Recently a friend suggested that I watch Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe…and then she kept suggesting it until I did.
Though I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first, I’m glad I pushed on, because this little show has so much heart. So imagine my excitement when I was able to attend the Steven Universe press roundtable at SDCC! Unfortunately this means that I missed the panel, but thankfully I knew someone who was in it and got all of that info (new fusions, new homeworld gems, and more!) on top of hearing some great questions and answers in the roundtable, which included creator Rebecca Strong, Supervising Director Ian Jones-Quartey, Zach Callison, the voice of Steve, and Estelle, who voices Garnet.
Here’s a play-by-play transcript of the roundtable. There were some really great questions from other outlets, and I even got to ask two of the many questions I’d written down, which was awesome.
Q: Estelle, did you know about [Garnet] being a fusion?
ESTELLE: I knew she was a fusion. I didn’t know all the details. I didn’t even know when I was singing the songs, all the details. But I love it. It’s been such an amazing reaction – watching the crowd, watching how the gems came apart and how they came back together. And then the story behind them. I love the loads of different fans who come up to me and say, “Thank you so much!” And I say, “Thank Rebecca!” They’re current and real things. It’s not something she dreamt of, anyway, and a lot of young ones needed that role model – that person to speak for them in that space. They already love Garnet, and so it was kind of like, “And she’s a badass.”
Q: With Steven, there’s a lot of people shipping Steven and Connie, but they’re young, so what type of response do you have to this?
REBECCA: It’s the pure love of children. What’s wrong with that?
ESTELLE: They can be together. They can be together.
ZACH: I think they’ll always be friends, no matter what happens.
Q: The new season is taking a new turn. It kind of seems like up until now, it’s kind of been character introductions, sort of. Like a first act. So what can you tell us about what to expect now that things are in adventure mode?
IAN: There is a point last season in an episode, Marble Madness, where you finally see Steven catch up to the Gems. We finally go into a place where the Gems don’t know what’s going on just as much as Steven doesn’t know what’s going on. So, sort of into the future from that point it’s like, oh, this has now become an adventure into the unknown for all of the characters. Steven used to be able to rely on the Gems to protect him and know everything about the world, but now they’re all sort of discovering new things together.
GEEKIARY QUESTION: How do you choose the styles of music that you associate with each character?
REBECCA: In terms of the score, or writing them songs?
Q: Each character has subtle music, the theme, that’s specific to that character.
REBECCA: I talk a lot with my composers…and that was something that we talked about really early on and it’s very specific. I think the Gems sort of are themed in a lot of ways, you know, Pearl is in the past, Amethyst is in the present, and Garnet is in the future. And we talked about that playing into their sound. I had references really early on for the way that I felt – like [how] Pearl would sound and Amethyst would sound and Garnet would sound…And they have very specific instruments that are related to those characters. We were talking over recently, sort of deconstructing Garnet to give themes to Ruby and Sapphire, and that was really interesting because she has a sound and they have to have a sound that relates to her but is also different. So I talk a lot with my composers about why the characters are the way they are, and then they find a way to translate that into their instruments, which is really fun. We talk a lot about how there’s sort of smooth…elements to Garnet, and then there’s also harsh, base elements of Garnet, and those things combine and they’re sort of loose, but that that’s not how they sound.
Q: Do you have a favorite song?
REBECCA: The one I wrote for Estelle, “Stronger than You”, is definitely my favorite. I was really excited. It had to be good. And Estelle gave me a lot of advice.
ESTELLE: She did a great job. She didn’t need my advice. I look at it like this: the opening sequence and the original songs on any show is key. You just do a great job on that and then you have a song to write and you have no worries. She’s going to do something great. To me, it was a change, cause I was kind of like half rapping, half-singing and it was two bars of that and two bars, and I’m used to sixteen bars of rap, sixteen bars of singing. And it was, like, singing and switching and singing, and it was like, for me, it was a personal challenge. I was like, “Whoo! Gonna do this in one breath? Okay, come on!” I knew the song was gonna be great. I’m not gonna worry about it. And the words to me are brilliant, too. There’s been a lot of people hitting me on Twitter and Instagram, “This made me feel so good! This made me feel like -” you know, and this is, on a personal level, this is kind of my mission, what my music does, so it was great to have her clue in real quick and solve that and just knock it out of the park. And she did.
(By the way, at this point we asked Estelle if we could hear a bit of Garnet’s song, and she sang for us! It was amazing, and she is amazing.)
Q: The art changed significantly. Do you have plans to continue to try different styles and different looks for the characters?
REBECCA: Absolutely. It’s always flexible. When the characters release their physical forms, when they take critical hits, they get a chance to readdress their bodies, which is always an opportunity for me to have them sort of readjust where they are at that moment in time. I think of it like when a cataclysmic happens in your life, you kind of have to reboot who you think you are, and to me it’s a visual way to do that. But it’s also a way to sort of orient myself and how I wanted the characters at that time.
Q: Do you prefer the more traditional release times of one episode a week, or do you prefer what Cartoon Network is doing now with a bunch of episodes at once?
REBECCA: It depends. I’m really glad these next five are going to be together.
IAN: Yeah, these next five were pretty much structured as an arc from the get-go. So, yeah, we’re really happy they’re choosing to play it in that way.
REBECCA: It’s meant to be. I think it depends on the stories. Some of them I hoped would have a lot of time to breathe. But then some of them, like these next five, I just can’t wait for them to be all out in the world. So this is a great situation for me.
GEEKIARY QUESTION: How do you guys feel about fan reactions to the show? Like the Gemsona thing with people creating their own gem personalities?
REBECCA: Oh, it’s so pro. It’s great. There’s going to be more in the show about sort of what it means for the Gems to be the gems that they are. I don’t think this discounts what anyone has created, because I think that everyone has reasons why they should be the way that they are and have the one they have and have the personality they have, and that’s reflected in the way they draw them, and that will never not be the best reason to make any character anything. But we’re going to explore more in the show what it means to be the types of gems that our Gems are, and what that would mean in the context of Gem society, and what it means for them as sort of Steven’s family and what they’ve conformed to and what they haven’t. I can’t wait to see how that can be incorporated. I think that it can run parallel to things that people have already felt that they’ve identified with. So much in the show I think about what really matters at the time that I think a lot of people will be watching the show, which is you’re really trying to figure out who you are. And making Gemsonas has everything to do with that. So it’s perfect. And I was always hoping that there would be them, and people would get to fuse people that they know and would get to explore, “Oh, this is what our relationship means” like explore that as a cartoon character. That would be great. I’m really glad that’s actually happening.
Q: When you guys are doing the voice recording sessions, do you know what’s going on, or are you like, “I don’t know what this is gonna be until it’s finished and I see it” kind of thing?
ZACH: As far as the over-arcing plot of the show?
Q: The show or maybe that episode specifically. Certain shows, they’re like, “I don’t know what’s going on.”
ZACH: We get the black-and-white boards in advance, so that helps, I’ve found. And then she’ll pitch it as we go along, so we know what’s going on in every scene. As far as the over-arcing plot of the show, sometimes she’ll fill me in on different things that are going on in the future, so I kind of know, and I’ll start to notice things in episodes that are leading up to that, and that’s exciting because I’m a fan of the show, too. And I still get engaged in the plot even if I know what’s coming up, I still love watching it, just on the couch.
Q: Is it weird hearing your voice come out of your character or are you used to it at this point?
ZACH: Watching yourself on film is weird for most people. It’s weird for me, but for Steven I’m changing my voice so much that I don’t fully hear it as myself, so I can just sit down and enjoy the show and it doesn’t bother me too much, which is kind of nice.
ESTELLE: That freaks me out. I’ll sit and watch it and be like, “Well, maybe next time I’ll go in and I don’t – I mean – oh god that’s horrible”. In my head, I beat myself up. I just wanna be better, I wanna do good, do as good as, match their work. I analyze.
Q: And are you guys in the recording sessions?
REBECCA: Not always together. I’m always there. Estelle is often touring. We’re almost always together. Tom Sharpley is in New York. A lot of people are in a lot of different places, but I try to make sure that everybody knows where their characters’ heads are at, cause that’s really important to the show. Especially with things like everyone knew about Garnet way, way before so I didn’t have to be like, “Don’t tell anybody”. But it has so much to do with why people act the way that they act, so there’s a lot of spoilers that I give to the cast.
Q: What made you want to go the route of Steven having such a non-traditional family unit?
REBECCA: I think from the beginning one of my major goals with the show was to show things in a cartoon that were not stereotypical, normal things. There’s this idea for a cartoon that things have to be instantly recognizable and when you say that, when you want things to read, the easiest way to make them read is just to go to the simplest most normal things that everyone has decided is what life is like, what a family is like, what a kid is like, what boys are like, what girls are like. There’s a notion that in a cartoon that’s what you have to do to make people understand it. And if you don’t do that, you have to do a lot of legwork to explain… I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wanted to make a cartoon that was about things you had never seen in a cartoon and how the idea of normalcy is really not real. Normal is something that is a construct, and create something specific – specificity in a cartoon. That’s often the enemy of cartoons. There’s an idea that you can’t make something extremely beautiful and have it still be a cool action cartoon, or you can’t make something that is for boys and for girls at the same time because one thing looks like this and another thing looks like this. I wanted to take on the challenge of making something so specific that it was really about people, because real life is like that. Nobody has this cookie-cutter cartoon life, and I think seeing that over and over and over again is stifling.
Q: Did you feel like you did have to show people the ropes and “this is how we’ve set it up” or did you not have to do that?
REBECCA: In terms of…?
Q: You know you said you had a regular family and it’s ready to go, but otherwise you’d have to explain it. Did you feel like you had to explain it?
REBECCA: No, because I think my goal going in was to make it so much about these characters that none of that mattered. Because that’s reality. What is a family? It’s different for everyone. The idea that there even is some family that is like “the” family, it doesn’t even make sense. So I would go into this talking about like this is…Garnet is like this and Pearl is like this, Amethyst is like this, Steven is like this, Greg is like this. We never had to sit down and talk about how it was anything other than these people. And that’s how it’s been since day one.
Q: Do you guys have any favorite fan interactions or fan meetings on the street or at a convention that just sticks in your mind?
ESTELLE: I did Boston Pride the other week and I had a Garnet in the crowd – a couple Garnets in the crowd – and it freaks me out. They’re always like, “Sing ‘Stronger than You'” and I’m like, “I can’t! It’s not on my set list!” And they’ll pop up at almost every show, or I’ll see a t-shirt, or kids will come up and be like, “Man that song” and “Thank you for playing Garnet”, and I’m doing my regular stuff and I forget and then they come up. So that stuff makes me happy. I take pictures of them specifically, like I’m like, “Come here, let’s do this, you went out of your way to put the whole outfit on, we’re gonna do this”. It’s amazing to me. And it was hot, too. Really hot. So that to me was just like, whoo! dedication. Come on. So I always give them respect.
ZACH: At NYCC last year, I got asked to do an impromptu Cookie Cat rap. The fan reaction was amazing. Everyone was super excited to hear it, and it was really fun to kind of do it with all the people and see them enjoy it, and that was a really cool moment for me. Everything about NYCC was awesome.
REBECCA: For me, too, there was an incredible Opal at NYCC.
ZACH: Yes, oh my gosh.
REBECCA: Sitting right in front of me when I was on stage, and I couldn’t believe it. They had come up, but I missed it, someone had been showing me a picture on their phone like, “You’re not gonna believe this person that’s walking around” and then there they were.
IAN: My favorite fan reaction is actually a virtual one. Like when the show airs, it always starts with the theme song, and it’s like the minute the show airs, on any social media thing with people who follow the show, you just see a screen full of “WE” – like everyone just types in WE the minute that the “we” hits in the show. And so if you ever see a live chat, like a livestream of people watching it, just the chat explodes.
REBECCA: “Jailbreak” was the first time I just saw it flood.
IAN: Flood of “we”.
ZACH: I still get chills whenever I hear that first “we” in the show.
REBECCA: I was gonna change it and you made me not.
IAN: I was like, “NO.”`
REBECCA: We were changing the theme song – there’s an extended theme song that goes a little longer – and I was thinking like maybe we could change it so instead of “we [pause] are the crystal gems” it would be like “*beat* we are the crystal gems” and Ian’s like, “You can’t move that beat!”
IAN: You cannot get rid of that “we”!
REBECCA: We actually had to animate it twice in order to make it work for the extended theme song and to keep it right for the intro.
ZACH: Whenever someone asks me to sing the theme song, I always go to that first, and then I’m like, “Wait.”
Q: What response do you have to people who say that Ruby and Sapphire are not involved with each other in a romantic way?
REBECCA: That is incorrect.
IAN: It’s two cartoon characters in love. It’s undeniable.
REBECCA: True, true.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t wait for more Steven Universe. I really feel that this show is super positive and fun, and I always feel happy after watching it. Any other Geekiary readers tuning in?
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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