Kelly Paradise asks: Hello, Mairghread! First off, great episode. “Stronger, Faster“ is one of my favorite episodes of “Transformers Prime.” What tricks of the trade do you suggest for somebody interested in writing for animated series?
Mairghread Scott: I think the most important thing to remember about writing is re-writing. Only about 20% of my time is writing a brand new script. 80% is tweaking, honing and cutting to make what I wrote better. When it comes to writing animation, the secret is movement. Live action TV is largely people standing around talking. In animation, your characters can do anything while talking, so try to add movement however you can (chases, fighting, even just walking from place to place).
Amber Whetstine asks: What inspires you for the episodes you write?
Mairghread Scott: I usually try to start with emotions when I write. Using "Stronger, Faster" as an example: I noticed the Autobots rarely attack the Decepticons head-on because they're so outnumbered. It's a smart strategy, but it seemed to me that it must be frustrating sometimes. You're whittling away at your enemy instead of having one big, satisfying fight. I thought Ratchet would probably be even more frustrated, because he's usually not even in the field; he's healing the others so they can return to this drawn-out battle. "Stronger, Faster" became a way for me to explore that frustration and Ratchet's desire for a single, decisive victory. Also, I thought it would be cool to have an Autobot tell off Optimus.
Catherine Martin asks: “Stronger, Faster” is one of my favourite “Transformers Prime” episodes! Do you think the events of the episode have had a permanent effect on Ratchet?
Mairghread Scott: Of course our Story Editor (the fabulous Duane Capizzi) could answer this better, but I like to think my episode had the most impact on Optimus. Ratchet does gain a certain confidence from the events in "Stronger, Faster," but it's the first time someone really calls out Optimus for not being more aggressive toward the Decepticons. I think of this episode as the seed for Optimus' duel with Megatron in "One Shall Fall."
Matt Spada asks: What have been some of the biggest challenges with writing the show? What characters do you feel need to be more deeply explored? Has it been difficult to work on a show with characters that are over 20 years old and are viewed in a specific way?
Mairghread Scott: The biggest challenge in writing our show is the fact that we're CG, so we have to be very careful about introducing new characters, sets and props. On the bright side, it has pushed us to build stronger main characters instead of just using endless new Bad-Guys-Of-The-Week.
On your next question, I actually worked really hard in Season 2 to explore Miko more deeply. I know she's a bit polarizing for the fans, but it takes guts to stand up to Megatron (especially when you're ankle-high). In Season 2, I really tried to dig into that fearless part of Miko's character.
As far as our characters’ history, I enjoy working with pre-existing characters. Sure, we can't incorporate the entire history of each Transformer, but I find it more interesting to deepen a character that already exists, rather than just constantly inventing new characters.
Haley Franklin asks: Hey! Is it fun writing for Transformers Prime? I bet it's very interesting to come up with ideas and actually put them into an episode.
Mairghread Scott: It is super fun writing for “Transformers Prime!” My favorite part is watching the actors record my script. My happiest moment in "Stronger, Faster" was when Ratchet is trying to get Bulkhead to spar with him. Jeffrey Combs (who plays Ratchet) was so into it he actually started to tap Kevin Michael Richardson (who plays Bulkhead) on the shoulder. If actors start getting into it, you know you've done something right.
Thanks to everyone who asked questions! Roll Out!
A quick note for all would-be interviewers looking to get in a word edgewise with veteran Transformers voice actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker when you've got them both in the same conversation: give up now and just let these two talk. The men behind Optimus Prime and Megatron have not only worked together for decades on shows outside of Transformers, but are good friends as well, with an easy rapport that you catch almost immediately when they get on the phone. The duo is indispensable to the 25-plus year old franchise, and it would be difficult to image what shape the the two men in their respective roles.
December 6th will see the DVD release of Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising, the Shout! Factory disc collecting the first arc of the new Hasbro-produced CG series on The Hub. Once again pitting the Autobots against the Decepticons in their seemingly eternal struggle, the battle returns to Earth with Megatron planning to escalate the conflict using the "blood" (as much as giant robots can be said to have blood) of ultimate franchise baddie, Unicron.
With the disc on the way next week, we thought we'd chat with Welker and Cullen--or at least let them talk while we listend--about the legacy of their characters, the unique working rapport they've developed over the years, and how innovations in CGI has allowed for more drama in Transformers.
Geek: How have you guys been enjoying working together on the current season of Prime?
Cullen: I gotta say it’s just a wonderful pleasure to be able to see Frank again and to work with him. We’ve reincarnated our glory days of Transformers and picked up where we left off. And it’s a riot.
Welker: Well, I will second that and working with Peter’s always a treat—we never quite know what’s going to happen from day to day, but it sure is great to see each other and reestablish old ties. You know, we have this rivalry of good and evil going back and it’s just fun to do battle with someone who you just like. [both laugh]
Tomorrow 12/2, from 2-7pm ET / 11am – 4 pm PT The Hub Television Network will present 5 straight hours of the Original series that started it all: Transformers Generation 1!
The 10 back-to-back action-packed episodes include two fan-favorite trilogies: "More Than Meets The Eye" and "Ultimate Doom."
Check Hubworld.com for schedule and channel in your area!
Atticus Tsai-McCarthy asks: Are you basically the editors in the sense that you decide where scenes end, and how they flow?
Sam Montes, storyboard artist: I wouldn't consider myself an editor, because “Transformers Prime” has its own editors and they do an amazing job of making the show look good. I'd say storyboard artists are a lot like cinematographers because we are responsible for selecting the camera angles and compositions of every shot. We are also like choreographers because we have to plot out how the characters move, act, fight and interact with the environments.
Jazz Meister asks: How long does it take to draw a single storyboard? And how often do you have to change them because something wasn't quite right?
Sam Montes, storyboard artist: For each episode, I'm usually given six weeks to finish my storyboard. That may seem like a long time but you have to consider that a storyboard artist is responsible for anywhere between 400 - 600 drawn panels per episode. As far as making changes to the storyboards, I find myself making revisions all the time. Animation is definitely a team project so it's important to incorporate the ideas of the other crewmembers, especially the directors, producers and designers.
Melynda Barney asks: What is it like being an artist for a Transformers cartoon?
Bryan Baugh, storyboard artist: It’s fun because I can remember having some of the Transformers toys as a kid. So I went into this project already familiar with the characters. I guess you could say, being an artist working on a new animated show about those same characters is sort of like the grown-up equivalent of playing with toys.
Jocelyn Simmons asks: When you guys draw out the scenes, do you guys do basic sketches like we've seen from Miko, just something to get the gist of each clip, or do you get into some of the deeper details, with little pieces and parts and all the little bolts and screws that steal every fan's breath away?
Bryan Baugh, storyboard artist: We usually don’t draw excessive detail in our boards. A storyboard artist’s job is to figure out the shot-to-shot visual storytelling, the camera angles, and the basic composition of each shot. So it is better for the characters to be drawn simply. A basic figure - with just a few basic shapes or a couple of unique features - does the trick just fine. Trying to sit there and doodle out all the little complex details of every robot’s surface texture, is not only unnecessary, but it can also make a storyboard drawing confusing to look at, or difficult to “read” visually. You want to get the point of each image across as clearly and immediately as possible.
Yessie Nieves asks: Hi guys Thanks for this opportunity. Which characters are for you the most challenging character of the series (including the humans)?
Paul Harmon, storyboard artist: The trickiest part is the scale of all the different characters; there’s a big range of sizes.
Alec Weston asks: What was the creation process for the storyboarding and how long did it take for each board?
Paul Harmon, storyboard artist: Each team is different. For my director we would do thumbnails, then roughs, and finally revisions. It’s a very thorough process but you’re more likely to stay on the same page that way.
Julia In-Gyong Handschin asks: How do you start a storyboard and how do you proceed? Do you have some brainstorming sessions where you gather ideas for the show?
Jeff Johnson, storyboard artist: We usually start by going over the script with the director. He lets us know what the scenes should accomplish and what the main goal of the episode might be.
Kathryn Vergara asks: Are all your storyboards still drawn out traditionally, with pencil/pen on paper, or is it all digital these days? Is either method easier or faster? And do all the storyboards between the various artists share the same "style" of work, or are they all very different?
Jeff Johnson, storyboard artist: I still use pencil and paper when I'm first going through the script. I make little drawings on the side to jot down ideas during my first pass through my section. After that, almost all of the drawing is done with a digital pen on an LCD screen. It is both much faster and much easier, especially when it comes to making changes and keeping track of the entire episode. All the storyboard artists try to keep the various needs of the show in mind while drawing, but the finished boards inevitably have an individual style. We are all different people after all and that comes out in the drawings.
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