According to Letterman, the two-year process to create the Pokémon involved studying animal designs and working closely with the Pokémon Company design team in Japan. “We studied a lot of animals and how they behave and how they interact to ensure we got it right,” he said. For example, the direct reference for a character like Bulbasaur was bulldogs, Letterman explained, because of the way they interact in packs. “There’s an extraordinary amount of craft that went into making the movie on the animation side as we tried to bring everything to life.”
Conversely, Pokémon Detective Pikachu’s cinematographer, John Mathieson, who’s had an extensive career on major productions such as Gladiator, Logan, and X-Men: First Class, was much less diplomatic in his assessment of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. “Funny enough, I was offered [Sonic the Hedgehog] and after watching the trailer, I thought, I’m so glad we don’t look like that,” he told Newsweek in an interview earlier this month.
Rather than criticizing the character’s design, Mathieson believed the main difference between the movies is the fact that he shot Pokémon Detective Pikachu on film, while Sonic was filmed using digital cameras.
“If all we’re talking about is how these two films look, our film is better than Sonic the Hedgehog and I’m sorry, I don’t care who I upset by saying that, but I think it looks better,” Mathieson said. “There’s no reason why you can’t shoot a film like [Detective Pikachu] or Sonic the Hedgehog on film. If you had, [Sonic the Hedgehog] would look more realistic. I look at Sonic the Hedgehog and I just go, ‘Yeah whatever.’”
Mathieson further explained that the way traditional cameras capture colors can’t be achieved digitally, thus diminishing the uniqueness of digital projects. “Film hasn’t been made better by digital,” he said. “People are lazier, they don’t try as hard, don’t try things out.”
The director of photography also complained that Marvel films look nearly identical because they are shot digitally. “I find it very difficult to use, especially these huge Marvel superhero films because [director of photographers] all look the same. It all goes in the computer and gets washed up. You don’t see the individuality of the photographer, and that’s a shame. It’s difficult to bring a look to a film that’s made by lots of people that’s gone through a big computer. That’s what they are, computers with lens attached to them.”
Late last year, Detective Pikachu editor Mark Sanger praised Mathieson’s cinematography on the film in a tweet expressing how happy he was that they had shot on film over digital because it “adds to the nostalgic feel of the film.”