The world of Steven Universe is jam-packed with details fans have been dying to know about the series for years, whether its about the series’ wonderful world-building or behind-the-scenes tales of how the show became the phenomenon it is today. The recently released Steven Universe: Art and Origins has given us our first real taste of what gone and what goes into making the show—and here are the most interesting facts.
Steven Universe diehards are fully aware that the designs they know and love for Steven and the Crystal Gems are not how they’ve always appeared; the show’s pilot gave us some radically different looks for the team, especially the Gems. While the current designs are now dearly loved, when the show first made the change from its pilot look to the cleaner, simplified style of the show today—fans who’d seen the pilot were not happy, according to former supervising director and co-developer of the show Ian Jones-Quartey:
When a poster featuring the new designs were released, there was a backlash. Our then-tiny fan base was positively outraged! There were accusations that Rebecca [Sugar] was ‘selling out,’ rumors of Cartoon Network cutting the show’s funding... People even tried to imply that the designs weren’t actually Rebecca’s work, and that Danny [Hynes] or I had purposefully ‘ruined’ the designs.
One of the most amazing things about Art and Origins is just how many windows into an alternate Steven Universe history it opens, giving fans a look at early and unused ideas for the show’s rich world-building. One interesting piece in a section on early concept art for Steven and the Gems includes handwritten notes from Rebecca Sugar hashing out a potential origins for how the Crystal Gems came to Earth, some elements of which eventually made it into the show.
In one origin, Sugar describes a god-like “mother” figure that creates “guardian girls” to protect to protect early humanity—but when humanity gets too advanced, the mother decides to flood the Earth, but the guardian girls form “The Woman,” a giant woman who was basically the show’s predecessor to the fusion Alexandrite, to protect humanity and rebel against their creator.
Hints to the past of Steven Universe’s weird and wonderful world are some of the main reasons fans watch the show, so one of the biggest teases of the whole book is the revelation that Rebecca Sugar has a gigantic, unshown timeline that charts 20,000 years of both human and Gem history—a timeline printed out on dozens of sheets of paper and covered in branching chronologies that guides both the past and future of major events on the show. Although the journey writers and artists take between events are often made up as they go along, the timeline is the holy grail of Steven Universe lore.
Art and Origins also reveals that there’s an alternate version of “Gem Glow,” the first episode of the season which sees Steven summon his shield weapon for the first time (when he thinks he can only do so by eating his favorite ice cream sandwich, Cookie Cat). Although the alternate version only exists as storyboards referred to by the production team as the “Shield Boards,” it features several elements that ultimately never got into the show itself, like the concept of the Crystal Gems disguising themselves as humans and hiding their powers from humanity. In the alternate version, Steven first summons his gem-shield to inadvertently save his dad Greg from being hit by a car at his carwash.
Fans have known for a while that the Earth of Steven Universe is not really like ours. It’s a bizarre mishmash of fantasy and reality, with the influence of the Homeworld Gems’ arrival thousands of years ago still being felt. While the show has only barely teased what the Earth is like in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it maps like the one above, Art and Origins includes a fully annotated map of the world, revealing some pretty major changes to the world.
Florida is almost entirely submerged in the ocean, becoming the Floridan Archipelago just east of “Aqua Mexico,” which is similarly flooded. South America, dubbed Pangea, still has part of Africa’s western landmass attached to it. The galaxy warp that played a major part of the show’s earlier seasons is at the center of the Tunguska sea, a massive ocean that is smacked right in the middle of the Siberian landmass. There’s even Australia and New Australia!
The introduction of fans to former Crystal Gem leader and Steven’s absent mom Rose is a hugely important moment in Steven Universe’s story, but it almost happened in a very different way, thanks to two episodes, “Story for Steven” and “Lion 3: Straight to Video.” The two had originally been flipped around in the show’s first season, which would’ve meant fans first saw Rose in a flashback, a recollection by Steven’s dad Greg, rather than through the videotaped message to Steven she appears in during “Lion 3.”
Storyboard artists Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu argued vehemently that Rose’s introduction should be through Steven’s eyes as both the protagonist and the audience’s viewpoint character, so the decision was made for “Lion 3” to air before “Story for Steven”—and changes were made to its ending so that it would be Rose filming Greg and giving the message to Steven, rather than the other way around.
Music is a hugely important part of Steven Universe’s storytelling—not just through the songs that form the backbone of the series’ emotional storytelling, but how the soundtrack itself is built around musical instruments that each represent one of the main characters. Here’s Steven and the Gems’ respective soundscapes, as detailed in the book:
- Steven: Chiptunes and Triangle Waves
- Garnet: Synth Bass
- Pearl: Piano
- Amethyst: Electric drums
Steven Universe fans are fully aware that those hiatus cravings are real; the fact that the show can come on for a week of episodes and then vanish for months is just part and parcel of how the show is made and viewed at this point. But the desperate drive to uncover secrets and make theories out of tiny details in every episode—the very thing that drives the rampant hunger for more pure information about the world of Steven Universe that consumes the fanbase at every opportunity, isn’t just a by-product of the show’s rich lore... it’s also basically what Steven Universe is about, in a way, according to Rebecca Sugar:
This was part of the goal in the pilot as well as the whole series: to know that there is so much more that you can’t see and the way that knowledge frustrates and excites and confuses and scares you.
That’s... pretty much Steven Universe in a nutshell, right there.
As an art student in college, Rebecca Sugar became attached to design principal about simple shapes she learned while studying the Bauhaus theory. When presented with a square, circle, and cone, the theory posits, a strong Bauhaus designer should be able to associate each shape with a specific primary color:the square red, the circle blue, and the cone red.
While Steven Universe doesn’t always strictly adhere to Bauhaus design methods, the square/circle/cone trio are the basis of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl’s designs as they relate to the character’s personalities. Garnet, a level square, is the most stable of the group. Amethyst, the circle, is fluid and versatile, while Pearl, the cone, is largely fixed in its orientatio
Early on into the show’s creation, renowned concept artist Guy Davis, who has designed kanji for Pacific Rim, was brought on to help the Steven Universe design team brainstorm ideas for the ancient and mysterious Gem architecture found throughout the show. In fact, Davis had the idea to give the Gems’ temple (who in one sketch is identified as Obsidian) multiple faces.
Some of Steven Universe’s most interesting design concepts are the result of writers and artists doing “Design a Gem” and “Design a Gem Technology” versions of the exquisite exercises where one artist draws the initial picture of whatever’s in their head before another artist describes its name, function, and unique traits.
The Gem Destabilizer and Breaking Boint, for example, began as a single weapon called the “Shatter Wand” that looked something like a cross between a flashlight and a corncob. Like the Breaking Point, it was capable of shattering Gems, but like the Destabilizer, it was meant to be swung with ease and wielded with a single hand.
At this point in the series, most of the Homeworld Gems that we’ve seen have had rather modest geometric designs fitting in with the idea that Homeworld society prioritizes order and function over individuality. In the early concept art, though, the Homeworld Gems are actually styled much more like Garnet’s First Fusion, asymmetrical with billowing curves that come across more like high fashion.
So far, we’ve seen fragments of the Cluster mindlessly wandering around the earth’s surface and the mass of traumatized Gem shards that have been bubbled within the earth’s mantle.
It’s unclear what exactly the cluster might look like if and when it finally reforms and becomes the living weapon the Diamonds intended for it to be, but the concept art for the creature is like a mix of Steven Universe’s most horrifying monsters. Where other Gem creatures have been somewhat animalistic in their appearance, the early Cluster is more of a towering behemoth that would dwarf the Temple and whose very manifestation would rip Beach City to pieces.