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.
Isabela Moner had quite the eventful first day on Transformers: The Last Knight!
Chatting with Girl’s Life mag, Isabela dished on the very first scene she shot for the upcoming flick.
Director Michael Bay greeted her with this: “Welcome! Today you’re going to put out a fire. Do you know how to use a fire extinguisher?”
Good thing she could!
“Michael lit this huge fire so I could practice, and kept shouting, ‘You have to get closer! Closer! You’re not in the shot yet!’” Isabela shares in the December/January issue. “All I could think was, ‘My face is going to melt off!’”
Another scene found Isabela sprinting while hauling three huge para-chute bags. “I grabbed them and I ran through the scene with all this wind blowing in my face and dust getting in my eyes and smoke and things on fire. When I finished it, it was just the most amazing feeling to know that I’d done it.”
Pick up Isabela‘s Girl’s Life cover on news stands on November 15th!
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.”
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, Mark admitted that by announcing there would be mini-dinobots in the upcoming sequel he had ‘already revealed too much’ but that fans should also expect ‘a few other surprises’.
The film currently has confirmed autobots, decepticons, mini-dinobots, King Arthur, Nazis – and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
...one of the best experiences (he's) had on a film...since Speilberg
Directors like...Bay...just say "Let's do it". I love that, because I'm like that
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