Let’s first talk about your recent work on the new “Transformers Universe” game. What inspired you to get involved with the project? What has impressed you most about working on this game?
JH: I enjoyed Transformers as a child and I’m just one of those people who finds it difficult not to get excited by large, warring robots. I particularly like how they’re partially organic as well and have such distinctive personalities. Basically, I’m a sucker for the mythic theme of ‘good vs. evil’; not to mention being a sci-fi and fantasy buff in general.
Did you also take some inspiration from the music that composers such as Steve Jablonsky and Brian Tyler wrote for the films and animated television series that would help make your score fit in the Transformers Universe musically?
JH: Not specifically, although I love the work of those composers. I was merely trying to, on one level, create music that fit into the wider world of Transformers (which is already very varied across film and television over decades now) but with a new dimension as well. Some of the music of Transformers Universe is pretty harsh, grinding and mechanical, yet at other times it can be quite minimal and ethereal. The team at Jagex have also been working on music, and their output is also varied, a reflection perhaps of the fact that the Transformers themselves have wildly different personalities.
What were the recording sessions like?
JH: Very nice and we recorded the Philharmonia at Abbey Road Studios in London for some of the music. It is always a humbling and breathtaking experience to have your music performed by a full orchestra and the level of musicianship among players in London is truly outstanding.
Will a soundtrack album be released?
JH: Very possibly, but I have no details.
n Cambridge, the city where the studio is based, the tasks aren't quite as mystical, but as Jagex head of IT Barry Zubel told Computing, their completion will reap rewards for both developers and players as the studio prepares to launch its next blockbuster title: Transformers Universe.
"Our biggest project is virtualisation and that's going to be a big winner for us," he said, describing how "we've historically not virtualised anything operationally" due to the limits it would put on game performance – but that's changing.
"The closer we can push the game servers to our customers, the better the connectivity," said Zubel, who added that while RuneScape is able to function on high latency connections, the upcoming Transformers Universe isn't so tolerant, so Jagex has been attempting to install servers nearer to players.
"Transformers is a little less forgiving because of the game that it is, so we've been looking at placing servers in places where players will be," he said.
Next spring, a war is coming to IDW’s Transformers comics – and it’s bigger than one single robot, or even the divide between Autobots and Decepticons. It’s the “Combiner Wars.”
Combiners are the term used to describe super-robots of sorts, made out of multiple Transformers combining together into one – and they’ve been a major part of the Transformers franchise, from the Destructicons’ Devastator to Predacons’ Predaking and numerous others. In the IDW Transformers line’s upcoming “Combiner Wars,” the technology that made Combiners possible has been found and it starts what IDW Senior Editor (and longtime Transformers writer) John Barber calls a “cold war” between Transformers factions.
Beginning in March “Combiner Wars” will crisscross between the main Transformers comic series (formerly subtitled Robots In Disguise) and the upcoming Transformers: Windblade ongoing series. The crossover will be written by Barber along with Mairghread Scott, and illustrated by Sarah Stone and Livio Ramondelli.
Newsarama: Mairghread, John, what is this “Combiner Wars” about?
John Barber: “Combiner Wars” is, in the comics, the cold war between factions on Cybertron and Earth growing hot. Starscream is the (mostly) legitimate ruler of Cybertron, but not everybody thinks he should be. And when one of his ultimate goals—contact with the missing ancient Cybertronian colonies, as seen in the Transformers: Windblade miniseries—starts to come to fruition, other parties—Optimus Prime, Windblade, Prowl—see an immediate danger to the sanctity of the galaxy.
Beyond that—“Combiner Wars” is a great example of Hasbro and IDW working together and building a huge storyline that goes between toys and comics and into other media. We on the comics have worked very closely with Hasbro’s Transformers brand team, especially Mark Webber and Sarah Carroll, plus Director, Global Publishing Michael Kelly—there’s pieces that come straight out of the comics (like the new Megatron toy for next year that gives you the option of giving him an Autobot symbol, like he has in the Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comics) and some new things coming from the toy side that we get to debut in the comics. Plus, while the comics will come out from IDW first, they’ll be packed in with select Transformers Generations toys, which will get the comics to an all-new audience that might have never had the chance to read them before.
And beyond that—“Combiner Wars” is a great chance for Mairghread Scott (writer of the amazing Windblade series) and I to work together and to team with Sarah Stone (artist on that amazing Windblade series) and Livio Ramondelli (who’s just finished the Transformers: Punishment motion comic and is in the middle of Transformers: Primacy, the story of the early days of the war) and make a big, action-packed, character-packed story with huge ramifications for the comics in 2015.
Nrama: We’ve mentioned theWindblade miniseries and ongoing series, but what about Windblade herself – how does she factor into it all?
Scott: The end of Windblade saw our heroine striking a real devil's bargain with Starscream and she's still trying to maintain that very dangerous balance. So we see a really different side of Windblade, one trying to hold her own in the shadowy political world of Cybertron (a world Starscream is the undisputed master of) while still trying to hold onto some sort of moral compass. The question for Windblade in “Combiner Wars” is really: How far can you go in the name of good until you aren't good anymore? When does the end stop justifying the means?
His latest, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” promises more of the action and explosions Bay is known for, but the director reportedly almost didn’t take the job this time around. He’s not saying why, but he admits he was “prevailed upon. Expertly.” Coming back on board for a fourth time, he decided to make a few changes to the franchise. In particular, he didn’t want the robots to look too much like toys.
“I understand the need to draw an audience of kids and the global considerations, but I wanted to be involved with something that had a longer-lasting, even cerebral appeal. And I don’t want to be tied — artistically or in people’s minds — to ‘Transformers’ after ‘Transformers,’ ” he says, perhaps alluding to the series’ planned fifth installment.
While the Japanese roots of “Transformers” may be apparent in the design of the robotic heroes and villains of the film, the “global considerations” Bay refers to come mainly from the newly important Chinese market.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” was partly financed by Chinese backers, has Chinese product placement and co-stars Li Bingbing as the owner of a factory manufacturing Transformers for a U.S. outfit named KSI. Bay says that cooperation between China and the United States for future filmmaking ventures will be important. The tendency of Hollywood to cast the citizens of foreign nations in villainous roles might be coming to an end if that’s the case, I suggest, to which Bay replies, “I don’t think the Chinese see themselves as villains. They do want to be admired.”
Grammer, who played the titular role in the popular U.S. sitcom “Frasier” (1993-2004) takes on the role of Harold Attinger, the paranoid head of an elite CIA unit.
“His name’s Harold — isn’t that a perfect, anal-retentive, paranoiac name?” Grammer says with a grin. “Then you have Cade, pretty much an average Joe, and his daughter Tessa (Peltz) — these wonderful names! Stanley Tucci is this arrogant technocrat (head of KSI) who wants to make and control his own Transformers, and his name is Joshua Joyce. It’s a bit comic-bookey, but it really works on screen.”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” has succeeded in drawing in a large audience despite replacing its cast, and Grammar believes this is because the film brings back the real draw — familiar robotic characters.
You've worked with filmmaker Michael Bay and his production company, Platinum Dunes, on a number of projects. How involved is he in working with you?
He's very involved. He said to me one time that for him, the sound of his movies is 50% of what he puts out there. He considers it that important. That includes music and sound effects. He wants to hear every cue, he likes to live with it for a little while-which I get, when someone hears a piece of music for the first time and I say, do you like it or not? If I were in his position, I would go "I think I like it. I need to hear it a few more times. Can I hear it again tomorrow?"
He's very involved, not just in sound and music, but he's very involved in every aspect of his films; which I think is why his life is just so crazy because he'll come to me to hear some music and he's always racing off to go to look at the color timing of the picture or to go listen to sound effects. Whatever it is, there are a million things ... he might be more involved than people think. The music to him, he either feels it or he doesn't. He feels the music and he knows it's something working for him. That's how he judges it, and like I said, he wants to hear everything. It's good for me because he pushes me to make it right. There's so much music in these movies, I kind of get lost in these scenes, writing for days and days. He's a good judge of what works, what doesn't and what's boring. It's a good collaboration, I think, that we have at this point.
How much creative freedom do you have?
He gives me all the freedom in the world, which is great. When we started Age of Extinction, the only thing he said to me is that it was a brand new cast; let's treat this as something new. We have three movies worth of music, but let's set it aside and start working on these new ideas. That was it; I just started writing and would send him theme pieces that I was writing. I wasn't even writing to picture yet, I was just writing music inspired by some of the visuals that I had seen in his cutting room. I would just send pieces to him to see what he was responding to. He seemed to be responding to the simpler things. This little piano melody I did and things like this, which is just something I thought would be cool in the movie. It's not something he asked me to do, so he definitely does give me an open canvas to try new things that I think might work. Of course, if he doesn't like it he's gonna say so. If there's something that's not quite right, he will definitely give me general notes. "I like this, you lose me here..." We have a good shorthand now where I can just send him music and he will listen to it when he's in the music mood. He will call me up and tell me if it's good or not. He let's me do what I think is right and we take it from there.
WHITTAKER: Knowing you go through that kind of stringent screening of dialogue lends, at least from this reader’s perspective, the characters a certain charming honesty. They seem like real entities rather than just mouthpieces for certain ideas and opinions or to appear simply as catalysts for narrative.
ROBERTS: Thanks! A lot of MTMTE stories are quite high-concept, or if not high-concept then high-density in terms of the plot and the number of things happening at any one time. And because you’re limited to 22 pages and a certain number of panels per page, you only have so much space to convey ideas and information. I try, sometimes successfully, to smuggle exposition into natural-sounding dialog.
I’ve become more confident in how to impart information, and in how good readers are at filling in gaps when you hold stuff back. You can structure a conversation between two characters in such a way that the reader comes in halfway through and discerns the thrust of what’s been said; and then you can dance around a bit and use ‘hard info’ sparingly, but the tone and pace of the conversation, and the order in which certain details are revealed, can lend everything a realistic bounce and ensure that what needs to be established has been established.
The metamorphosis into a major independent player was complete when IDW won comics command of an army of robots in disguise.
“It sounds very trite to say it this way, but the one that really feels transformative to the company is when we started doing the Transformers,” said Chris Ryall, IDW Publishing’s chief creative officer and editor in chief, who joined in 2004 and helped land the license the next year.
“People were going, ‘Wait a second, who is this little company in San Diego that was suddenly awarded this giant licensed property?’” Ryall said, noting that IDW won franchise creator Hasbro’s bidding process over larger and older publishers. This summer’s blockbuster movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction” included a character, Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe), created in the company’s comics.
The editor, who has seen IDW’s monthly slate grow from about 10 titles a month to 60-70 titles a month in his decade at the company, and Adams both noted that, whether it’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Godzilla” or “Star Trek,” the company doesn’t pursue licenses unless it has people on staff who are already fans of the franchises.
Digital ventures are bringing people who rediscover comics on iPads and smartphones back into comic book stores, Adams said, citing anecdotal evidence and financial statements from IDW and other publishers that show print and digital revenues growing together over the last couple years. The company also is reaching out to kids in such stores as Target and Toys R Us with Micro Comic Fun Packs for its “My Little Pony” and “Transformers” titles that include sticker sheets and the like – an effort Adams said has been a hit, with more titles, including “Skylanders,” lined up.
With several more brands set to get the movie treatment in the next few years, we spoke with Hasbro Chief Marketing Officer John Frascotti to find out exactly how the company selects which of its toy lines get adapted to the big screen and how you can possibly turn a board game into a movie.
"We look for those brands that have story and character at their foundation because inevitably for any type of storytelling format, whether it's a movie, a television show, a digital comic ... it has to have great story and great characters at its foundation," says Frascotti.
"When you look at brands like Transformers and G.I. Joe they actually have a lot of lore and storytelling behind them already. So, in the case of Transformers, it's a 30-year-old brand and it had a long history of storytelling," said Frascotti. "Very similar, G.I. Joe who was founded in the '60s. Since then there's been a lot of storytelling and development in terms of comic books and television shows and movies and all types of rich storytelling. In those cases, where there's already a lot of storytelling in place, I think the roadmap is a little more evident."
After the success of "Transformers" in 2007, Frascotti says Hasbro continued to pitch other brands while studios began approaching them as well.
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