Epic Redesigns: Retrofitting Starscream & Blur into “Robots In Disguise”
Tapping into the rich history of Transformers lore, famed G1 Decepticon, Starscream, and heroic Autobot, Blur, are getting a Robots In Disguise overhaul. So what exactly went into detailing these classic characters? We went right to the source for the answers—Hasbro Senior Product Designer on Transformers, Sean Carmine Isabella.
About the Designer:
Designing many of his favorite childhood characters, Isabella builds new play experiences for the next generation of thinkers and explorers. Before he worked on heroic robots battling the forces of evil, Sean designed toys for brands such as Littlest Pet Shop, Easy Bake Oven, and FurReal Friends.
So, why Starscream?
“Being an ‘80s kid, the idea of high flying fighter jets always sparked my imagination. No one encapsulated this for the Deceptions better than Starscream. Drawing jets and spaceships is something of a hobby for me so getting the opportunity to work on reimagining a classic character, (and a jet no less!) was a dream come true.”
What elements of the G1 Starscream sculpt inspired this redesign?
“We wanted to hold onto certain iconic design traits to maintain his epic look—such as his chest exhaust design, graphic pattern on his wing, his overall color scheme, and his twin null ray blasters.”
What was your motivation behind Blur’s build?
“Blur’s a fast talking, speed loving Autobot. We wanted his design to evoke the same sense of speed to be true to the core of the character.”
Was there a specific G1 element you focused on keeping or updating?
“We looked at his classic Cybertronian mode that debuted in the 1986 film and reimagined how this vehicle mode would exist in a modern Earth setting.”
The GI connections certainly don’t stop with these bots. Tune in to Transformers: Robots In Disguise to find out if some of your favorites are getting a modern makeover.
Aaron Long: Revolution merged the Hasbro properties into a shared universe, with Revolutionaries now spinning out of the event. What will readers be seeing in this series?
John Barber: Lots of fast-paced action and big world-building. The Revolutionaries team is made up of Mayday (who’s a G.I. Joe agent), Kup and Blackrock (who are Transformers), and Action Man (who’s English). So they’re already kinda all over the place to start with, but right off the bat they have to team up with Rom and the Micronauts to fight the Oktober Guard and the new Storm Shadow. Nothing’s off the table!
So we’ll be seeing big crossovers between characters, plus we’ll be going all over the world. If you’re a fan of the Hasbro characters—from the comics or the toys or the cartoons—there will be little nods, or returns to places and ideas from all over. Remember when Cobra had a base on the moon? We do. And we’re trying to pull in things from all over the history of the characters—like, I don’t know if anybody was expecting the Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles relaunch of G.I. Joe, but that stuff plays a role.
If you’re not familiar with this weird stuff, no worries—we’re introducing all these ideas, not expecting you’re an expert. But that said, we’ve done our homework.
AL: The ongoing cast consists of Action Man, Blackrock, Mayday and Kup. Can you dis-cuss how this mix of characters was decided upon to anchor the title?
JB: At the Revolution writer’s retreat, Cullen Bunn suggested that since Action Man’s comic was a limited series, he’d be without a home post-Revolution. (Action Man, not Cullen, who has a nice home). So it might be good to have A.M. looking over what everybody else was doing—like, his mandate might be to monitor everybody worldwide. And Mairghread Scott sort of riffed on that that you could do with it, suggested it could be a little like Global Frequency and have self-contained stories about this world. And I wound up getting elected to write it because I’d done Action Man and sort of knew a lot about where the universe was going. (In the comics, I mean. Certainly not in real life).
So, I thought if we made this a team with Action Man, really gave this a different feel, it’d be a good fit to add the Transformers character Blackrock, who’d just be coming out of the Titans Return story. Blackrock is a tech-CEO who discovered his memories were false and he’s a Cybertronian. He’s Cybertronian, but his alt-mode is basically a human.
I knew we’d want somebody from G.I. Joe, but I suggested we could sort of push things here and use this to develop a new character, or anyway to build up a character Andrew Griffith and I had set up in Transformers, but who’d now be in G.I. Joe. We gave Anya Jones the semi-obscure out-of-use Joe code-name of Mayday, and she’s become sort of the leader of the team—Action Man is still new to the job; Blackrock is new to this life; so Mayday has the experi-ence with aliens and military tactics.
Kup was originally going somewhere else, or so I thought, but then it turned out Kup wasn’t really going to fit into that other series, and I thought he was too good a character to lose track of, but he wasn’t really essential to what Kei Zama and I were going to do in the Optimus Prime comic… but with about a half-second’s thought, I realized Kup’s an old soldier, and the idea of getting him together with this young, mostly-inexperienced team was just the thing Revolutionaries needed.
FO: Well, when I came on board the cast was already set. And I think they picked a great set of characters. Plus it feels a lot more tightknit and relatable than Revolution. Working on a smaller cast allows us to develop these characters more, and John is writing them awesomely. For my part, I focused on working more detail into their design. I got the chance to redesign Blackrock and it´s definitely a new look for the character, closer to his cybetronian nature. And well… I got carried away and kept going with Mayday: new armor suit! We did keep her hairstyle though… Nah, in all seriousness I wanted them to look the part of a lead character. Action Man´s design was pretty awesome already.
AL: Fico, with Revolution and now Revolutionaries you’ve penciled the vast majority of Hasbro characters. Are there any particular characters or a particular group that you get the most excited to work on?
FO: Well… It´s hard not to get excited to draw Blackrock with the new design. I also enjoy drawing Mayday a lot. I really feel it´s important to have a strong female character, and I very much love paying attention to every detail on how we portray her to reinforce that. She rocks.
Action Man has the best lines, John is really bringing life to all these characters so it’s hard not to enjoy drawing all these characters.
And lastly, I´m always exited to see them pop out of the pages with Seba’s colors. He is doing a fantastic job, as always.
Bob Budiansky [...]
A lot of the names came from my own experiences of pop culture. Ratchet, a medical robot, was inspired by Nurse Ratched from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ironhide came from the old TV show Ironside. I was trying to humanise them, give them relatable qualities, such as “this guy likes jazz”. People ask how I came up with so many personalities in a weekend, but at Marvel we were creating new characters every day. That was the job.
One name I’m proud of is Megatron. Back in 1983, the threat of nuclear war felt very real – and destructive force was talked about in megatons. At first, Hasbro rejected it for sounding too scary. Gently I said to them: “Well, he’s the main bad guy. He’s supposed to be scary.” Luckily, they changed their minds.
Bryce Malek [...]
Some writers pitched really inappropriate stuff for a kids’ show, such as the Transformers meeting space prostitutes. Oddly enough, no one ever provided us with any of the toys – we worked from photocopies of designs. I actually went out and bought a few but I never got Optimus Prime. He was too popular. You could never find one.
Since 2015, Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has become a big name in the world of cinematic universe franchises. In collaboration with Paramount Pictures, he not only created a braintrust that would help formulate the future of the Transformers series, but also went on to do the same thing with Hasbro and brands like G.I. Joe and ROM: Space Knight. We haven't seen an actual product from this process just yet, as none of the developing projects have made it to release -- but the methodology is continuing to spread, as the same approach that's going into the construction of the recently-announced Extreme Cinematic Universe.
[Liefeld:] So I kind of was thinking, 'I'm going to go to this meeting and maybe I'll get a good look at some Dark Tower stuff,' and what ended up happening is he goes, 'I want to hand you this giant black leather-bound equivalent of a phone book,' and it said, "The Transformers Bible." This thing is awesome and Akiva goes, 'I just want you to know, there's only eight of these in existence. Michael Bay has one, I have one, the head of Paramount has one, and the five other people involved have them.' So I flipped through it, and it's every treatment, outlines, screenplay, for the lineup of Transformer films that they have planned, that he was a showrunner for...
So he said to me, he said, 'It's pretty cool, right? I'm like, 'Yeah!' He's like, 'I ran this room; this is what we came up with. This is what I did on behalf of Paramount.' He goes, 'In a couple months, I'm going to go run the Hasbro room, and we're going to do the same thing for ROM, Micronauts, G.I. Joe. We're going to put together this Hasbro Cinematic Universe, and then he said, I would like to do yours next. And I said, 'Uhhhhhh, Okay, WOW!'
In between getting to see Bay work up close for the first time and watching tons of explosions and gunfire, I was able to participate in a group interview with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
During an extended conversation with one of the few people that’s been involved in all the Transformers movies besides Michael Bay, he revealed how The Last Knight came together, how the film explores the Transformers mythology, what’s different about this sequel, how they determine which characters to include, if they listen to the fans when making the films, future sequels, the status of the Bumblebee spinoff, if people need to have seen the first four installments to understand The Last Knight, how Grimlock plays a larger role, their relationship with Hasbro, and so much more. If you’re a fan of Transformers, I promise you’ll love this interview because it’s loaded with info. Check out what he had to say below.
Are there direct connections, though, that you would see to the Bumblebee spin-off of things in this movie? Does this set things up?
Di Bonaventura: Sometimes is the answer. It’s not always, because I think then it feels like you’re really trying to widget it all together, and it becomes a little too neat. But I think–I don’t think, I know–some of the things will have a very direct relationship. You’ll see some things in here that are laying a pipe. You won’t necessarily know that it’s laying a pipe for another movie, but it’s there.
So there’s probably, in a really meaningful way, two or three things in this movie that really have a meaningful aspect in terms of it, and then there’s a bunch of little things. But we’re not making this movie to set up the other movies. That’s what I’m trying to say. If you get too carried away with that, you stop thinking about this movie.
And this movie, the two lines of mythology in a sense give you freedom to go a lot of different places later on that may or may not directly relate to another movie, but it’s opening up the universe in a way that I think, in that way it’s probably the most provocative, in terms of the movie. It’s opening a really large universe of what Transformers is, and where they’ve come from, and how we relate to them, and how they relate to themselves.
I’m curious where you guys are at on the Bumblebee?
Di Bonaventura: It’s being written.
Can you say who the writers are?
Di Bonaventura: Christina Hodson is the writer.
Is there a plan–I think it has a release date, if I’m not mistaken.
Di Bonaventura: I think the Paramount release said ’18. I think it said 2018. I don’t know if they put an actual date, but I believe they–honestly, that release came out about 4 months ago, and all I’m trying to do is get it ready as soon as I can!
Is this one of these movies where–will people have to have seen the first four to enjoy this film?
Di Bonaventura: No, no. That’s another conscious thing. The opening of the film will introduce the sort of exploration of the mythology that we’re going to do. Therefore, it’s not necessary to have seen the films before, because it’s going to establish the–let’s call it the mystery of the movie, and the direction the movie is going to go in.
That was a very conscious attempt, because that’s the other thing you forget as a film maker. Not everybody–you kind of fell like everybody’s seen it, so they can come right along for the ride. So the opening sequence, which is probably–I don’t know, it’s been a while since I counted the pages, but I’ll say ten pages, sets the mystery of the movie, of this movie. If you’ve never seen another Transformers movie, you don’t need to.
Was that Grimlock being more in the film–was that a nod to fans that wanted to see more Dinobots, or more action with the Dinobots?
Di Bonaventura: I think everybody wanted to see more Dinobots, including ourselves, you know what I mean? We all were like god, we wish we could have found a way in that story to include them more. So that was one of the hopes/priorities going into this, was to try to find a way to bring them back into the stories?
So is it more than Grimlock, or mostly Grimlock?
Di Bonaventura: There’s a few others, but Grimlock is, to me–I like Grimlock the most, so that’s probably why I talk the most about it, you know? And I just saw a sequence, so that’s probably why it’s on the top of my head. He’s funny. He’s like a naughty dog in this movie. He’s really sheepish when he does something wrong. He’s a great character. He’s really–we’re bringing out a side of him that you’re going to like–you’re going to relate to.
If you’re introducing a new villain, is Galvatron/Megatron still around? Does he play any role in this?
Di Bonaventura: Yeah, Megatron for sure is around. I mean, are we talking about some of the ones that are…
Staffer: You can talk about some of the new ones.
Di Bonaventura: So if you go back in the mythology, how Transformers were actually created, where did it start, where did they go from being a sort of a slave-race to a sentient race–we’re delving into that aspect of the mythology, so the characters that are involved in there are Megatron before he’s Megatron, Optimus before he’s Optimus, the Librarian, the Quintessons, there’s a whole group of things that have to do with how, in a sense, the Transformers were birthed, and also with how they were divided. What brought up the division, and what were the jealousies involved.
So I think on that level, you’re going to deal with things that feel from a stakes level higher, because of the importance of the sort of thought, right? There’s still, of course, the threat to the world and that sort of threat we have, but I think that threat is amplified now, because you’re going to feel why certain aspects of our world, why we’ve been fighting in a sense.
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.
AL: Based on the cover I can assume Optimus won’t be alone in this series. Can you discuss who will be working with and/or against him in the series?
JB: There’s a big supporting cast. He’s still got a team on Earth—Soundwave is at his side, and we really see what’s going on psychologically betweem them in issue 3. Optimus blackmailed Soundwave to join him back before Revolution, but Soundwave has essentially come over to Optimus’ side pretty completely. How strong the bond is, how deep the trust between Autobot and Decepticon can be, is a big question. There’s a flashback story going on through the first six issues that goes back to Pre-War Cybertron, and we see how Soundwave and Optimus (then called Orion Pax) first met… and how deep the trust and mistrust goes.
Arcee is on Optimus’ side, but she’s a little wary of what he’s doing. She’s been around a long time, and she’s seen a lot of stuff happen, and is worried about Optimus overstepping the boundaries of right and wrong; but she’s really struggling to see if there is a real boundary between those things.
Pyra Magna, who leads the team that combines into Victorion, is becoming more hostile toward Optimus—and really, with good reason. She’s a strong believer in the Primes, and in the meaning of the Matrix of Leadership, which Optimus holds but doesn’t believe is a holy object. Pyra thinks she should have the Matrix, and is disturbed by Optimus’ attitude toward it.
Plus we’ve got some other favorites, Aileron (who’s a new character we introduced in the Transformers series and who had a key role in Revolution), Jetfire, Sky Lynx, Jazz. And a new G.I. Joe team featuring some surprising characters will be on-scene in the first story. Plus, Thundercracker and his dog Buster are still out there somewhere.
One of the big new additions, though, are the Colonist Soldiers—these are Transformers from Cybertron’s colony worlds who are fiercely loyal to Optimus Prime, who see him as a True Prime, a sort of space messiah figure. They’ll follow him anywhere… and Pyra Magna, in particular, is disturbed by that.
AL: Kei, you’re working with one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture with Optimus Prime. From a design perspective, can you discuss what elements of Prime’s look you are tweaking to make the design your own?
Kei Zama: I’m so honored to be able to draw him. At the same time, I’m feeling pressure to draw a character that’s everyone’s hero.
I’m always trying to draw him to look “heavy.”
In actuality he has big heavy metal body but on top of that he has struggled from pre-war to the current era and is now carrying the future of the Earth and universe—I don’t express him emotionally so much, but try to give just a glimpse of his hidden emotions and aggression.
And I try to draw him as a warrior. Not just with Optimus Prime, though—I usually add many scratches, bullet wounds, and rust on everyone’s body.
AL: Can you discuss the process of giving each Transformer a visual personality? Is it a challenge at times to infuse them with emotion considering facial limitations or vehicle modes, etc.?
KZ: I always think it’s difficult to express their emotions on their face, because head-parts or helmets often cover their features. Then I’m trying to express by gesture and lights/shadows/shadings, not only facial expressions.
I don’t think about alt-modes deeply. Instead of alt-mode, I try to add various personality on the robot mode. In Japan, a lot of robot characters are often drawn handsome or cool. I feel that’s boring, so I try to draw their appearance in various ways. For example, the colonists that entered in Optimus Prime #1 each have an individualistic design. There’s a cute boy, bad looking guy, tough girl, etc. Especially Gimlet, who’s my favorite!
John Barber: Not to give anything away, but as Revolution starts, Optimus is in a fairly antagonistic relationship with ... well, almost everybody. He’s come to Earth and said the whole planet is going to be part of Cybertron’s Council of World, without asking if the people of Earth wanted to be in it — or if the people of Cybertron wanted them. He’s doing this because he thinks he’s out of options to protect the Earth — he’s tried fighting evil Cybertronians, tried leaving the place alone. But bringing Earth into Cybertron’s fold is the only thing he hasn’t tried.
In Revolution this comes to a head: there’s a big, dangerous thing happening with Ore-13, which is a form of Energon that’s on Earth, and it looks to G.I. Joe like Optimus is behind it, so the threat becomes immediate. This isn’t a spoiler — Optimus is not behind the problem, and in the process of resolving the complex web of Revolution, alliances are formed and new relationships are established.
So...Optimus still has the goal of bringing Earth into the cosmic community of Cybertron. But who’s with him and who’s against him have shifted a bit.
Vince Brusio: How will Optimus’ origin be relayed in this new series? Is there room for the past? Or is the present too busy to spare time for reflection?
John Barber: The first arc goes full-steam-ahead into the present, but there’s a parallel story in pre-war Cybertron, when he was still Orion Pax, before he became Optimus Prime. It’s important for this series to see why Optimus is doing what he’s doing, what’s motivating his actions. He’s not just taking over, and he’s not just being decisive out of nowhere.
There’s a particular point in his life that we haven’t seen that’s really important to how he became Optimus Prime. He has some regrets — there was a war fought between him and Megatron, and that war lasted four million years and destroyed planets — including Cybertron, and very nearly Earth. And the ultimate goal of both sides was sort of the same — both sides were against an evil and corrupt system that had taken over Cybertron.
The first arc is called “New Cybertron,” so the war — and the events that led to it — weigh on Optimus’ every action.
Because Optimus made such a bold move in annexing Earth, the story was necessarily going to focus on him — or, at the very least, he becomes the axis on which the story pivots. There’s still a big supporting cast — Soundwave, Arcee, Jazz, Victorion, many others; plus the human contingent — but the shadow of Optimus’ actions is so big they can’t help but be pulled into his gravity. We’ll be seeing Optimus through their eyes.
Developer Kabam and toy company Hasbro today announced Transformers: Forged to Fight, a mobile game based on the well-known franchise.
Described as a "high-definition, action-fighting role-playing game with strategy elements," Forged to Fight claims to offer trademark Transformers action. You will assemble an "ultimate" team of Transformers, including Autobots and Decepticons from across almost every era of the Transformers history, and then do battle. The game is set in a colorful 3D world, and battles take place in a number of varied and unique arenas. Click through the images in the gallery below to get a closer look.
The game is set in a "strange new world where multiple realities collide," which in turn creates a "massive planetary battlefield." So, you know, Transformers stuff. Some of the features include 1v1 battles, RPG elements described as being "deep," and base-rading. Some of the playable Transformers include Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, Starscream, and Grimlock. These characters can be leveled up through gameplay, unlocking more abilities over time.
Forged to Fight enters beta in some territories soon, and will be released widely across the world in Spring 2017. The game is in development at Kabam Vancouver, which is the studio that made Fast & Furious: Legacy and Marvel Contest of Champions.
The release teases a "unique" story that goes beyond purely good and evil--what more can you say on that front--and is this canon?
McCartney: We've worked closely with our partners at Hasbro to create the story of our game. In doing so we've ingested every classic cartoon, comic book, movie, that you can imagine. Our team has immersed ourselves in the Transformers Universe in order to understand each character’s unique personality and quirks. As the game begins Optimus Prime is returning to his home planet of Cybertron after many years of conflict on earth. During the course of his travels his ship encounters a strange anomaly in space and crash lands on a strange planet. Through the course of the game Optimus is attempting to unravel the mystery and escape the planet.
How much freedom are you afforded in the Transformers universe? It's obviously a massive, revered franchise--but I'm guessing you want to push things forward with your own unique voice, so to speak, as well.
McCartney: We work closely with our partners at Hasbro to ensure that we stay true to the franchise and lore established over the course of the last 30+ years. We also take the history of the Transformers franchise very seriously. For example, before we start work on a new character we have a bit of a classroom session for everyone working in that character. Our Transformers experts walk everyone through the history of the character and his / her personality traits. This gets everyone in the right mindset before starting work on a character. With regard to the story and character dialogue, Hasbro has been amazing. They give us the freedom to create our own vision and then feedback if something isn't true to lore, or if we're pushing something too far. For the most part this interaction has been minimal. We're excited about continuing work with Hasbro in the future and we have a lot of ideas we can't wait to collaborate on.
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