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Hasbro’s TRANSFORMERS Team Tell Us How Movie Toys Survive Even if the Movies Don’t

My colleagues in nerdly writer-ing tell me I may have been in the minority when it came to thoroughly enjoying Transformers: The Last Knight, and the box office backs them up some, but there’s good news for those who enjoyed it as much as me: Hasbro won’t be letting up on their “Bayformers” toys any time soon.

That, at least, is what Transformers design managers John Warden and Lenny Panzica told me at San Diego Comic-Con. Warden described a storytelling strategy that would ultimately try to bring all the different lores—movies, comics, etc.—together (on the set of the most recent movie, producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura said something similar about creating a universe bible for the entire brand). Panzica, calling the movie toys an important part of their brand, said “It’s something we would never want to walk away from, only build upon,” while noting that, for an entire generation, the decade of Michael Bay movies are now the Transformers they grew up with. (Yes, there are plans to do characters from previous films, too.)

Unfortunately, however, there are no plans for a World War II Bumblebee, or the even earlier vintage World War I tank that guarded Anthony Hopkins’ castle. The toy shelves are not yet ready for time-travel Transformers. Maybe next film.

One key difference between the robots in the movies versus the toys is that many of the former simply don’t transform, whereas in the toy line that’s pretty much a mandate and a reason for being. So how do they decide what to do with these characters as toys?

“We try to play up the scene they’re in, or what vehicles or roles they play from a storytelling standpoint,” says Panzica. “Cogman, if you’ve seen the movie, drives a particular car, so we were like, hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if he transformed into that car? Being the Transformers brand, we want to bring that play pattern in as much as possible.”

“It’s all about being inspired by the film,” adds Warden. “We’re trying to not just inspire our fans, but we’re trying to inspire play, so the idea that Cogman is a Headmaster…we kinda jumped and allowed him to not just be a Headmaster in the toy, but also completely cross-compatible with the Titan Returns toy line, which is really fun.” The figure’s head not only pops on to other Transformers in other non-movie lines with interchangeable heads, but can also transform into a tiny driver for the robot’s car form.

“He’s described in the film as a Headmaster,” says Warden, despite the fact that you don’t actually see that feature utilized onscreen. “We worked directly with Paramount to give them as much information about Transformers history and to understand some of those pieces of Transformers DNA. He was described as a Headmaster because he was a race of small Transformers known as Headmasters.” Not, as you might have assumed, because he has the scolding manner of an English public school principal. “In toys we can create those features sometimes a little deeper, because it’s focused on that character,” says Panzica.

Cogman and his fellow movie star Skullitron (one of the Arthurian Knight Transformers) pack a bit more detail than usual, with elaborate circuit-pattern paint jobs on the former and rust deco on the latter. Panzica says it was a choice to go “deeper into more action-figure kind of deco…a lot of wipes playing into all the scribe lines, painting into the sculptural detail. For this line in general, we had a lot of data, so we had a lot of free sculptures from Paramount. So what we did is we took that and built it in to the actual Transformer sculpts, and having that extra detail creates extra…how should I say…lighting? So there’s this actual natural deco that happens because of the way the light hits it. That mixed with the deco we put on there, and how we strategically paint it, makes it look more than what it actually is.”

Note: he missed a prime opportunity to say “more than meets the eye.” I let it go, because hearing that more and more wipes, washes, and other effects to gritty up some of the newer figures was coming temporarily paralyzed my speech center with coolness. They will also be using a similar technology to that used by the Marvel and Star Wars teams for more accurate facial likenesses…but in this case to create washes or weathered effects in one printing process.

With the Transformers movies having lasted ten years, collectors who started watching them as kids and grew up with them are now old enough to want more elaborate representations of those characters, and with that thought in mind, the Hasbro team created a tenth anniversary Masterpiece version of movie Optimus Prime (at the $100 price point) featuring metal parts and a much closer resemblance to the movie form than would be possible to do in a kid-focused, mass-market toy. (A reissue of the 2007 Leader Class Optimus from movie 1, now with a more metallic paint job, should be a bit more affordable.)

Depending on who you ask at Hasbro, the Masterpiece edition takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to transform. “But it’s a wonderful hour!” says Panzica. “Diving into it—it’s awesome. He’s got a lot of details, a lot of inner workings” Hasbro and Takara worked together on it, so unlike some other large-scale figures that add more detail for the Japanese market (which can regularly bear larger prices), this will be the same everywhere. Based on feedback from fans at Comic-Con, Warden says the movie Masterpiece figures will continue, but fans will just have to “stay tuned” for the next announcements.

Meanwhile, in non-movie lines, 1986 animated hero Rodimus Prime is getting a new Leader Class toy as part of a new “Power of the Primes” story theme. Judd Nelson voice chip, presumably, will not be included, but then again, nor will the affected French accent from the live-action movie.

Are you primed for more? Don’t disguise your thoughts—leave them robustly in comments!

Images: Luke Y. Thompson

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