The new behind-the-scenes trailer for the second season of the series “Sweet Tooth” shows how the series avoids dependence on pure computer graphics, which avoids the “ugly” problem of Sonic the Hedgehog. Unlike the relatively dark source material, Netflix’s “Sweet Tooth” depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which politics and propaganda rage, but are balanced by traces of hope, love and peace. The show brilliantly emphasizes this contrast, using a bright, juicy color palette as the background of a gloomy world and a list of simpering half-human, half-animal characters who do not fall into the supernatural abyss of extreme computer graphics.
By comparison, the initial design of the Sonic the Hedgehog character was met with huge criticism and fury on social media. The iconic Sega video game speedster’s movie appearance has been condemned for its strikingly human teeth, fingers, and narrow eyes, and has even been touted as an “abomination.” Taking the overwhelming criticism seriously, Sonic’s creators quickly changed the character’s design and dispelled the madness of memes appearing in their path. However, Sonic wasn’t the first fictional movie character to fall deep into the supernatural valley of computer graphics. Disturbing humanoid feline cats and overly expressive animated characters from the Polar Express caused a similar reaction and, unfortunately, were unable to repair the damage.
With minimal computer graphics and a more practical design of real-life characters, Sweet Tooth completely avoids the sinister valley problem. Most of his hybrid characters are played by child actors who mostly wear prosthetics, which gives them realism. Actor-sweet tooth Christian Convery showed (via YouTube) that Gus’s reindeer ears are real, and their twitching is controlled by a puppeteer. What’s even more fascinating is that even Bobby, a human-groundhog hybrid with almost no human features, was artificially created using a puppet system with virtually no computer graphics. As the showrunner demonstrated on Twitter Jim Mickle, Bobby’s torso and head are attached to two poles, and his limbs are synchronized with the puppeteer’s feet. On paper, this approach may seem no different from Sonic’s “ugly” hyperrealistic computer graphics, but as the series clearly shows, it makes Bobby more tangible and visually pleasing.
Despite the outwardly similar design to Sonic, a unique interpretation of the source material by a Sweet Tooth works in favor of Bobby. Instead of being extremely loyal to comics, Sweet Tooth only borrows themes, storylines and characters to create its own universe with live actors. By keeping the character design in tandem with real-time world construction, the series avoids inconsistencies in visual effects.
On the other hand, Sonic’s design was not impressive because he retained most of his animated aspects from the original video games, but adopted only some inconsistent human traits that would fit the live-action setting of the film. Sonic’s new look is still unrealistic for a feature film, but it is more acceptable because it corresponds to the cultural perception of the character. Meanwhile, Bobby’s design remains true to all the other elements of the series and thus does not cause viewers to feel cognitive dissonance.
Despite the apparent simplicity, the character design in “Sweet Tooth” serves as a master class on how filmmakers can avoid inconsistencies between the perception and expectations of the audience. The “sinister valley” effect is often used in horror films, excellent examples of which are “Gremlins” and “Out of the Car”. However, for shows and films with a lighter tone, the smooth combination of realism and computer graphics in Sweet Tooth can cause a more positive emotional response from the audience.