Orenstein is now 93, and his wife, Carolyn Sue (Susie), is 72, but he is too busy having fun to sink placidly into his dotage. Three days a week, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., he hosts a high-stakes game of five-card stud in his Manhattan apartment with his poker buddies. “He calls ’em friends,” Susie says, grinning. “They’re sharks!”
Ken Oakes, Orenstein’s longtime driver, brings him a glass of water and a few cough drops. “I’ve been driving Henry for 24 years, since I retired from my regular job as a manager for Sears,” he says. “I managed the toy department there. When the Transformers came out, we used to talk about it.” That’s because Orenstein was the man who saw the potential for Transformers in America. They made him a very rich man. Again.
“Transformers, more than meets the eye!” Orenstein croons.
“He sings all the time,” Susie says. “He sings himself to sleep!”
Henry turned the small toy car over in his hands, gauging the weight of it. He’d spotted the thing in a showroom at the New York Toy Fair, on a shelf off to the side, so far away from the main display he assumed it had been discarded. He gently flipped the front doors open and nudged the backseat, and poof: The car transformed into a plane. He thought, This is the best idea I’ve seen in many years!
“He went into a trance,” recalls Susie, who was with him that day. “I didn’t know what he was talking about!”
It was the early 1980s; Topper had filed for bankruptcy in 1972 after the bank called back their loan (Susie calls it “the blemish on his career”), but Henry had remained in the business, pitching ideas to large toy companies. He always had an eye for the overlooked, so when he saw that car turn into a plane, he got the feeling he’d had many times before. “Ideas don’t come in little pieces. It’s in; it’s out. It’s there, or it’s not. It’s like a sparkle,” he says. “I was just an inventor. You needed a big company to do what I thought should be done: making real transformations from complex things to other complex things.”
That tiny car was manufactured by a Japanese toy company named Takara. “I knew the president,” Orenstein says. “I went to him and said, ‘I think this could be a great thing, building a bridge between Japanese ingenuity and American marketing.’” He then went to Hasbro, the toy giant behind G.I. Joe and My Little Pony, and became a matchmaker, pitching his vision for a line of transforming toys that went far beyond cars turning into planes. “Very definitely, Henry was the bridge in this one transaction with Takara,” says Alan Hassenfeld, former chairman and CEO of Hasbro. “Henry basically had a sense that Transformers was going to be something that would be transformational for the toy industry.… To be able to take a car and, with a little bit of dexterity, change it into another toy, that was something magical.”
“It was Henry who really saw the magic, the potential, that was inside all these different brands that Takara was presenting,” says Tom Warner, Senior Vice President of the Transformers franchise. “There’s a lot of toys out there, but it takes a very special individual to look at something, identify it, and say it will be a big hit in the U.S. ”
Henry didn’t style Bumblebee or create Optimus Prime’s backstory—teams of writers, designers and artists at Hasbro developed the ubiquitous Transformers we know today—but he was there first, the one who saw the promise. “Henry was absolutely the catalyst that made this happen,” Hassenfeld says.
Hasbro, working with Takara, created the Transformers in 1984, and since then those multifaceted robots have become one of the most successful action figure brands in history, touching all outposts of popular culture, from comic books and a popular theme song to numerous TV series, imitators (GoBots, anyone?) and a blockbuster movie franchise. In 2007, the first Transformers movie made over $700 million worldwide. Three more films followed. Hasbro says the Transformers franchise has brought in more than $10 billion since 2004.
Throughout the interview, the team’s dedication to the characters and the stories was inspiring. To this team, products are more than the end result, they are a labor of love and a passion. Mr. Warden continued by telling me that his plan for the designs “depends on the toy line and where they start. My work on Generations might not be the same as for Titans Return. Although Generations and Titans Return are playing with characters from the late ’80s, these characters are really resonating with new and old fans, so we’re trying to keep in that universe. We want to look at the range of fans and at characters’ universal appeals. We have to choose characters based on not just popularity but also purpose into the line.” It’s this commitment to both the toys as an item as well as the stories within the Transformers universe that was ultimately inspiring.
Whether it’s the play pattern, the names, or the colors, the integration of these multiple factors matters. Sean Carmine Isabella shared, “we want it to good look, but the biggest challenge is to not put a barrier in the play patterns. Play pattern starts with the core audience, so we talk to the age range. We look at what TV shows they’re watching, what cartoons they’re watching. We want to see what’s speaking to kids today.” Ben Montano follows up by noting that the different age ranges “definitely complicates things. The duality [of both toy and consumer are] what makes us unique.” Mr. Carmine Isabella shared that the integrative approach matters because “it’s a back and forth process. We’ll think about the colors and if it doesn’t make sense with the story backroad then it’s not going to work. The kids need to be able to connect to it.”
The original Alpha Trion Sketches:
VERY IMPORTANT: these are early concepts commissioned by Hasbro that have been created years before the actual toy design began.
It would be unfair to compare them to the final model. My sketches were concepts for the character, not for a specific toy. There was no Titans Return line back then, no specific class this was meant for, no third mode.
#Transfomers #Hasbro #Titansreturn #conceptdesign #toydesign
Where are the areas of improvement for Hasbro in the UK and Ireland and how are you looking to tackle these?
The team has done a phenomenal job in all areas. The key for our team is to be relentlessly focused on driving our business, understanding our consumer and connecting with them across all possible touch points.
Simply put, we must not be satisfied with our current momentum and always be seeking out new opportunities to connect with our consumer.
Having moved to the UK from the US, what do you view as the key differences for Hasbro between both markets?
Simply put, there are many differences and many similarities, but that is only on the surface. I want to immerse myself in the culture, learn from my team, our retailer partners and the consumers.
I was born and raised in Canada and have lived in the USA for the past nine years. I have been fortunate to travel to and work in many countries and know that many differences exist, but the common bonds are also very strong. I can’t wait to learn more about these great countries and their people.
CBR spoke with the creators involved in the five-issue unifying series, not only to find out how it came about, but also to learn what -- if any -- relationship it has to the film side of things, as well as what it is that will bring these various groups together.
CBR News: John, you've been involved on the editorial side of things for these books for a while. How did you feel about bringing the universes together?
John Barber: I'd always thought if I could go back in time, I'd make sure the IDW G.I. Joe comics took place in the same universe as the Transformers comics.
How did the decision to combine the contents of those boxes come about?
Barber: One day, the IDW editors were brainstorming ideas, and this notion of doing a crossover came about -- but I'm never totally sold on big crossovers that don't impact the subsequent status quo. Like, it's fun to cross over two properties and see how they interact, but I mean, if you're getting a lot of characters together, it has to have some impact on the world. Meanwhile, I think what Tom Scioli -- and me, a little -- did on the "Transformers vs. G.I. Joe" comic was great, really fun stuff. But that story was ending; Tom and I had it all planned to wrap up.
Then I remembered something Andrew Griffith, who draws "Transformers," suggested one time: the IDW G.I. Joe comics could fit in between big Transformers comics events. At the time, it wasn't anything we were really serious about, but now -- I started thinking about that. Did that actually kind of make sense?
This effort seems to reflect a similar plan for Hasbro's big screen adaptations. Do you have any communication with the people working on the films?
Barber: Hasbro Studios is very aware of what we're doing, and there's some back and forth sharing of information and ideas. I don't think there's been any big thing where we've seen things one way and they've seen things other ways. We've been remarkably in sync, I think it's fair to say. There've been some characters that have specifically come from the studio here and there -- some of these brands have been dormant for a while, and there are new angles they have on characters that they've shared with us, like Phenolo-Phi in "Micronauts." They have some amazingly talented people working in that writer's room -- like, seriously extraordinary people who have done amazing film, comics and television. The few I know personally are great human beings, too.
The funny thing with this was, it wasn't like a mandate came down and said, "Do this." Totally the opposite. IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and I flew out to Hasbro headquarters in Rhode Island to try to convince them to do this, because we really wanted to have this universe exist. And it turned out we were all on the same page. It was great, the people running the brands at Hasbro were all very into this and really supportive, and offered great ideas and angles on what we could do.
Fico, how is it for you bringing all these different characters who come from various backgrounds and realities together into one cohesive look?
Ossio: It sort of built up from my first take on G.I. Joe. David and John asked me to work on a cover/pinup of the characters and gave me license to give them an "upgrade."
I didn't want to really stray too far from the original cartoon, which I watched as a kid and loved. I had a bunch of G.I. Joe toy,s as well, so I wanted to just take those uniforms and give them more of a body armor look. Especially considering these guys were about to clash against 10-foot-tall robots. I could't grasp the concept of keeping them in regular army outfits or spandex -- sorry Snake Eyes. I think it works, because they still look true to their original design, but with a modern and updated look. Then, I took the new design of Action Man and applied the same as I did on G.I. Joe.
Next was Transformers. A lot of artists had worked on Transformers, and I found most of the designs Andrew Griffith had done were great. I respect his designs and pushed to make them more complex, with new, flexible parts and more of an organic look, which I thought would bring them closer to the combined universe. I also wanted to bring some of the elements from the movies. Except for Optimus. I couldn't help myself, and with him I pushed as far as the guys would let me.
As "Revolution" kicks off, what kind of threat or event is it that's big enough to bring all these different groups together? And what was the design process like developing that individual or force?
Story continues below
Barber: The background is, Optimus Prime has publicly declared Earth to be under his protection and part of Cybertron's Council of Worlds. This isn't Dark Optimus; he's doing good things -- at least from his point of view -- but the people of Earth are naturally going to be concerned about this turn of events.
Now, one of the reasons Earth has been important to the Transformers is this substance called Ore-13. This has a long history in the Transformers comics, but the short version is it can be converted to Energon, which is the Transformers' fuel source. That means the Earth is one of the few places in the galaxy where Transformers can live -- it has a food source, basically. But Ore-13 has always had other properties -- an ability to supercharge Cybertronians, for one.
Something starts happening to Ore-13 around the world, making it unstable, and all signs point to Optimus Prime, who has no idea why this is happening. That sets the stage for "Revolution."
How will your own ongoings look different after the events of "Revolution?"
Barber: Lots of the Transformers comic I write will be different, including the title. But at the same time, it's building the same story I started writing five years ago. You don't need to know all that stuff, but if you do, rest assured this is all part of the big story we've been telling. It's an unexpected benefit -- I mean, 2011 John had no inkling that Rom or Scarlett or Acroyear or Windblade or Action Man would be there, but this all fits into the tale Andrew Griffith and I set out to tell.
But coming out of "Revolution," there are some big changes. Lots of stuff is going to happen between now and November, when "Revolution" ends.
AdamPrime wrote:Hi guys and gals,
I'm the editor of Toy Meets World magazine. Recently we had the great honor of chatting with IDW writer supremo James Roberts. He's a proper gent, so I thought I'd treat you all to the full interview.
TMW issue #1 is undergoing a 'trial launch' right now, and is available at selected retailers in the south west. We're listening to feedback, and will tweak the mag slightly for the proper nationwide rollout in a few weeks' time. If anyone would like an issue, and there is plenty to read about (such as interviews with Simon Furman, Stan Bush and My Little Pony's Nicole Oliver; reviews of all the coolest toys and books; and tonnes of retro fun with TF, He-Man, Sega, Power Rangers and much more!) then please contact me and I can send one out in the post.
Anyway, on the the interview:
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? Was it always going to be in comics, or was that something you pursued later in your career?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction for a living, but not comics necessarily. And that’s strange, I guess, because as a child I read comics to the exclusion of pretty much all else: Whizzer & Chips and Buster, then Marvel UK titles (including Transformers, of course), then 2000AD and what little Marvel US and DC stuff found its way to the Channel Islands. I was a member of an unofficial Transformers fan club – a group of pen pals, really – and even then, for most of the time at least, I contributed prose fiction rather than comic scripts. In my late teens I discovered authors like John Updike, Martin Amis, Graham Greene, George Orwell and Julian Barnes.
It's fair to say that the best TF writing has come from the Brits; previously, Simon Furman was considered the godfather of Transformers - were those big shoes to step into? Did he officially pass the torch?
Oh, I dunno – Nick Roche, John Barber and Mairghread Scott all write a mean TF story, and none of them are British. But thank you anyway! I was and am a huge Simon Furman fan – I’d hold him up alongside my more traditional literary heroes as being a formative influence – and I have him to thank for being a Transformers fan. More than the toys, more than the cartoon, more than the Marvel US material… if it wasn’t for Simon’s work on the British TF comic, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I got his autograph back in 1991, just after #75 of the American Transformers comic came out; he signed the comic for me. I got him to sign it again 10 years later, when I was promoting an unofficial TF novel I’d written; and 10 years after that, in 2011, I had him sign it a third time – and by then I was writing TF stories professionally, and he asked me (tongue in cheek, but still…) to sign something for him.
Simon’s my TF dad, really. There was no “official” passing of the torch – I’m not sure how that would even work…! – but he did give me a copy of the script to the last Marvel US issue with a lovely note that essentially invited me to carry on what he started.
When you're writing a script, how do you keep to the page count for each issue? Do you supply the script that you feel is complete, and the artist squeezes it in to 20 pages?
No, it’s more complicated – and time-consuming – than that. It’s my job to break each issue down not only into pages, but panels. I have to work out the pacing and structure of each issue, how the story unfolds, how many panels I’ll need to do a scene justice. It’s a case of ‘Page 1, Panel 1’, then a description, for the artist, of what needs to go in the panel, and then the dialog that will go inside that panel. MTMTE is a dense comic – both in terms of plot and dialog – and a huge amount of my time is spent working out how best to tell the story over 20 pages. It’s all planned down to the last detail.
Your stories are characterised by an incredible amount of world-building and backstory. You have also introduced concepts relating to Transformer anatomy and beliefs such as Rossum's trinity, the Guiding Hand and so on. Does Hasbro or IDW ever try and reign you in? Or are you allowed to add as much depth as you like to the characters and universe?
I’m encouraged to world-build – it’s almost part of the job description. IDW, Hasbro and readers (I hope) want to see the Transformers Universe expanded and enriched. I’d only be reined in – and it hasn’t really happened yet, touch wood – if I wanted to introduce a concept that was fundamentally at odds with what Hasbro felt Transformers was about, or if my editor thought, frankly, that it was a rubbish idea, or if anyone responsible for singing off my scripts feel that what I wanted to do was too… well, I was going to say “adult”, but that’s not what I mean. MTMTE has always operated on an adult level in terms of not talking down to its audience, and in terms of exploring mature themes.
MTMTE has an intriguing stance on politics, governments and social injustice. It makes for fascinating reading. Have you ever considered a place in Parliament?
I’m a political nerd and I do have strongly held beliefs about how society should be organized and how we could bring about a better quality of life for everybody. Maybe one day I’ll take the plunge and put my money where my mouth is.
MTMTE threw out the concepts of 'goodies' and 'baddies'. The Autobots and Decepticons are revealed to just be people - whether it's Rodimus' crew, the Scavengers or Deathsaurus - under the badge they're all basically the same. We're dreading the day when the war starts again - will the peace (and MTMTE as a comic) last?
You’re giving me too much credit. The decision to end the Autobot/Decepticon war was made by IDW’s editorial team back in 2010, and John Barber and I had a year in which to prepare two ongoings – John’s Robots in Disguise (now simply titled The Transformers) and MTMTE – which would explore postwar life in more detail. Neither John nor I knew how long the peace (and that’s a relative concept; there’s still lots of conflict in the Transformers Universe) would last. We didn’t know whether fans would demand a return to war, or whether we’d find it difficult to set stories in peacetime for too long. But here we are, in Year Five of each of the ongoings, and the war is still officially over.
It’s true that putting the war to bed has opened up a huge number of new storytelling avenues, most of them predicated on the idea that, once (overt) hostilities cease, and the red and purple badges are put to one side, you’re forced to see each Autobot and Decepticon as a Cybertronian – as a character defined by something other than who they used to take orders from. As I say, it’s opened up lots of new story possibilities. All that said, if the war started again – and it well might – that would mean MTMTE had to end. It would just create some interesting new tensions…
Have you petitioned Hasbro for a toy of Rung? We can imagine the packaging now - "Tranforms from ROBOT to ORNAMENT and back again!"
Ha! I’ve never petitioned Hasbro for anything. They do their thing and, from time to time, I learn that, for example, there’s to be a Minimus Ambus figure, or that another of the Lost Light crew – Brainstorm, Whirl, Chromedome, whoever – is being re-released as a toy. I would LOVE Rung to have a toy, but I damaged the chances of that ever happening when I decided, early on, that he should turn into something which happened to have a very limited play value. You see the sacrifices I make for the greater storytelling good?
With MTMTE, you've taken a few obscure characters, and a few prominent characters, and really made them your own. Characters such as Rewind, Whirl and Ultra Magnus will never be the same. Did you set out to do this from the beginning? Did you think to yourself "Now's the time for Brainstorm to shine!!"
Kind of, I guess. I deliberately selected lesser-known G1 characters, but characters I was fond of, to accompany the Big Four (Rodimus, Magnus, Ratchet and Drift) that were at the center of MTMTE Season 1. Autobots like Tailgate, Skids, Swerve, Brainstorm, Chromedome and Rewind were attractive to me principally because they hadn’t been explored in the past. They were recognizable (to more dedicated TF fans, admittedly), but they were almost blank canvasses. I knew that MTMTE – certainly in the early days – was all about secrets and hidden histories, and I couldn’t tell those type of stories with A List characters who had appeared in IDW comics for the last few years, or with characters who had very well-established personalities. I’m immensely proud of the fact that, through MTMTE, these D-listers have become well-loved and well-recognised characters in their own right.
This may sound silly, but do you take voices into consideration when writing a character? Most people would claim to "hear" the voices in their head when they read. Do you ever give it much thought?
It’s not a silly question and I do give it some thought, mainly because so many readers ask me “Who do you think X sounds like?” And I have to give a very dull – but truthful – response and say, “S/he has a British accent and sounds a bit like me.” I have an imagination deficit in this regard, because I really don’t ‘hear’ their literal voices. I do, of course, know their voices in terms of their character – what they would and wouldn’t do, what they’d say, how they’d say it, the rhythms of their speech and so on, but I don’t, say, write a line for Nautica and hear a certain actress’s voice. But I know that many fans DO, and that’s great!
Do you think that MTMTE, with its tales of space-faring derring do, has a wider appeal than regular Transformer comics? If something like Star Trek can have such universal appeal, there must be hope for Transformers. Could we see a TV version of MTMTE in the future, and would you want to be a part of it? Conversely, do you think its nature makes it LESS appealing to some Transformer fans?
MTMTE is an easy sell in terms of concept: a group of misfit Transformers head off into space in search of their mythical ancestors. It’s a traditional quest story and, as you say, very much in the Star Trek tradition. That might give it a better chance with the casual reader – the non-Transformers fan - than other Transformers comics, but I don’t know. Casual comic readers whose Transformers knowledge is informed by growing up in the 80s – people who think Transformers should be about Autobots versus Decepticons on Earth – may prefer something more in keeping with their childhood memories. I don’t know. I think many people have a preconceived idea of what Transformers is about and sometimes that dissuades them from giving IDW’s titles a chance; and unsurprisingly I wish more people would put such notions aside and pick up MTMTE or John’s Transformers, because they’d be pleasantly surprised.
Can I see MTMTE transferring to TV? I don’t know if I can see it happening, but I’d like it to. MTMTE almost reads as a TV show adapted for comics, with most of the stories being structured as if they were a 45-minute episode. And each story arc – the MTMTE fandom even calls them “seasons” – lasts about 22 issues.
If MTMTE ever transferred to the small screen I would love to be part of it. Even if I ended up hanging about making tea for the animators and actors.
TMW thanks Mr. Roberts very much for his time.
Paramount will sandwich a Bumblebee movie between its next two Transformers pics. The three films will roll out in successive summers beginning with a Michael Bay-helmed Transformers 5 on June 23, 2017, followed by the Bumblebee spinoff June 8, 2018. Another stand-alone will arrive June 28, 2019.
The studio announced the dates for the three movies Feb. 12 but was vague about whether or not the trio would include a spinoff, simply calling the films Transformers 5, 6 and 7.
“There are characters in the Transformers universe that can be and should be made into their own movies,” Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey told The Hollywood Reporter. “We will make the first movie with Michael and go right into a Bumblebee movie, which will be at a lower cost.”
Considering the Transformers franchise has spawned $3.8 billion in worldwide box office since 2007, it should come as no surprise that Paramount is looking to pick up the pace on its robot juggernaut.
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