quality of Steven Universe. When asked about the process for creating the catchy tunes, Sugar admitted, “A lot of it is me. I just work on it on the side, because there’s not enough time in the day! I can remember where I was when I wrote certain songs—I remember writing one in the airport when I was taking my shoes off.” Sugar was extremely humble in describing the process for creating the songs, also adding that she works with others throughout the creation process.

As our time with the Steven Universe crew dwindled, the talk turned to what’s coming up in the season. “I really like the spot we’re at,” said Sugar, “where Steven has sort of become an equal in the team. I think he’s going to learn a lot more about what it means for the Gems. He only knows what Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst mean in the context of his life, but he doesn’t really know what they mean in the context of what they meant in the context of Gem society. That’s something he’s going to learn a little more. He’s hitting the point where he’s realizing how to forge his own identity between what he wants and what the Gems want.”

Be sure to catch the next drop of Steven Universe episodes starting next week on July 13th! In the meantime, check back with Emertainment Monthly for all the dish on what’s going on at SDCC.

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