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Sonic Team's Artists


ChikaBoing
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A while ago I made a topic about Sonic's programmers - so I think it would be nice to go to the visual side - from landscape designers to character designers...

So it started with Naoto Oshima who created the original characters of Sonic and Eggman and that trademark surreal look

Ironically, Oshima did not design anymore characters since then -  focusing more on the overall art direction of Sonic CD and a general look for other games in the franchise.

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Concept Art for Sonic 1, the base for all Sonic games

Overall Oshimas styles is definitly cute, bobbly and surreal.

Tails, Knuckles, Amy and all characters in that era, along with Chaotix were made by other art members of Sega of the time. Tails was designed by Yasushi Yamaguchi and was a major artist for Sonic 2. Knuckles, alot of Sonic 3&K graphics and also the Chaotix crew and game were made by Takashi Yuda. Both of these really didn't stick around for Sonic outside of Yuda working on Sonic Riders (producing). Then there is Kazuhiko Hoshino, who had a role in Sonic CD with designing Metal Sonic and Amy and also being an artist for CD in general.

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Sonic 2 had some american artist involvement, however had much of the artist clouth of Sonic 1 as the artist like Oshima was involved in other classic Mega Drive games

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Sonic 3 had once again a different artist (and no western artist), but in my opinion has that American influence still. 

Takumi Miyake also played a huge part in Sonic's visual idendity with being the overall landscape artist for Sonic CD and Chaotix. Then we have Yuji Uekawa who designed the character Ristar, who of course later redesigned Sonic from Adventure onwards.

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As the loose cannons of the classic era, Chaotix and CD have much of the same style, probably something to do with them being made in Japan

So just from the span 1991 to 1996 we have so many different artists who all contributed a little, it wasn't like one guy made all of Sonic's friends. Every one created a little part of the classic set of characters.

Turnover was happening so quickly at Sega so all of these artists did not happen to be involved afterwards. Only really Hoshino stuck around, and arguably the visual look of CD and Chatoix was more defined by his senior Miyake, who was not involved since. Oshima supervised it - but Hoshino and Uekawa really defined the look for themselfes starting with Sonic R and then of course in Sonic Adventure. And by Adventure, Oshima did not have much involvement. Uekawa really only ever was involved in character design (and later marketing materials), not so much in landscapes. So Hoshino was involved in the look of enviorements. And definitly in the departure with the realistic style. Now, yes, Hoshino did work on CD and Chaotix so on, but like I said, alot of it comes from Takumi Miyake as well. Now, it's not like Adventure 1, 2 and Shadow with their cities and so on, is all of the signature Hoshino style. Heroes very much proves that Hoshino can do Classic Sonic aesthetic as well. But by that point all that happening in Sonic Team USA.

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The first look of Sonic in three dimensions, altough it loses it by Sonic Heroes, everything had a bit of a hardness to it, no softer rounder look of the older Sonic games.

So how about back in Japan? Sort of like what happened in the early days, many different artists got involved, but one at a time. The GameBoy Advance titles actually had pretty big involvement of Yuji Uekawa who worked as Art Director from Sonic Advance all the way to Sonic Rush Adventure. But Uekawa was mostly a character designer right? Yeah, for the most part, I assume, Art Design for Advance 3 to Rush Adventure did come from Dimps rather than Sonic Team. Because aside from Uekawa no artists were involved since Advance 3.

Then there was Sonic 06, where Uekawa probably played good part in the character redesigns too, but art direction was overall done by Akira Mikame, who was just one of the field artists of Sonic Adventure and other games. Similarly for Secret Rings and Black Knight, the art direction was also made by Yoshitaka Miura who also had a rather minor track record with Sonic, also just field artist.

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In my opinion, the root of the above art directions, is very clearly rooted in field artists for Sonic Adventure. An approach for being realistic (but vibrant), with not being that playful.

Overall by this time, we are at the third generation of Sonic artists, one was able to stand out from the pack and carry the torch from Uekawa and Hoshino. It was a woman called Sachiko Kawamura. Her history with Sonic is particularly interresting. Now she joined right at that SaturnSonic era period, and I guess did not have much influence, as Hoshino was senior to her. But then Sonic Adventure happened, and yes the Chao was pretty much her brainchild. It was mentioned in interviews that Hoshino is not all that good in creating cute and cuddly things. As the Chao Director in SA2, she definitly designed cute characters. She was also involved in Sonic Advance 1 and 2, as a designer, second in command after Uekawa. So she definitly, along with Uekawa was responsible for the look of those two games

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The start of Sachiko Kawamura's career, with the Chao Garden (and Tiny Chao Garden) and GBA titles Advance 1, 2 and Pinball Party

The true breakthrough for her did not come until Unleashed, Colors, Generations, Lost World and Forces. While the style in those differ wildly anyways (Lost World and Forces more so), they all have in common that wasn't found in Sonic in quite some time. While the hard edged style of Hoshino was cool, the softer styler from Kawamura definitly gave the feeling back to Sonic that was missing in quite some time. Does it make sense to say that Kawamura Sonic games look like big budget Chao Gardens? 

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In my opinion, the art team for Sonic Team is perfect and there is no worry on that front, and it is what remained truly excellent throughout all eras. It is what remained so marketable all the way from packaging and advertising materals.

 

 

 

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