How the Sonic the Hedgehog OK K.O.! Team-up Happened

OK K.O.'s creator breaks down how the Sonic team-up episode was written, how Sega to agreed to it, and more in this in-depth interview.

OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes is, without question, one of the most cartoony cartoons on air. While some animated series have skewed more towards dramatic long running plotlines, OK K.O.! has embraced just how much of a cartoon it is. It’s wacky, zany, and delights in referencing other cartoons.

It proudly wears its influences on its sleeve and one of those is Sonic The Hedgehog. The long running video game franchise has had multiple animated series over the years and OK K.O.! creator Ian Jones-Quartey (and much of the series’ crew) count some of these as big influences on the series.

For Jones-Quartey, he’s been wanting Sonic to guest star on the show since its first season and that dream finally came true. Sonic and Tails guest starred on the series’ recent episode “Let’s Meet Sonic” and it was a delightful romp packed with nonstop references to Sonic’s past in overt and subtle ways. While it would have been easy to get lost in all the Sonic love, the episode kept the style and feel of OK K.O.! intact throughout. It was a true team-up in all ways.

Pulling off that kind of balance isn’t easy, especially in an eleven minute episode of television. We spoke with Ian-Jones Quartey about the original conception of the episode, how they pitched it to Sega, and all those references.

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First off, I’d love to know about your history as a Sonic The Hedgehog fan.

I was introduced to Sonic from the very first game. Neighbors of mine when I was a kid had a friend who had a Sega Genesis who brought it over. It looked pretty awesome to me and I couldn’t afford a Sega at the time, so I got immersed in the comic books and the TV cartoons. I just really liked the character and eventually I owned all the games and played them.

I was just a huge Sonic fan in my youth and then as an adult actually, as just an animator, I got to animate in the intro for Sonic Mania. I did two pretty easy shots, but the intro to Sonic CD is actually one of my largest influences and kind of the way that the K.O.! characters, when they have their hands balled up in fists, they kind of just become balls. That was something I stole from Sonic.

How did you even make this episode even happen? Talk about the conception of it.

We’ve been planning this episode since the first season of OK K.O.! We had talked a little bit about doing crossovers as something that we had sort of a thrown around in the writers’ room/ We brought this up to our series executive who said, “Well, is there a character that you would really want to have a crossover with?” We, myself and my executive producer, Toby Jones, instantly said Sonic, because I’m a huge fan. Also the crew that makes the show, a lot of them are really huge fans too. We know if we had the chance to do a crossover with Sonic they would really treat it very well and with respect.

So what’s the process in terms of just getting permission to use Sonic?

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Actually doing the deal took a really long time to the point where, there were several times we thought it wasn’t going to happen. But people kept working on it and basically Sega and Cartoon Network just had to make a deal on the whole thing. Once they said we were okay to go, we storyboarded the entire episode and we pitched the whole thing to them. Just basically getting approvals on say, the way Sonic looks, what he does, that sort of thing.

The thing about Sega was that we made a little presentation for them about why our crew connected to Sonic and how we saw the character and how the character was inspiring to us, and they really trusted us and let us kind of put our own spin on him. It felt really good because I think, it’s OK K.O.!, so the show is pretty cartoony. It can be pretty out there. But they saw that everything we were doing was coming from a respect and love for Sonic. They were really great partners to work with.

Tell us more about that presentation to Sega. What were some of the things that you said to Sega to get them to trust you?

We all have personal histories with the characters. We took a picture with me and Toby covered in a bunch of Sonic paraphernalia that we have. I had my Sonic comics just like lying around the office for anyone to read. But also, we talked a little bit about the fact that we all related to Sonic. We love the games but we also have a lot of affection for Sonic animation. There are several animated versions of Sonic that were really special to all of us, and not just the Sonic CD intro, or the Sonic anime, but even the two Sonic animated shows made in the early ’90s. Coincidentally, they were produced in the building that we actually produced OK K.O.! in. It’s kind of an odd coincidence, but they understood that there was some history there and so for us it felt really good. It felt like they understood what we wanted to do.

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Talk about creating the story of the episode.

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Well, so we’ve done a couple of different crossovers on OK, K.O.!, but the thing is we’ve never done a crossover just for the sake of doing the crossover. We always needed to have a story or character dynamic or gimmick that would make it make sense. For this show the reason why it was easy for us to get our heads around it was because in the show KO is a huge fan boy. He’s the biggest fan of every hero who walks through the door and he’s just really interested in knowing about hero stuff because he wants to be the greatest hero ever. Sonic kind of fits into that really well because one thing we know about Sonic is that not only is he a brave hero, he’s very egotistical and he loves to drink up people’s praise.

We figured once we got those two personalities together, it would be real fireworks between them. We thought there would be a lot of chemistry, and then when we got to add Tails into the mix it made everything perfect because then, Tails is Sonic’s natural foil. So it just worked out really well.

OK K.O.! episodes are usually only about 11 minutes. Were there any longer versions of the episode that you had thought about doing or was there a lot of stuff you had to cut because there were so many things you wanted to put in?

Well, we had a lot of things we wanted to put in but we felt like it was very important to give the Sonic episode the best treatment that we could and make it a good OK K.O.! episode. A normal OK K.O.! episode is 11 minutes, and we really felt like we had a story that the scope fit in 11 minutes. We didn’t want to put in a lot of a padding or extra talking just to make it longer. We figured the whole point is it’s Sonic in OK K.O.!. Let’s actually put him in a real OK K.O.! episode and, it’s Sonic, so you’re going to want to get right down to the action and you’re gonna want it to be fast. We just didn’t want to wait around. This one was written and designed to be 11 minutes, absolutely.

The episode is filled with references to the point I can’t even list them all. Could you talk a little bit about these references that you included, everything from the music calling back to the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. There are shots that are directly taken from the Sonic OVA. Talk about inserting all these many Sonic references.

We just have an absolute reverence and love for all Sonic, all of its lore, and since we’re doing an animated version of Sonic, we wanted to pay homage, not just to the Sonic games, but also the different Sonic animation over the years. We went out of our way to make sure that we had references to almost every different piece of Sonic animation. It’s hard to fit it all in cause there’s been so much but we wanted to make sure that there’s a lot extra for fans.

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In particular there are a lot of references to Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog. Is that because it’s the wackiest of the shows and OK K.O.! is pretty wacky?

Yeah, absolutely, and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is one of my biggest influences in terms of animation. It’s very wacky and almost a low rent Bugs Bunny but it has a lot of expressive funny drawings and it does so much just for a laugh. All the characters are really funny with no other reason for them to exist; they’re just there to be hilarious. That was actually one of my biggest inspirations when making OK K.O.!. I wanted to make a show that was kind of zany and off the wall and had everything. Now that we actually have Sonic in the show, we can do some direct call outs to one of the show’s biggest inspirations.

I noticed in the episode that you guys also made a reference to Ben Schwartz’s Parks and Recreation character Jean-Ralphio when Sonic yells, “The WORRRSSSSSST.” Since he’s playing Sonic in the upcoming live-action movie, I’d love to hear more about that.

It’s so funny, we had Roger Craig Smith who is the current voice of Sonic, and we had him in the booth and once we were done recording all the dialogue, we were kind of going through and looking at all the moments in the script and seeing if there were like extra little things we could put in there. So when Sonic jumps down he says, “Alright, box brain,” and he says all these little lines, a lot of those were improvs that we actually came up with in that moment.

We had Roger Craig Smith do a couple improvs and that I think was a suggestion that might’ve come from the writer’s room. We weren’t even sure we were going to leave it in but we were just like, well it’d be funny if Roger Craig Smith did it. Then it got a big laugh out of everybody after the record, so we just put it in an early version of the animatic. Then it kept getting laughs, and then it was just one of those things that, this happens all the time on OK K.O.! We put in a joke that we’re like, “well this is just so stupid, the only people who are going to laugh at it is ourselves,” but then everybody thinks it’s funny and then we just leave it in.

Were there any references that ended up getting deleted from the episode that you liked, but obviously there were just time constraints?

I feel like everything pretty much got in. I wanted to be very specific about a lot of things. For instance, there’s a flashback that Tails has to first meeting Sonic and her voice actress, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, did this incredible monologue about what it feels like to have a finish line and to have a goal and to have something to pull for. One of the things that we talked to the art team about was that, well, everybody sees Sonic and they instantly think Green Hill Zone but we have to make sure this is Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic 2 because that’s where Tails is from. There are a lot of little things like that we just wanted to make sure that we got right.

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For extra things that we wish we could have had in, I mean, of course the thing that would be really amazing would be to have KO get to visit Sonic’s world but I think that might be too big of a story for one episode. Maybe someday.

One of the stand out moments in the episode was Sonic and KO racing through the ramps. That was the most Sonic game-like sequence in the whole episode.

One of the main things we wanted to do in the episode was give Sonic some time to shine and show off a bunch of cool moves. Originally all that stuff was going to take place outside in front of Boxmore but we eventually put everything inside and we figured, well it’s a giant factory so let’s just turn it into a giant Sonic level. Our art director kind of patterned it after several different things from Chemical Plant Zone, also the special stages from Knuckles Chaotix, and then we had one of our animators, Jeff Liu, who was the storyboard supervisor, actually animated that really cool scene of Sonic running through a lot of those things.

I animated the part where Sonic goes slow-mo because I wanted a cool section like that and also to show off him doing the light speed dash. We also really had a lot of fun thinking about. if we were making our own Sonic cartoon, what were the kind of powers we’d show him have? What kind of things would we want him to do?

If you had to pick one moment through the whole production of this episode that was your favorite part of the process, what would it be?

We worked on the designs for Sonic and Tails for a really long time. Basically the thing that was difficult about it was trying to get those characters to fit in our world. It took us a little while to get there with those characters because the Sonic characters, while they are very cartoony and the show is very cartoony, we wanted to make sure that there is a little bit of a match, so that it really looked like they belonged to the same world. We worked with the character designer, Ben Bates, who actually had a lot of experience drawing Sonic the Hedgehog. He used to do the covers for the old Archie comic book.

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He’s one of our designers, so he helped us out a lot and he helped us create these new character designs for Sonic and Tails. What was really nice with that we kind of got to go through a bunch of old Sonic character designs from older shows and we were able to pull little pieces from each one. What was great was that we actually sent all the character designs to Sega for approval and it wasn’t something that I thought about until we did it, but then they had to send our designs to the Sonic Team.

So actually the Sonic Team was working off of our designs too. Kazuyuki Hoshino looked over all of our character designs and he did notes on them and he tried to make sure that they fit into the style of Sonic. So it was really awesome to get their help on those things and they made it better. They pointed out all these small things that you don’t think about when you work on these characters, like what is the proportion of their eyes and ears and their heads, their bodies, and all that kind of stuff. It was really fun putting all those things together.

One of the lines that I love in this episode comes from Rad where he says, “We were up all night playing videos game.” OK K.O.! is filled with lines like that. Talk a little bit about that sort of line that makes no sense, but it’s so hilarious.

I think “videos game” came about because we just wanted to avoid saying “video games” in the show. For some reason it just felt cheap in the place that we had it in. Several of our story boarders came up with the term “videos game” and at it first it was just kind of a thing for Mr. Gar to say so he would sound old and out of touch. But eventually we just came to see it as “videos game” is how everybody refers to video games in the show.

One of the things that we like to do on the show that’s really fun is we like to create a list of words that we use and a list of words that we don’t use. Just to try to get people to write around really obvious jokes so that you don’t use jokes where it’s characters who go like, “I heard that,” or something like that. We want to make sure that things have their own idiosyncrasies.

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Obviously there’s going to be a lot of people who are reading this and watching this episode who are just Sonic fans that might just be getting into OK K.O.! What do you have to say to them about what OK K.O.! is, and why they might like it, especially if they are Sonic fans?

If you’re a fan of Sonic, if you like pure hearted heroes who also have dark sides and battle against each other, and you like something that’s fun and bright and colorful but can be a little edgy when it wants to be? I mean that’s OK K.O.!. If you watch a little more of the show you’ll understand very much that Sonic was something that inspired a lot of us. If that’s the kind of tone you’re interested in, I think people would really enjoy watching it and there’s a lot of show to watch.

What are you most excited for in OK K.O.! coming up? Obviously Sonic has happened, but what other fun stories can OK K.O.! fans look forward to?

Well now that we’re through with Sonic, I’m really hoping that everybody binges, gets caught up, watches every week, and joins us for the series finale, which is gonna play later this year. It’s the culmination of a lot of things that we’ve been working on, and it’s just coming out to be a whole lot of fun. In OK K.O.! we do our big serious stories, but we always make sure that for every deep dark thing, there’s like a million jokes to help you ride through. I hope everybody joins us for that.

What other team ups would you love to do if you could with OK K.O.!?

Well you know, it’s tough because Sonic was a huge one and I think the thing about doing a team up is that, like I was saying earlier, you can’t do the team up just for a team-up’s sake. It has to come from a really good story or a really good idea. For instance, with Captain Planet, we were like, it will be funny if Lord Boxman started polluting and it brought Captain Planet out of hiding. For Ghoul School we were like, what if there’s a whole universe full of different characters and Enid knew these characters, like they went to elementary school together. So really it all comes from a good story and I think there’s definitely a future for more crossovers if we have a good story. 

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Anything you want to say to the Sonic fans out there? Any Sonic media that you’ve been enjoying lately?

I mostly just buy and enjoy almost anything Sonic. I’ve been reading a lot of the IDW comics recently. I’m just a huge fan, and Sonic fandom is really interesting because it’s so big and so varied. We all love Sonic from different parts of the franchise and I’m excited for people to give OK K.O.! a chance as an extension of that Sonic thing. It probably won’t be the thing that makes someone love Sonic for the first time but if you’re a Sonic fan who has loved Sonic for a long time and is open to different interpretations on the character, and loves seeing Sonic pop up in different places like Wreck-it Ralph or Ready Player One? I really hope that you’ll give OK K.O.!’s shot at Sonic a chance and I really hope you enjoy it.

Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter! Read more articles by him here!

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