VFX: <I>Sonic the Hedgehog 2</I>
Issue: March/April 2022

VFX: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Paramount Pictures and director Jeff Fowler called on VFX studio MPC to bring a fully-CGI Sonic to life in the new feature film Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which has brought in more than $170M since its early April release. Picking up a year after the events of the first movie, Sonic is eager to prove that he has what it takes to be a true hero. His test comes under fire when Dr. Robotnik returns with a new partner, Knuckles, in search of a mystical emerald that has the power to destroy civilizations. Sonic teams up with his own sidekick, Tails, and together they embark on a globe-trotting journey to find the emerald before it falls into the wrong hands. 

MPC VFX supervisors Matt Jacobs and Etienne Daigle, alongside VFX producer Hayden White, led a global team of 1,300 artists, creatives, technologists and support staff, to complete over 1,400 shots for the film. The studio’s main areas of work revolved around Sonic himself, as well as Knuckles and Tails. The team also worked on many environments and explosive scenes, including a snowboard chase in the mountains of Siberia. Additional credits include fight scenes between Sonic and Knuckles, mystical temple environments, a giant Death Egg Robot, and a host of prop assets, including drones, Buzzbomb robots and spaceships. 

Having worked on the first film, MPC was well acquainted with the Sonic universe and the design of the character himself. However, with the introduction of several new characters and expanded environments in this storyline, the studio’s challenge was to stay true to the canons of the game and what fans have come to love while building on a larger universe and story.
“Having come from an animation background himself, director Jeff Fowler was extremely passionate about the performance aspects of the work,” recalls VFX supervisor Matt Jacobs. “Eric Guaglione, MPC’s animation director on the show, did a great job taking Jeff’s direction and guiding the team of animators to craft the amazing performances – and blistering speeds - you see throughout the movie.”

Working in collaboration with the MPC Character Lab, the team was also tasked with the exciting prospect of bringing to life well-known characters of Knuckles and Tails. Created in the same animation design language as Sonic and using what they learned from the first movie, the team worked on an array of sequences and bespoke looks throughout the storyline, including VFX-heavy battles.  

Another significant challenge for the MPC team was in crafting the giant Death Egg Robot towards the end of the movie. Here, Dr. Robotnik uses his powers to destroy his surrounding environment to create a giant robot resembling himself and attack Sonic. Working again in collaboration with MPC’s Character Lab, the team referenced the original video-game designs as a base, but stylized and animated it to function in real-world photography.

“As iconic as the characters were in the movie, the team was ‘parallelly superpowered’ with artists heavily ideating on how to craft multiple environments and FX,” says Jacobs. 

The Owl Temple and Emerald Chamber were two of the most exciting challenges for the team. 

“Our environments team had several huge tasks on their hands, but these were the two environments that relied most heavily on taking concept art and turning it into our sets,” Jacobs continues. “There was less to draw on from direct scans and photographs, so these were much more of an empirical approach to the creative challenge.”

The Technicolor Creative Studio network of studios has been a proactive partner for the film franchise, with additional marketing materials being delivered by advertising VFX studio The Mill, who teamed up with McDonald’s to advertise Sonic the Hedgehog-themed Happy Meals.

Also contributing visual effects for the film was Dneg, which completed work on more than 185 shots across four different sequences. Dneg brought to life a missile-shooting robot, as well as elaborate Rube Goldberg traps, an shockwave blasting away from the world, and an entire world composed of mushrooms.
VFX supervisor Kunal Ghosh Dastider says Dneg got involved with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 back in October 2021, and was faced with a tight delivery schedule of just six months.

“The big challenge for Dneg was to create two massive environments that needed lots of detail to give scale and depth,” Dastider explains. “Both of the environments were completely opposite! One was an organic mushroom planet and the other was a hard surface interior of a robot head. We used Houdini and Clarisse to procedurally scatter all the little details, like mushrooms, plants and rocks, as well as in the case of the mechanical head interior - lots of bolts, panels, etc. For all this work, we needed to be able to place some strategically bigger pieces to break up the look of environments. We would then adjust the procedural scatter accordingly. We did the layout of the environment in Autodesk Maya, where we could quickly see where we needed to fill the gaps for different angles. Then we would send it back to Clarisse to light and render out all the different layers for compositing in Nuke, where we massaged it all together with the plate photography and added the lensing details, defocus and cherries on top.”