Category Archives: G1

THE LOST TREASURES OF CYBERTRON – Production Materials from Transformers History PART#1: The Transformers 1986 Movie Storyboards

Transformers the movie_Storyboards_Sequence 001_0002

I love to look up obscure Transformers memorabilia, production documents, cel sheets, comic book art, storyboards and other cool junk.

I’ll never own any of it, these things are out of my price range as a collector, and prices have only gotten more crazy high over the last decade or so.

While it’s great on one level that certain kinds of stuff is out there if you want to hunt for it – on the other hand the way a lot of this material makes its way into collections can be dubious.Transformers the movie_Storyboards_Sequence 001 Unicron planet close up

Production materials find way into the world through unofficial channels – found in a dumpster, stolen by an ex employee, sold on ebay etc.

Sometimes we get a Jim Sorensen, who hunts out obscure material like the Hasbro/Sunbow TF model sheets, and has those model sheets and reference material turned into books for everyone to enjoy. But not many people have that kind of passion, dedication and community spirit.

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Other times someone obtains some rare and unique production materials – and it remains in their collection for good and that is the end of it (well until they die, or sell it on ebay I guess). Sometimes it’s a public piece, and people hear about it – other times its a private deal for something *rumored* to even exist at all.

THE SELF-PRESERVATION SOCIETY

I’m the kind of person that if I had my hands on some obscure reference material such as productions scripts, story boards, cel sheets, sketches, art etc – I would scan and upload them for people to enjoy. Although this sort of stuff can sell for some serious money, to me they have no actual value in dollars. Their true value is in their IDEAS and history of the Transformers brand itself. These are cheap disposable material, easily replicated in digital format. I mean you can’t do that with say a production prototype, I’m really talking about flat words and pictures here. And I’m talking explicitly about pre and production material here, not stolen comic book art or anything like that (that should be returned to its true owner where possible).

Transformers the movie_Storyboards_Sequence unicron1a

The upside with reproductions and facsimiles of production material is that everyone gets to enjoy them, and anyone into the history and lore of Transformers media can then at least use those digital files for writing and reference etc, as well as the aesthetic enjoyment. If no book exists, you could at least in theory print out some things for your own reference.

We will never have a true Transformers Museum, so it’s up to fans to preserve the history of the hobby. HASBRO has often dropped the ball in this regard, when it comes to the history of the brand – they are often clueless or just don’t care (with rare exception when there is a buck to be made) and leave a lot of the preservation to Takara.

blaster blasting at you ravage

The downside of a scan of say a sketch or piece of art, at a high resolution – is that there is a small side industry of pirated materials that are turned into posters, tshirts etc and then sold on places like ebay. Some people make a profit from this sort of thing, often from China or countries where the laws around copyright are different, or ignored for corporate and intellectual property.

blaster blasting at you ravage kick

I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!

Recently I was looking at some old ebay and Heritage auctions, including one that was for the movie production storyboards for the Transformers Movie (1986). I was amazed that such a thing had gotten into the hands of someone who was going to sell it.
To me that movie is somewhat sacred. It’s the source of many myths, lies and exaggerations in Transformers lore, the early drafts of the scripts, the various pre and post production changes that fans argue about what happened and why – I love it all.

hot rod fishing

There is a story about these storyboards and the various hands the original has passed through. I find it stupid that Hasbro didn’t keep it themselves (which is part of the story, you can look it up yourself if you like, it’s not what this post is about) – if they had it in their possession they could have been reprinted in a modern facsimile edition. Sure the market would be small, but it could have been print to order, or a limited run etc. And without someone dedicated working there to get a project like that going – it probably would never happen anyway.

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I FOUND THIS OUT THE BACK

But Hasbro are notoriously pretty awful about preserving anything from their Transformers history. Any to be fair most pre-digital materials like storyboards usually go in the dumpster. Most movie materials are considered a disposable part of pre-production. If film makers kept everything, studios would run out of space to store all that crap.

megatron crush you with my bare hands

I’m grateful that the Transformers 1986 Movie Storyboards were found again at all, rather than disappearing forever. But I feel a little sad that this piece of Transformers history was auctioned off like a piece of meat. The final price it sold for is kind of insane when you consider it’s just pieces of beat up black and white paper.

winning bid2 lots 16000

The storyboards and all versions of the script, would make a for an amazing coffee table book. To some fans a black and white book of scribbles, pen notes, script drafts and storyboards would be a bit bland. Sure, I get it. But throw some color images (Intro and Appendix) in there, add in a bit of commentary from people like Jim Sorensen and Chris McFeely and Flint Dille and it would really bring to life material that can be a bit dry. For me though, that shit is super exciting – it’s the ideas and raw material that formed so much of what we love.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BOB

Years back Bob Budianksy was at some convention or other and showed some of his original notes. Not computer files, not model sheets, not even full scripts.

Just plain ordinary notes on one dollar worth of paper. People loved it, it got them psyched up.  The material (the paper) was the most mundane thing you can imagine, worthless really. But the IDEAS on that paper… literally priceless if you look at all that has come after the fact.

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It makes me a little sad that the storyboards are not in some Transformers museum somewhere, as the storyboards are the first version of the movie, they are the (along with the various drafts of the script) the blueprints and the skeleton on which the finished theatrical film was built. I love that film about everything about it.

To me its a significant part of Transformers history and something to be preserved for all fans to enjoy. I don’t like that ONE fan somewhere in the world gets to enjoy it, and hoard it away.

Perhaps some people feel this way about toy prototypes? I don’t care about toy prototypes at all. However a high quality book of photos and commentary about that sort of thing is a book I would buy for sure. So maybe there are fans who say “so what, who gives a flying fuck about some dusty old scripts and storyboards?”

MY PRECIOUSSSSSSSSS!

It’s a strange thing in our culture where during the production of a TV show, movie etc, the materials used during production are considered disposable. Only years later with nostalgia, or a fandom that has grown around a certain media property that unexpectedly lasts – do we start craving these things like Gollum in lord of the rings.

Often production materials are found in the garbage. In some cases things from TV shows and movies are literally found in dumpsters and then go on to be sold for thousands of dollars. Props, bits of sets, screen worn clothing – all kinds of stuff. The floating barrels  from JAWS for example. Who could have ever predicted those would be valuable one day? Who would even think to keep them? Well somebody clearly did.

Me and the Useless Air Barrels Steven E. Belanger JAWS screen used
Blogger Stephen Belanger in front of screen used JAWS Barrels

Things are a little different in 2017 – there has never been a bigger after market for props and screen used production materials and related paraphernalia such as licensed high end toys and statues. Corporations have a big side business not just in licensed action figures and toys etc, but in selling off screen used props and materials. They are not just int the movie entertainment game, but the long running I.P. game.

The days of just finding super valuable things in dumpsters for free, are long gone (with rare exceptions) as more and more companies realize how valuable their I.P. is, and how fans are interested not just in the final product, and the story we are being told, but in the pre-production, production and post-production process, the story BEHIND the story, the larger story you get to discover for yourself if you care to. And some rare fans get to own a little piece of movie history, a little piece of magic to marvel at.

Rodimus Prime arises

The proliferation of DVD/BD “extra features” over the last decade or two so has given us so much material that normally goes in the studio vault, the cutting room floor, on into the garbage. We get to see things previously only the director got to see. Discarded idea, things that didn’t work, alternate takes on things that did work.

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Creators never know which of their creations are going to take off and fly, and which are gong to crash and burn. Keeping every scrap, doodle, draft, and aborted stop-start take on an idea would be impractical. But it would also be a shame when the next Bugs Bunny, Batman or Optimus Prime comes along, and we don’t get to see the original art, or see the names they *almost* were called, or how some project that went on to spawn an empire, was nearly canned at the planning stages.

megatron reformatted by unicron

Whether toy box art, comic book original art, plans, documents and all the behind that scenes stuff that preceded The Transformers all adds up to interesting stuff in my book. The few scrappy remains we get to hear about today are mostly folks talking on podcasts, or the odd convention panel bit of trivia. Most of the old stuff is lost to the ravages of time and fallacious memory.

megatron reformatted into galvatron

IN THE BEGINNING

On the rare occasion we get to see an original document, or part of the creative process – it’s great when everyone gets to see it. For example Jim Shooter’s original treatment / outline for The Transformers fiction. Imagine if that was never transcribed and nobody got to see it. Fortunately any fan that cares to can devour that bit of text anytime they like, thanks to the transcribed text on various sites such the Transforming Seminarian blog – and Jim’s larger picture behind the scenes story told over two enthralling blog posts on his own website.

scourge and his sweeps

Jim Shooter’s Original Transformers Treatment (featured on Transforming Seminarian blog)

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 1

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 2

(featured on Jim Shooter blog)

Transformers The Movie 86 Storyboards
Transformers The Movie 86 Storyboards

While things like concept art and storyboards are common tools in film pre-production today, with the move to digital media for the majority of these materials  – pre-digital production materials become even more rare and potentially valuable.

The real value to me is not in any ebay auction of something dusty and forgotten relic for a silly price. The value to me is in the preservation of the material itself, so that it can be seen and understood by other people down the line, who may not even be born yet.

megatron and laserbeak

It’s only an animated film. It’s only a piece of 80’s entertainment about robots smashing shit up to sell toys. It’s only for kids.  It’s only the death of a icon. It’s only the transformation of another icon. It’s only the passing of a mantle and the birth of a new hero. It’s only non-stop rock and roll. It’s only a movie stuffed to the bursting seams with so many exciting ideas and new things. It’s only myth and magic in the modern day.

It’s only a movie, to be forgotten and lost to the ravages of time.

 

IMAGE CREDITS

*Picture of the original Transformers Movie Storyboards (pink folder) courtesy of The Space Bridge / Facebook website https://www.facebook.com/TheSpacebridge/

*JAWS Barrels image from Stephan Belanger blog

http://stevenebelanger.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/jaws-and-me.html

*Ebay Store listing screen cap of Storyboard Acution courtesy of ebay.com

*For items in The Space Bridge ebay store please visit:

http://stores.ebay.com/The-Spacebridge

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Sexy Fast Cars, Military Jets and Superheroes: The Unique Empowering Appeal of Hasbro’s Transformers

optimus vs megatron transformers visual works xc

Most toy lines manage to have a stand out cool car, a sleek military jet with missiles or some kind of super-hero or fantasy figure for a kid to role play with.

Transformers went ahead and put everything into one toyline.

IT’S A SUPERHERO!

IT’S A FAST CAR!

IT’S A KICK-ASS ROBOT!

Everything in one! The all new all exciting Trans-Morpher-Bots 5000 from HASBRO!

Talk about value  for money and stuffing as many features, ideas and values into one toyline and media property as possible.

Stronger than He-Man, faster than Road Runner, tougher than the Hulk, more heroic than Superman – Transformers are not to be fucked with.

Oh, and they also happen to be a race of super-smart sentient aliens, making their genre a mish-mash of pure classical science fiction, Japanese Super Robots and uniquely American Style Superheroes.

They also like to beat the shit out of each other and have non-stop battles, laser guns and explosions – what more could the average ten year old boy ask for?

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Like other 80’s co-productions, Transformers were Japanese import toys given Americanized fiction courtesy of Hasbro and Marvel Comics.

The 80’s had a number of import and co-productions linked to various toys, cartoons and other media. Golion was redubbed and written to become “Voltron, Defender of the Universe” in America. Thundercats was created in America in the pre-production and writing stages, but animated overseas – giving it a unique Anime flavor (superior animation quality) married to typical American tropes of heroism and Western storytelling.

Thundercats offered the best of both worlds to its potential audience, as did many other co-productions which through the magic of “Synergy” (a horrible 80’s business buzz word…  and also the name for JEM’s A.I. super-computer…) saw two different cultures co-operating across the ocean to create something new and exciting for kids to enjoy. Something better than what either culture solo might have come up with. These co-productions led to mixed results, with some great stand outs and plenty of wretched refuse littering up the airwaves and toy aisles of the eighties.

Fortunately in the case of Transformers, these formerly known as Diaclone and Micro Change Japanese robots were successfully launched in America with a new fiction attached to them that took off. They became so popular, that eventually even Japan started selling their old toys (from the same molds) in new packages as “Transformers”,  the brand had reached global recognition, something not easily achieved.

An interview with MAZ of TF-1 that appeared on Toybox Soapbox sums it up pretty well:

http://toyboxsoapbox.com/2018/01/08/interview-maz-talks-about-transformers-2018/

T.S.:What was it about Transformers that originally captivated you and made you a lifelong fan?

MAZ: In the first instance, my original exposure to Transformers came from the cartoon, specifically the 3-part pilot called “Arrival From Cybertron” in the UK. I watched that thing to death on VHS, and once I was shown where the Transformers toys were in Toys R Us in what must have been super-late 1985 or early 1986, I was hooked on the toys as much as I was on the fascinating cartoon. It sounds strange to say this today, but the appeal came from lovely looking cars and planes (two big favourites of mine as a child) that turned into heroic-looking robots with great power. I’d never seen their like before, and the toys were pretty special.

http://toyboxsoapbox.com/2018/01/08/interview-maz-talks-about-transformers-2018/

You can read the full Toybox Soapbox interview with MAZ at the link above and please do, it’s a great read, I’ve read it several times.

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OBEY THE LORE!

The Transformers lore would be a mix of toys, cartoon and comic books courtesy of Marvel Comics and Hasbro meetings that led to establishing the basic universe and fiction of the Transformers. Jim Shooter, Denny O Neil and Bob Budianksy would lay down the foundations that other Transformers fiction would be built on for years to come. Later Simon Furman became a key figure in creating Transformers fiction, a lot of which was adopted by Hasbro into future toy lines, lore and TV shows.

The basic premise of the Transformers was a race of warring sentient alien robots crash landed on earth. Megatron lead the EVIL Decepticons (Decepticon’s being synonymous with Deception and Destruction) while the peace loving Autobots would be led by Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime was  a mixture of Abraham Lincoln and John Wayne wrapped in the colors of Superman. Prime also happens to be wearing the colors of the American flag. Optimus Prime is about as Apple Pie Americana as it gets for an alien robot.

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Unlike some cynical fictional characters, Optimus Prime is all heart. He really is the embodiment of a tough noble warrior mixed with compassion and true leadership skills. The kind of individual/character that can never exist in real life, because they are too perfect – the kind that only exist in “true” biographies – but who work wonderfully in fiction as a noble and inspiring figure of humanities own potentials for greatness en masse and as individuals.

Optimus Prims is the ambassador to The Transformers brand and media. It’s most well known icon and the most traditional super-hero like figure that appears in the fiction. When the live action movies made Optimus a ruthless killer, many fans felt betrayed that their iconic hero was being used in such a fashion.

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RESPECTABLE IN THE 80’S

It’s impossible to be a Transformers fan and not reminisce now and then on your first TF toy experiences. I remember seeing the Transformers cartoon as a kid and loving it. For years the show was in endless repeats wherever you went. In the morning, the afternoon, any time of day it might show up and I’d watch it again every time as it was just so much fun, it was magnetic and I was powerless to look away.

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The toys I would see in the stores, but we grew up pretty poor and Transformers were not something we generally could afford. Mostly it was window shopping and unfulfilled wishes. One time my Grandfather took me to a toy store on the way to visit one of his old friends. We stopped in some toy store and he let me choose what I wanted. I asked if I could get this cool looking dragon robot thing, and to my surprise he said Yes. That toy was G1 Doublecross, a toy I still have today and treasure like it was made of gold. I remember the box and that he was packaged in his dragon mode, which really made it more appealing and cool. I doubt I would have picked it if he had been packaged in his robot mode.

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The only other Transformers I had as a kid were Beachcomber and Streetwise, both small budget scale toys that I got on a birthday and pretty plain looking. They didn’t have two heads and breathe fire like Doublecross. They could not fly with cool dragon wings. I never even saw most of the other Transformers toys over the years. I do remember seeing the box for Metroplex in  a store, and recognized it from the pack in catalogs that I would ogle for hours. Most of my neighborhood friends also came from poor families. Some had a few He-man or G.I. Joe’s, but most folks didn’t have Transformers in that area. If you had Transformers you either had wealthy parents or Grandparents, that was how I saw it. They just were not affordable toys for anyone I knew where I grew up.

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Cars never appealed to me as a kid, neither did jets or Top Gun or any of that sort of thing. I’ve seen hundreds of hours of actual circuit racing, speedway and drag racing –  it was (and still is) my Father’s passion but not mine. I’m more interested in Dinosaurs, mythical monsters and scary disgusting creatures – foul beasts from the Underverse that want to eat you alive in one bite. That’s why I gravitate toward characters like Grimlock and Doublecross.

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One is a double headed dragon, the other a Tyrannosaurus Rex in their alt modes. Terrorcons, Predacons, Dinobots and Monsterbots are more exciting to me than Fast Cars and Jets. Grimlock beats Vin Diesel any day of the week, but if he wants to voice him in an animated film or show – I would not object. Vehicles are cool too, but I can see cars in real life any day of the week when I drive to work. I can’t see real life mythical beasts at the Mythical Beasts & Dragons show on Sunday. I can’t ride Grimlock to work. It comes back to the characters for me. Cool monsters are one thing, but what is their personality or their unique voice?

I can admire the real life screen used or replica Kitt, Mad Max’s Interceptor, the ’66 and ’89 Batmobiles – and other cool racing and sports cars. But there is no 1:1 scale Grimlock replica out there for me to go and enjoy on the weekend at a show. I wish there was, something that makes that fantasy world more real, more immersive even if for just a brief moment. I would of course get the real Grimlock to destroy all my enemies.

BOY VS GIRL VS i-ROBOT

Like a lot of eighties conceived power fantasy fiction, the primary market for the cartoon, comic books and Transformers toys was boys.  Girls had Barbie, Minnie Mouse, My Little Pony and that sort of thing. Power suited marketers, advertisers and focus groups told the toy “experts” what kids wanted. Nobody could foresee that over thirty years later Transformers would be still be around as a multimedia empire, and now with a significant amount of female fans.

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If you’re a girl and you like Transformers, He-Man and Voltron, that’s fine. If you’re you’re a guy and like My Little Pony, Care Bears or Barbie, well that’s okay. Some people will “judge” you for it, but fuck em! Don’t listen to them. Enjoy what you enjoy. One of the most impressive collections I’ve ever seen was an old mate who collected mostly vintage Barbie and G.I. Joe. Not 80’s Joe, the vintage original full sized dolls with cloth clothing. He had them in lovely display cabinets with lighting and they looked fantastic. Ordinarily I would not even look at dolls, but his passion for his collection and the presentation was simply stunning, and made you appreciate the toys.

We are aloud to like whatever the fuck we like. It’s not up to marketers, the media, your parents, your family and other forms of social conditioning to tell you what you should enjoy

We choose our own toys and make up the stories that appeal to us. No human being can tell you the “correct” way to play, as play is intrinsic to human nature both for kids and adults. As adults we unfortunately associate Play mostly with children due to the success of those dictatorial marketers and toy merchants and well meaning social psychologists (often on the payroll). They have hijacked a natural free human experience in order to sell us their shit.

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GIRL VS BOY VS TOY AISLE

It makes a certain kind of sense / convenience to put Barbie with Barbie, G.I. Joe with G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles with other Ninja Turtles. People generally don’t have a hard time figuring out how to find toys in a toy section. But do they HAVE to have “Boys Toys” and “Girls Toys” written on the catalog? Not really, it’s kind of redundant and more aimed at saving time for busy parents. But there are some cultural conditions / bias that also play into this grouping with some rather odd origins.

In (circa) 1900 white dresses and undyed fabrics were the in thing for baby boys and girls. White plain fabrics could be easily bleached when soiled, and both sexes wore dresses for the first few years of their lives. As clothing dyes became more available, (and cheaper to produce) clever marketers came up with the idea of pink for boys, and blue for girls. This trend grew as more stores stocked the new dyed gender specific fabrics. The “Genderisation” didn’t occur right away, but slowly grew as marketers and stores picked up the idea and ran with it. Any time you can create a new market segment with clear distinctions (a line of clothes for boys, a line for girls, instead of clothes for both) that means more potential profit. Advertising is subtle social conditioning, and so over time people came to associate certain colors with gender.

 

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.
Read more: SmithsonianMag.com

That eventually Pink became associated with Girls / Feminine and Blue for Boys / Masculine (the reverse of what it had been) shows how the whole idea was a social construct in the first place, truly having nothing to do with sex at all. To go one step further, many of the characteristics often associated with male and female turn out to be the creation of culture. The simple version is, if it’s considered Masculine or Feminine – it’s a creation of culture and social conditioning, but if it’s Male and Female (Sex) then we are talking Biology, the confusion comes when we erroneously mix qualities from one to another, and then consider them to be immutable truths or facts.

Fast forward a few decades, and we move beyond gender specific clothing, to various toy lines marketed specifically to boys or girls. We’ve all pretty much had the experience of walking into a modern chain-store toy section and find the action figure (boys) aisle, and the dolls / Barbie pink (girls) aisles. Don’t get me started on Babies ‘R Us (the sub section and brand of Toys ‘R Us). That toys are grouped together is NOT a negative thing. If you have to find a Barbie to buy for your niece, would you rather it was easy to find and next to all the other Barbie’s, or would you prefer you had to look through all the Lego sets, Beanie Babies and Star Wars stuff to find it?

I prefer things to be easy to find, the issue is not the way toys are displayed – but that we create unrealistic expectations for children that if they don’t enjoy the toys “approved” for their Gender (as decided by marketers and Mad Men) then they are shunned by their peers, or the irrational fear that it’s going to make them grow up the wrong way.

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MEGATRON: Confident enough with pink plasma

BACK IN BLACK

American superheroes are intrinsically linked to the colors red and blue – it’s the most famous Superhero of all – Superman – who is adorned in a heroic version of the American flag itself, the trope goes beyond mere symbolism and is rooted in our very subconscious psyche over the decades from repeated exposure. It’s that combination of colors that mean even those unable to read can see and know those symbols as representing America and the superhero ideal.

Other icons who wear those patriotic symbolic colors include Spider-Man and Optimus Prime. Superheroes over the decades have traditionally been marketed to Boys, sure girls have Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Lois Lane, but the sales of of comic books over the decades have predominantly been boys and men. Boys are expected to like action, and whether by nature or nurture that dynamic plays out.

It’s no accident that Optimus Prime wears the primary red and blue colors. He’s an American icon, for better or worse. A Japanese super robot re-purposed, wrapped in the american flag and his personality calls back to archetypes like cowboys and superheroes. The Transformers toys and fiction are all about action. Now and then there is a message about the environment or war and conflict in there somewhere – but that is not the main appeal for kids.

The primary appeal is to play with these powerful incredible robots that turn into vehicles that only adults drive or fly in the real world. When a kid plays with a Transformer, they get to fly that Top Gun jet, or drive a big truck, a construction vehicle or military jeep. Then it turns into a robot/action figure and the fantasy play continues. Transformers are magic for any kid that gets to enjoy them, and I hope they are around for many more years to come. It takes a certain kind of magic to combine vehicles, robots and superheroes into one fantastic toy. It’s a magnificent obsession for many kids and adults, for myself and many others it will probably be a lifelong one.

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IMAGE CREDITS

Optimus Prime image from Transformers Visual Works

Optimus punching Megatron from “Tranformers: Regeneration One” by IDW Publishing

Optimus vs Seekers from Transformers Visual Works

Megatron punching Optimus comic panel From IDW Transformers Comics

Megatron panel from IDW Transformers Comics

‘Wayne’ screen capture from Wayne’s World

Fans Hobby Lazer Prime / Gunfighter courtesty of Fans Hobby

https://www.facebook.com/Fans-hobby-1263389377007663/

Buster / Prime comic panel from Marvel Comics The Transformers

 

 

My Transformations Bring All the Bots to the Yard – Transformers – the Coolest Fucking Toys on the Planet

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget how cool and amazing Transformers toys are.

The idea of the very first Transformer toys were realistic diecast toy cars – that also happened to turn into simplistic robots.

It’s easy to miss those old school toys were not robots that turned into vehicles, (or real world objects such as Soundwave and Megatron) they were vehicles with a bonus mode that resembled a very basic robot. You had to use your imagination. It was the branding and cartoon that made us think of them primarily as robots.

Over the years Transformers evolved from simple chunky bots into fully articulated action figures. They did not start off as action figures, but as toys that had a bonus feature – the transformation gimmick. You paid for one toy, but you basically got two toys for your money – making for increased play value.

sunstreaker diaclone mp

 

Looking back from 2017 to the vintage Transformers, Diaclone and Micro-Change toys, it’s easy to miss the aim of the toy line was not poseability or articulation – it was all about play value and various gimmicks. Most kids don’t give a crap what poses a figure  can pull off, it’s gotta be an engaging character, something they recognise, or full of bright cheerful colors or have some cool play gimmick to keep a kids attention. If a toy  has all of those things that makes it even more desirable.

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ALL ACTION, ALL THE TIME

The general idea of licensed action figures such as the Kenner Super Powers or MEGO’s was character accuracy, bright colors and toy gimmicks that made the toy appealing to kids. The term Action Figure often implied some type of action gimmick, or being tied to an action oriented licensed character – rather than just articulation.

Take a look at vintage G. I. Joe and Action Man, and you’ll see amazing articulation that was not used used in many other toys for decades as its was just too cost prohibitive. The large scale Joes used the same basic idea as girls dolls – large toys that you can buy many outfits for thus increasing it’s potential play value. Their poseability and accessories set the action figure standard, but the large size (costs, mass market vs say hot toys etc) was mostly non transferable to other toy lines. As costs went up, and more and more licensed merchandise arrived in the form of action figures – over the years the toys got smaller.

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When G.I. Joe eventually was relaunched he didn’t come back in his large scale cloth clothing form, he was shrunk down the same size as the new tiny Star Wars figures. Meaning they were cheaper toys to make, but they also were far more articulated than the Star Wars figures. And like the Star Wars toy line – the new smaller scale toys had legendary vehicles and accessories to play with.

kids in scale uss flagg
Bootleg 80’s Kids in 1:1 Scale

 

FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY – THE ARTICULATED MAN

Even the basic idea of articulation existed much earlier than the action figure craze of the 1960’s. For example Ideal Toy Company produced a wooden articulated Superman toy back in 1939. And various dolls for girls over the decades had limited articulation, soft hair, eyes that moved etc. Going back even further we have wooden marionettes – puppets more than toys – but the idea of articulation based on a mammalian skeletal structure and movement patterns is there.

Superman 1939 articulated figure
CONSTIPATED SUPERMAN DIED FOR YOUR SINS

The action figure is basically a hybrid of features from other toys – mainly from girls dolls, with play gimmicks added from toys typically made for boys. The modern action figure still exists as a toy on chainstore shelves for kids but also exists as an adult collectible aiming at screen, comic or video game artistic accuracy over any play features or poseability, while mainline chain-stores boys toys are still heavily oriented around various gimmicks, accessories and ties ins such as vehicles.

For example my Grossery Gang Garbage Truck has a Garbage Catapult, the front dumpster lifts up on the arm forks, both the side doors open with peg holes for figures, there’s a gun turret and seat on one side and the wheels roll quite smoothly. Oh and the front canopy opens so you can put a figure in there.

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The play pattern and emphasis is on ACTION. And those fold out doors mean you can store Transforming burgers or whatever other Junkfood Formers you got lying around in there.

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From these different influences then – statues, marionettes, dolls and other odd toys and gimmicks we arrive at the hybrid toy – the action figure. Poseable, articulated, stylish, cool, full of attitude and toughness and can-do.

The modern action figure is like a marionette without strings that can hold its own poses on one end of the scale – or like a statue with limited articulation on the other hand – made to look stunning on display.

Those old Brickformers of my youth could not pull of an action pose to save their life. Fast forward to more modern toys like Combiner Wars Motormaster or Classics / Henkei Optimus Prime and we now have a toy robot that transforms into a cool vehicle AND is a competent action figure.

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What amazing thighs you have Optimus Prime
motormaster vs optimus prime
NO MERCY, NO PROBLEM

THESE ARE NOT THE BOTS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR

The toy line that made action figures truly viable in the mainstream after vintage Joe died off was of course the Star Wars figures and vehicles from Kenner. The articulation was pretty limited, but the details were nice. The card backs were rather attractive and most important – they had a MASSIVE demand in stores and a CHEAP price point for toys that mostly resembled their source material.

Star Wars figures were toys kids could buy with pocket money, or parents might buy on a day out at the shops without breaking the bank. To my eyes they are small, ugly and stupid. Yeah I’m not a fan of those figures at all. But I respect the place they have in toy and action figure history, and I did enjoy seeing some of my mates collection when I was younger (I never owned any myself, and if I did I would likely burn them).

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The Star Wars movies eventually being released on home VHS meant an extended life for Star Wars products and figures, along with their vehicles. The smaller scale Star Wars figures were such a hit, that when the G.I. Joe brand was relaunched by Hasbro – they went with the new cheaper downscaled 3 3/4 scale figures – mimicking the Star Wars figures, while adding in much needed articulation. This scale of action figure also had the benefit of fitting in the many large vehicles that populate the Star Wars and G.I. Joe lines without looking ridiculous as most toy lines typically do due to scale issues.

Star Wars and licensed superhero figures pushed the niche of the Action Figure to mass mainstream audiences through the seventies and eighties. Eventually, technology moved along to provide more accurate sculpting of facial features. This side technology of facial scanning grew out of the movie and video game worlds, and became a standard adopted, used and rapidly progressed in its accuracy for several years and used in many licensed products for actor likenesses, wrestlers, etc.

Meaning more accuracy and less reliance on sculpts from scratch. Previous portrait technologies involved the use of a camera, or the use of a person sitting really still for many hours while being painted. So facial scanning for licensed products is still pretty new in the history of humanity. Our cave man ancestors made do with sticks and stone toys presumably, and lots more imagination. They never imagined a future of three dimensional scanning creepily bringing dead actors back to life in movies, or giving us the highest possible raised position of an eyebrow on a sweaty muscle man.

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Our modern toys still have to be physically designed, prototyped, and manufactured of course. But this fancy pants computer technology bullshit contributes and fast tracks the amazing movie accurate toys we see today in toy lines from Hot Toys, NECA etc, along with the more traditional artists sculpts and statues. Not to gloss over all the traditional design and pre-production work from artists in traditional and digital media that precedes the production of any high end toy or movie licensed product. Full credit to those hard working artists man!

THE BEASTS OF BURDEN

Eventually Transformers started adopting more of the standardized features of the action figure type of toys, and less of the features typical of diecast vehicles (well…Alternators…*cough*). While various features like light piping, ball joints and more appeared in selected G1 and G2 toys, it was the Beast Wars tie in toy line that made Transformers into fully articulated standarized action figures – rather than diecast vehicles that also turned into boxy robots.

The organic alt modes of Beast Wars allowed more freedom to run wild with new designs not limited by past Transformers designs, or styles of transformation. They were more Western action figure that happens to turn into a thing, rather than Japanese super robot…that turns into a thing.

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For the first time subsidiary Kenner – famous for making Star Wars, Super Powers and Batman action figure lines was asked to make the new Beast Wars figures. Having failed to make any real impact with the Generation Two branding (and cancelled TV show) Hasbro was willing to take a chance with something radically different to anything that had come before in Transformers history.

Beast Wars remains a divisive line/brand with many fans loving it or outright hating it. But nobody (except lunatics) denies the impact it had on the evolution of Transformers toys – and that it basically saved the Transformers media brand and toys from probable extinction. I still can’t stand about 90% of anything Beast Wars related. But like Star Wars, Beast Wars has its significant place in Transformers toy history and Lore.

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Darth Bubble, Bat Bubble and Beast Bubble

 

AND I’LL FORM… THE HEAD

So, with all that articulation and fancy bells and whistles making these modern Transformer toys so special, what else do they need? A cool look is important, but more than that you need personality and character.

Do kids want Bumblebee every year because he’s frigging yellow and named after a Bee? No they want him because of his winning personality and on screen shenanigans. Because he’s a recognizable iconic character like Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo or Spongebob. Its a challenge for any Writer/Creator/Imagineer of Transformers fiction to balance the robot modes with the alt modes. Stories set on Earth or Cybertron tend to have roads or an atmosphere conducive to flying.  Roads justify vehicle alt modes, while worlds without roads make more sense to have Beast of flying forms for mobility.

Too much alt mode and we lose the character or get bored. It just becomes a piloted mech or fancy ATV. Too much humanoid sentient alien robot, and we lose what makes Transformers unique from mecha and super robot shows.

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We like our robots of all flavors to have personalities. The most enduring characters are well defined in their personalities and values, but with room to do new things in stories, or the for audience to project something of themselves onto that character. The original Transformers toys came alive in kids imaginations, partly due to the old box bios – and partly due to the tie in cartoon and comics, the rest was imagination for them Brickformers. The toys themselves were rather beautiful, but limited in what they could do. The stories and characters were mainly influenced by american superhero fiction, thus making Transformers uniquely american, despite the toys being a totally different toyline rebranded and imported from Japan.

Astro boy, Optimus Prime and the Iron Giant are sentient robots full of personality and humanity, and while Gundam mecha are big robot suits piloted by humans – even these mecha has a personality and style to them that makes them far more than just “vehicles” even if they are ultimately the worlds fanciest all terrain (or no terrain) vehicles.

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Transformers sit comfortably as a mix of toy, action figure, cool robot, and cool character/personality. Take Jetfire above – he’s a warrior/scientist, looks great as a robot and turns into a gigantic kick ass flying vehicle. Any one of these elements alone can be enough to sell a toy, or promote a tie in with licensed media. Add them all together and you have a recipe for keeping kids young and old entertained and coming back for more for decades.

In this image below from left to right: Transformers Animated Black Arachnia, TF Animated Bulkhead, Generation Two Sideswipe and TMNT Classics Mikey. The turtle toy can pull off just about any pose you can dream of, while in contrast G2 Sideswipe (a redeco of the G1 toy) can move his arms up and down a little and his wheels rolls smoothly in vehicle mode. Bulkhead has a fair amount of articulation, but his poses are limited by his size and weight – no kung-fu kicks for this Deskbot – unless you have the patience for it.g2 sideswipe classic mikey animated bulkhead transformers action figures.JPG

You can see how the Sideswipe toys looks cool, but not much personality to him other than his sweet color scheme. Without a box bio or comic or cartoon – we don’t know much about Sideswipe. In contrast Mikey and Bulkhead are just full of personality and quite expressive. Even without looking at any tie in media, we get an idea of their character just from looking at them.

Bulkhead has cool gimmicks such as his jaw moves when he talks, and the voice clips are straight from the show audio – no second hand “toy only” off key voice actor shenanigans here. His arm buzzsaw spins, while his other arm has a claw grabbing action. Mikey has Nunchucks with fake chains so they hang and can be posed in any number of ways, while his base and foot pegs means he can ninja-kick with the best of em and not topple over.

WE MUST BRING BALANCE TO THE TRANSFORMATION

Stories like IDW comics Stormbringer bring us less “robots in disguise” and more robots in big action scenes, gung-ho dialogue with loads of characters and not much alt modes to be seen because it’s what fans –  manchildren – want. But a good Transformers story in any media needs a balance of bot and alt mode to make it genuine, and not just a generic Robot story. Personally just give me a shit ton of fights and explosions and I’ll be happy.

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Likewise, a good modern Transformers toy needs to be a balance of vehicle, cool robot and action figure and winning personality (or face ripping sadist executioner).  It’s a balance that is not always quite right. Often one mode suffers for the sake or another. Most notorious are triple changers – at best two out of three modes look decent, with the third mode often suffering to accommodate the other two.

When a Bot transformation scheme, play factor and overall cool aesthetics comes together, it’s just magic. The infamous MP-10 Optimus Prime and his variants have a beautiful truck mode and a  stunning robot mode that looks great many years after its creation. It’s also a highly articulated action figure, satisfying the third criteria of successful modern Transformers toy designs. It’s also a kick-ass representation of an iconic character, so it’s win/win/win and gets Bluebot Bears Big Stamp of Awesome.

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Most modern action figures usually emulate the human musculoskeletal system (or an animal’ skeleton), and it’s implied ranges of normal movement.

In the below image is a Kenner Batman figure that can pull off a variety of action poses, next to him is RID Thunderhoof, who can do most if not all of the same poses Batman can do. He’s the modern Transformer robot, vehicle and action figure hybrid. The brickbots of my childhood (that I still love) generally can’t pull of these sorts of poses, and they were never intended to. To me it’s silly to complain any toy does’t have a feature it was never designed to have. Makes as much sense to me as complaining that pigs don’t have wings and can’t fart gold bricks.

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The BVS movie Batman (in silver) next to The Rock also has articulation, but its rather limited and he can pull of almost zero action poses other than kneeling while falling over or raising and bending his arms in a straight linear line while dropping his poorly gripped weapon. Samurai Leo is even worse, he looks great but his articulation means his feet can’t go far and his arms are not flexible enough to pull off any realistic sword poses or combat stances.

Thunderhoof meanwhile can pull of some great poses, has a really cool transformation scheme, looks great in his tractor alt mode and (mostly) resembles  his on screen persona. While there are better TF toys, Thunderhoof is a fine example of a modern Transformers toy done right and the evolution of the Vehicle / Robot / Action figure triangle, and a good place to end this post.

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THE FARMSTA’ LIFE

 

IMAGE CREDITS

Optimus Prime art by Alex Milne / Marker Guru https://markerguru.deviantart.com/gallery/6117864/commissions

Superman toy image https://www.cgccomics.com/boards/topic/252921-rare-1939-40-13quot-superman-action-figure-1st-licensed-supes-merchandise/

Sunstreaker vintage toy image http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Sunstreaker_(G1)/toys

Sunstreaker fan art based on box art https://zobovor.deviantart.com/art/Transformers-Sunstreaker-Diaclone-Box-Art-620651065

Masterpiece Sunstreaker image from official Takara stock photos

Jerfire fan art by Thuddleston https://thuddleston.deviantart.com/

Vintage G.I. Joe image from https://geektyrant.com/news/2010/12/21/week-of-coolest-toys-ever-original-1964-gi-joe-action-figure.html

KENNER Super Power Batman toy image http://mentalfloss.com/article/92022/breaking-mold-kenners-super-powers-collection

Beast Wars image from TFSource.com

Astro Boy image https://www.cnet.com/news/astro-boy-returns-as-your-new-buildable-robot-buddy/

Gundam image http://gundam.wikia.com/wiki/RX-78-2_Gundam

Iron Giant image https://mondotees.com/products/the-iron-giant-soundtrack-2xlp-version-a

G. I. Joe toy commerical image courtesy of Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycedRcHbd6w&ab_channel=SheenaWick

Star Wars / Batman images copyright KENNER

Beast Wars card back image  http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Beast_Wars:_Transformers_(toyline)

Carl Weathers thumbs up image http://mymountainiswaiting.com/pct-fitness-prep-carl-weathers-style/