Earlier this week, Topless Robot had the privilege of being one of three sites selected to speak with Hasbro's Transformers team about the new movie line, which will begin shipping from online retailers May 12th ("Cybertron Monday"), and debut in brick-and-mortar stores May 17th. We also got a video sneak-peek look at the development process to share.
I know the movie iterations aren't necessarily everybody's favorite, but you may be interested in what we learned nonetheless...
-On Lockdown, the gun-faced antagonist seen in the trailer but not yet in toy form: "As one of the principal bad guys, we definitely look forward to that figure coming out." They plan to "celebrate" all the movie characters. "We'll take care of him - don't worry."
-"Generations" moving forward is a blanket designation including movie figures that indicates more collector-focused product aimed at ages 8 and up. "Puzzle-play" is the term they used to define the style of more complex transformations, versus simpler versions aimed at kids.
-Prototypes shown at Toy Fair are described as "our best guess at what we want to do." Occasionally molds won't work out quite as hoped, or deco has to be reduced. "For the most part, it's pretty close to what we're going to get, but it's based on how we're going to set these things up for mass production." A big factor is how many pieces can fit into a mold.
-When it comes to the movie Grimlock toys being predominantly gold versus the gray in the movie, it's a choice to make the toys pop out a bit more, and to get kids to associate that color with the character, like they associate yellow with Bumblebee and blue/red with Optimus. They heard a lot of feedback internally and from consumers about how it can get hard to tell who's who in the movies sometimes, with so many robots being black or gray. It's also useful for color palettes to be unique at retail - every kid knows a yellow sports car in the toy aisle is likely to be Bumblebee, for example.
As for why gold, some of the movie concept art for him had muted gold shades in places, and they just amped it up to create what they call a "signature palette" for Grimlock.
-New packaging is designed to create a unified look for all branches of Transformers moving forward, but also to emphasize the character on each package - they felt the Dark of the Moon packaging over-emphasized the moon at the expense of the actual robot inside. "You're not buying the moon, you know? You're buying Grimlock, you're buying Optimus...Those images, that's that emotional connection you have when you're seeing them on the big screen." Cleanliness of the look is also emphasized - it's clear what you're getting.
-"We work very closely with Michael Bay, especially early on in the process, and he is just a great contributor, both from a story standpoint, as well as the artwork he's putting together, his ideas and themes, and he really shares a lot with us, really early on, he has a lot of trust in Hasbro. And so we're able to take his thoughts, his ideas, from a very early stage and develop them into product."
-As it's a Hasbro-owned property, they can have final say over how some of the characters look in toy form, but many vehicles are licensed products and have to be done in close cooperation with those companies. "Every one of them is just outstanding to work with." They count seven or eight such partners on this movie, describing the process as "a lot of juggling" but that every outside license partner is usually excited to have their product included in the Transformers universe.
-They knew about the G1 Optimus truck being in the movie a year and a half before that first trailer revealed it, and described having to keep that aspect a secret as "challenging" - as fans, they wanted to tell everyone, especially people they meet at conventions. "Being able to take an existing Transformer that we love and re-imagine the transformation again and again is sometimes more fun than coming up with a transformation from scratch...There's always a new way to transform." Even having seen the pre-production art, they still geeked out over seeing it in the trailer.
-"Michael Bay didn't want to keep making the same movies over and over...it's a reimagining. He was already thinking differently - 'Let's evolve what we've already done.'" Regarding changes in appearance they say a character like Drift, they give the movie team a lot of reference material, but vehicle license partnership also plays a big part in how he's interpreted. With Grimlock, the idea was "If Grimlock was seen for the first time today...in this world of his designs."
"Some of it's closer, some of it's further, but we're really happy with how things turned out from the designs. From a character design standpoint, G1 Grimlock to be done in a movie-verse may stick out like a sore thumb. So of course you have to redesign your character to fit the character aesthetic that has been established for the movie. Plus you want Grimlock to come across as that primal, visceral character that he can be. He has to come across as a battle-hardened warrior." They're "very pleased" with how he turned out; say this movie will have the best storytelling so far.
-Everybody on the team loves vac-metal parts, but it's not cheap, especially if you do it right. They want to make sure the new parts don't chip as easily as the chrome from 30 years ago. Reserved for higher price-point figures like Leader Class, but if they could, they'd put chrome on everything. Along with rubberized wheels, they want to continue to do it as much as they can.
I asked what the most surprising thing was about working with Michael Bay.
"He's just a real nice person. It's true! He's very personable...we just talked Transformers. He has a passion for the characters, a passion for storytelling which is ideal for this brand because it's all about characters and the unique story, cars that turn into robots. Which is so, on one hand, completely bizarre, and yet Michael Bay is able to take that and turn it into a story that is very captivating. Working with him, and he's showing us what he's doing, and we're showing him what we're working on, it really is a real nice working relationship. I think he likes what we're doing here.
He's not just, "Here's what I'm doing!," he's very much, "Here's what I'm thinking about doing," and he asks what we think. And obviously, we're like, "Whoa, that's awesome!" He's rather humble in that he knows he's a very talented person - he's not gonna go around and make a big deal about it - he's a very smart person, and he's very professional in taking this property and turning it into the mega-property that it is. That's something very few directors have the skill sets to do, and he does it phenomenally well."
"His commitment to the Transformers brand and to Hasbro has been fantastic...to have the same director over four films really dedicate a big portion of his movie-making career to one franchise. It's been a nice collaboration."
-Tighter joints have been a deliberate choice, to hold poses better. No specific guidelines as to which parts go where in a transformation, but sometimes they have to simplify and fake a parts-shift with facade pieces so the play doesn't become too aggravating.
-No comment regarding a Comic-Con exclusive, but "it would be awesome. There'll be an announcement later."
-IDW partnership has been great for them; they will definitely be working closely with them to develop synergy between upcoming storylines with the toys.
As the photos may indicate, I also got my hands on some of the newest movie bots - keep your eyes peeled for a review shortly.