San Diego Comic-Con 2012: Words with Stephen Davis

{mosimage}Over the weekend that was San Diego Comic-Con International 2012, we caught a few words with the president of Hasbro Studios , Stephen J. Davis. What's there to share? A quick look at what the studio does; a glance at the thought process behind Transformers Prime, such as why a small cast in the show; and a bit on the reasoning behind the changes in the Japanese dub.

For those that don't know what Stephen J. Davis does as president of Hasbro Studios, he has the responsibility of running Hasbro's television business, and the studio re-imagines the brands within Hasbro's portfolio for the studio's domestic joint venture with the Hub (which the studio owns alongside the Discovery Channel), as well the international markets. Said shows that Davis works with is aired in over 170 countries world-wide, alongside various streaming and downloading platforms.

Hasbro Studios is a development, production, and distribution arm of Hasbro, and their responsibility is to work with various people, such as the writers, designers and production teams. Much of pre-production of animation is done at Hasbro Studios, although the storyboards will occasionally be shipped overseas to various animation studios, with production being either completed there or sent back to the US. The voicing occurs in both the US and in Canada, also overseen by the studio. As a development team, they're deeply involved with the Hub's development team, plus the IP team to come up with storylines, working with the creative stewards and editors. The distribution aspect is handled by Senior Vice President Finn Arnesen in London, who handles the international distribution of Hasbro Studios' shows and materials.

Even prior to becoming president of the studio, Davis himself grew up and played with some of Hasbro's brands as a child, like many of the older generation of fans of Transformers, G.I. Joe, and My Little Pony. "It's actually one of the great things I get to do," he said, "to be able to re-imagine the brands for television that I grew up with, my brothers and I played with," and citing that it's a "terrific honor" to be able to do so.

Regarding the thought process behind Transformers Prime, the studio wanted to give the fans the opportunity to experience Transformers – stories, characters – in a much deeper way after the release of the live-action films, which television allows. They studied the lore of the franchise, as well the direction of stories that they wanted to go through, including ones that fans have asked to see. So the studio talked with Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Kline, Dave Hartman, and the Hub to "re-imagine a show that really encompass all of the great elements of Transformers", and thus the genesis of Transformers Prime.

For the reasons on using a smaller cast of characters compared to the larger number utilized in the original G1 cartoon, Davis answered that it was partly due to airing a series internationally and on the Hub for a long period of time. Hence the decision of focusing on specific core characters to use Prime as a way to tell a "long tale of storytelling". Davis points out that when it comes to narrative storytelling in animation, "it's oftentimes really better to focus on a core cast of characters, because it's easier to tell the great stories in that way" and let the audience connect better. The other part of why a smaller cast is also because they'd be creating many episodes, which would allow opportunities to introduce new characters and more new stories in the long run.

To the question of whether there was anything that they could or couldn't do with Prime compared to the earlier series, Davis answered that they liked to explore new storylines and directions of the brands they work on. The studio isn't "exactly precious" with what they can and can't do, but mainly staying true to the lore of the brands and being conscious of the "core DNA" of any given series. However, they do like to stretch the boundaries, which is reflected in Prime and Friendship is Magic.

On the changes to Prime when airing in Japan, Davis notes that they worked with TakaraTomy to modify the scripts and paid attention "to how the [Japanese] voice talent delivered the characters and the attitude" given in order to make it attractive to a Japanese audience. In a sense, it's one of the advantages on re-dubbing in animation, picking up cultural specifics, plus adapting the script so it would work on the local level. It wasn't so much as completely changing the core story arc or characters, but modifying it so that it's more culturally relevant to the Japanese audience. Davis brings up that on doing international versions of their game show, Family Game Night made for the Hub in the US would be different from the one that's aired in Spain. "You want it to speak to the local audience," he summed up, "so they can relate to it."

Davis adds that story-wise, Hasbro Studios likes to push the boundaries with the storytelling, on what can they do to create stories, adventures, and characters that the audience will be surprised by. They also try not to retread previously told stories, as there's a large palette of things that have yet be told, all the while learning in the process. There is influence in Prime from earlier series, but they're used as a form of reference and inspiration to take some of the ideas to help guide future storytelling.

As for the opportunity of a collaboration between Hasbro and Takara again in the future, similar to Transformers: Armada in 2002-2003 (Transformers Micron Densetsu in Japan), Davis responded that they're always open to the idea and they've talked about it with Takara, as well Polygon Pictures, the Japanese animation studio behind Prime.

While My Little Pony might have as deep as the lore as Transformers has, the studio has tried to respect the sources in regards to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, done easily with the involvement of Margaret Loesch, who heads the management team of the Hub and oversees both Prime and FiM. They also talked with some of the original writers, going down the path of the series' history.

To close things up, onn the possibility of a crossover with any of Hasbro's properties, such as MLP with TF, Davis' response is "never say 'never'." As for favorite Transformer and Pony, he loves them all, but he has a favorite arachnid in Transformers, and has a certain affinity with Princess Cadence in MLP.