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The creative forces behind Hasbro Studios’ Transformers Prime met with the press at Comic-Con International to discuss their Emmy Award-winning revival of the animated franchise, which pits the Autobots of Team Prime against the returning Decepticons.
Honoring the long history of the Transformers universe while operating within its mythology was a daunting task, but one made easier by a chronology supplied to the series’ producers by Hasbro.
“This binder in a way is something that didn’t exist before this show,” explained Executive Producer Roberto Orci, co-writer of the Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen feature films. “They had this institutional knowledge that they just told each other around campfires, apparently, never thinking they had to write it down. Finally they wrote it down because, you know, what if something happens to all of them?”
With the advent of the binder, producers were given the laws of the Transformers universe, but they weren’t necessarily constrained by them. “They’re open to the fact that to grow broader even than it is now, it needs to continue to change and speak to different audiences and bring new people into it,” said Executive Producer Jeff Kline.
Supervising Producer Duane Capizzi spoke about how vital it was to honor the love that Transformers fans have for the 1980s original Generation One — G1, as it’s affectionately called — while also bringing in new viewers. “One thing that was really important to us is that we want to be a series to appeal to the original G1 fans — you know, 35-year-olds out there who are still following the saga — but even more important than that we wanted to make sure it was a new generation of 7-year-olds’ G1,” he said.
The focus of Transformers Prime is less on advertising action figures and more on creating engaging stories. “We’re making toys of all the characters,” said Mike Vogel, vice president of Hasbro Studios Development. “It’s just we realize that if you make a show that is clearly just a 22- minute commercial, it’s not going to work.”
This dramatic paradigm shift has a great deal to do with the sophistication level of viewers. “I think it’s just that as TV has grown, as kid’s animation has grown, the audiences are more savvy,” Vogel said. “It’s not that we don’t want to sell toys because of course you want to sell toys. It’s just when you go back to the ‘80s now and look at those [cartoons] it was blatantly like, ‘Here’s a new character. Pick him up next week at Kmart.’”
Given the popularity of another Hasbro property, the producers were asked about the opportunity for a crossover with G.I. Joe. Kline made it clear that as much as they would all love to do a G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover, the idea faced some significant roadblocks. “Not the least of which is in its current iteration, G.I. Joe lives in a cel-animated world and Transformers lives in a CG world, and those two worlds don’t look or feel the same,” he said. Despite the problems involved with bringing these two properties together, Kline did not dismiss the possibility entirely. “Know that it is something we continue to hope and push for,” he said.
The complicated relationship between Optimus Prime and Megatron is something that both fans and producers are eager to examine. “If you remember, Optimus and Megatron were brothers at some point in the mythology, and something happened to split them apart,” Kline said. “That is something we’d love to explore quite honestly, whether it’s in the feature realm on our side or the direct-to-video realm or the series realm. We would love to dig into the back-story of those two characters.”
Orci echoed this, saying the relationship between the two characters has been purposely shrouded in mystery. “In the first movie we almost literally said they were brothers and then decided to keep it ambiguous so we would have the choice of either saying they were brothers-in-arms or literally brothers,” he said. “So that’s something we’ve been playing with even from the first movie.”
No conversation about Optimus and Megatron would be complete without mentioning Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, who provided their voices in G1 and return to reprise their roles in Prime. In a controversial move, neither actor was cast for the live-action films, despite Orci’s desire to have Welker play Megatron.
“I mean, I was trying to get Welker in the movies,” Orci said. “Even after the first movie when, by the way, Hugo Weaving did an amazing job on Megatron, but even then I was advocating for Frank in the second movie. Again, one of the reasons I wanted to participate in this is to be able to do what we wanted to do and that is to get the band back together.”
For older fans of Transformers and other popular ‘80s cartoons, there might be a tendency to look back on the storytelling aspect of those original shows with rose-colored glasses. However, Vogel said he’s impressed with what Transformers Prime and the other reboots have been able to accomplish: “People are making new versions that are not as good as the old ones were, but as good as we all remember them being, which is a whole other level because we hold all these characters in such high regard.”
The second season of Transformers Prime debuts Nov. 28 on The Hub.