Hey Folks, Captain Collector, reporting for duty! Every Year at Comic-Con International, I’ve given the privilege of interviewing the Brand Manager of my favorite toy line, Transformers! Without further delay, here is my interview from this year, with all the answers to your questions about the new line, War for Cybertron!
CC: Hello Jon, it’s a pleasure to talk with you again about my favorite toy line, Transformers! I know every year we do this interview, and every year it’s one of the most read articles we do.
JW: That’s great! Here we are again!
CC: It’s amazing to see how far Transformers have come, using today’s technology and design innovations being used to bring these great characters to life. Compared to today’s offerings, the original toys seemed like unarticulated bricks! Speaking of the original toys, we’ve learned today that they’re coming back as Walmart exclusives?
JW: Yes, they are! What’s exciting about these G1 re-releases – it’s an exclusive Walmart program -not only is it using the original G1 tools, but the packing is almost identical to the original releases as well. To the parents and fans out there, you want to go to the stores and experience that feeling again of seeing that packaging and those toys again.
CC: Is there any sort of issue with licensing some of those old G1 vehicles? Id’ heard stories about this in the past with certain car companies.
JW: Not really. For example with Bumblebee, we went to Volkswagen and licensed the beetle car from them. This time around it’s an officially licensed vehicle. Part of what’s happening on the G1 series is that we’re limited by what’s available. A lot of the original tools are over 30 years old. They’re made of steel, and steel rusts.
CC: I think this happened with the Takara Encore Jazz, wasn’t his head mold damaged, causing them to resculpt it with a different, smiling face?
JW: Oh yea, that’s right! It’s a real thing…
CC: Wasn’t there an issue with soundwave as well, where they used the SoundBlaster mold, with the dual cassettes, because of the same issue?
JW: Yeah, it’s definitely a real thing. The other thing that we have to do is to modify things here and there to comply with modern safety requirements. Case in point – Starscream. We had to modify hi null ray cannons. The projectiles no longer meet safety standards, so we have to make sure that they’re not only ultra-nostalgic, and recreate that experience, but to also make sure that they’re safe for kids.
Sometimes we use that opportunity to make small improvements too, like including the Megatron blaster with Starscream. Even though he’s got those derpy G1 hands, you can still put Megatron in his hands this time around. The other thing that’s a small detail is that he has painted eyes for the first time.
CC: Oh nice! That old sticker never fit right!! Mine is without the sticker.
JW: Many are! It never did fit right. We actually had to change the material of the head to accept paint. To the fans, it isn’t really a noticeable thing, but it makes a big difference.
CC: Speaking of paint, and shifting gears over to the new line, “War for Cybertron”, I see that there’s a lot of paint deco on them!
JW: Absolutely. That’s due in part to coming to events like this, talking to fans. We received lots of compliments about the Prime Wars trilogy, especially Power of the Primes. But one thing we kept hearing was “what is up with those labels?” So we decided to set a high bar with the new trilogy. Certain characters had to be a certain height. Starting a new trilogy, we decided to make sure everyone was the right height, so that they were in scale with each other. Part of that was also removing the internal gimmicks, like the head masters, moving over to the combat weapon system allowed us to keep the characters more “authentic” to their original representations.
CC: I notice there is an INSANE level of detailing on them!
JW: Exactly! So instead of using the labels, we replaced those flat surface with a religious amount of detail (Laughter)! I’m sure that Takara Tomy was ready to kill me, but I kept going back to them to add more detailing. If you look at Chromia’s vehicle mode, there’s just so much detail. Part of that was the fact that we wanted to add more gritty details, and we used our deco ops differently, which gives the appearance of a more highly decoed figure. Plus because of the grittiness of war, we adding some of these battle damage effects and weathering effects to the figures, just so that it can start to capture a different feeling and tone with this line.
CC: Are there scratches and battle damaged sculpted into the figures themselves, or is it all paint?
JW: It’s all paint.
CC: Fantastic, that’s something the fan base has been asking.
JW: No, it’s all paint, and in most cases it’s on the robot mode only. We tried to do it in a way that’s subtle and not overpowering at all. We’re also doing different things with the deco. For example, Sideswipe, all of his components are molded in red, but then also painted in red. We wanted to make the finish look like an actual car. Oftentimes when you mold something, and then paint something, the colors can look different. I mean, it’s a toy at the end of the day, and you may have to do that, but I’ve learned a lot from working on the masterpiece line working with Takara Tomy. When you take the time to do things a certain way up front, you can achieve different results without costing any more money. It just requires a little more work up front.
CC: I can’t tell you what a relief that is, some of the labels on my new Transformers are already peeling up! Honestly, I think that the Power of the Primes figures were some of the best Transformers ever made. That Optimus Prime is the definitive version, for me. I bought two of them, he’s brilliant. If I have one criticism, it’s that those ankles drive me INSANE!
JW: (Laughter) OK!
CC: At any point, did anyone think of putting ratchets, or something to keep him standing? A stiff breeze and he’s going down.
JW: That guy was a miracle that we were able to get so much into that figure. He’s got a cab that turns into an Orion Pax, who then turns into a torso of a bigger robot, and the trailer that can convert into legs, there’s a lot going on with that toy, with the resources we were given. Obviously, it’s an understandable criticism, it’s just a constant struggle when designing these toys. With War for Cybertron, we are starting over with a brand-new trilogy. We always compare to, if I’m a toy collector, I’m going to have my Prime Wars trilogy shelf, and I’m going to have a War for Cybertron shelf. It’s not going to be in scale with each other. The War for Cybertron stuff has a different philosophy. When we started this two years ago, in its infancy, we met with Takara. We had some great meetings in Tokyo, and they came here for some, and we all got on the same page philosophically. We talked about everything the fans talked about. We put everything out on the table. We’re listening. We’re trying to make it so we are continually trying to push the brand forward, even while we are looking backwards at other characters, if that makes sense.
CC: It makes perfect sense. I think it shows exactly what you’re saying. I DO love the new scale, and I have two questions about that; are there going to be leader class figures in War for Cybertron?
JW: There are, Ultra Magnus is on display now!
CC: OK, so he’s leader class?
JW: I think what’s exciting about the leader class is it’s also a weaponinzing system, but because it’s War for Cybertron, and it’s about trying to do the best versions of the characters, Like Counterpunch, even though he’s in Power of the Primes, that’s the best version of Counterpunch ever done. We’re trying to make the best version. The same philosophy happened with Ultra Magnus. The front cab turns into the white Magnus/Optimus robot, and the trailer turns into pieces of his armor, and throughout leader class you’re going to see that manifest in different ways, while still keeping the scale accurate.
CC: My second question is where are the Decepticons?
JW: We’re only showing Autobots here. The Decepticons are on their way, they’re hiding, so we’re only showing the Autobots here today.
CC: OK, fair enough! Ultra Magnus looks very Robot in Disguise inspired.
JW: The vehicle mode sure does! That’s because he’s on Cybertron. We didn’t want to make all of the vehicle modes looks like slab-front hovercrafts, we wanted to make sure that we have different form factors on shelf. Being able to access the RID vehicle mode for that guy was an easy choice for us, because that’s a very beloved and underrated vehicle mode. It’s brilliant. There’s a lot of stuff from the 200’s, like Armada, that’s just brilliant. Sure it’s G1 inspired, but there’s all sort of easter eggs from all generations spread throughout the line. Case in Point, I was just reading on a message board about how “Jon Warden is a big G1 fan”. Well, I grew up with G1!
CC: Is that supposed to be criticism, like that’s a bad thing?!?!
JW: Right? But I think what’s exciting working on a brand like Transformers, is that you get to do what you want to do, being able to listen to all of the voices that are out there, and we’re all Transformers fans, not just G1 fans. G1, Beast Wars, Armada…
CC: I’m one of those who LOVED Armada! And you and I talk about this every year, so this year wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t make my pitch for Big Convoy!
JW: Heck yeah!!!
CC: I really want an updated Big Convoy!
JW: He’s great, he’s amazing, and a favorite of mine.
CC: Optimus Primal is still coming, correct?
JW: He’s definitely still coming, but he’s at retail, so we wanted to make room for all of the new stuff, and there’s the exclusive here for sale.
CC: One last question; with the demise of Toys R Us, will I still be able to find Titan Class at retail? Will there be any more titan class figures?
JW: Stay tuned! It’s a little too early to talk about some of that. There’s opportunities for fans to get the figures they’re looking for, like Counterpunch on Amazon.
CC: Jon, thank you so much for all of your time again this year.
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