Transformers Hasbro Brand Team Video Chat Summary
Earlier this week, Hasbro’s Transformers Brand Team held a video chat where they discussed the upcoming Transformers 4: Age of Extinction toy line. Taking part in the chat were John Warden, Jerry Jivoin, Joshua Lamb, and Lenny Panzica from both the marketing team as well as the design team.
The video chat started with the Brand team running a video discussing the toy line and a few of its facets. It discussed some of the design process from receiving the character designs from the filmmakers to implementing those designs as toys, and a few other stages of the process including plastic and paint considerations.
After the video, the team entertained a few questions. One of the more interesting discussions came about after a question about the different plastics used in the Age of Extinction action figures. In particular, the figure of Crosshairs. For fans that have this figure, you may have noticed the amount of softer plastic used to truly capture how the character looks on screen. This led into a discussion about ABS and PVC plastics. ABS is the harder plastic that is traditionally found on Transformers toys, while PVC is softer and can be found on Hasbro’s Marvel, Star Wars, and GI Joe action figures. Lenny Panzica reminisced about the learning curve that he had to deal with when he switched from the super hero brands to Transformers, saying how different ABS was to work with. Due to its rigidity, sharp edges have to be blunted and rounded, taking away from some of the accurateness of the sculpt for safety as well as production reasons. Because of this, he was quite happy to see the amount of PVC plastics that was introduced into figures like Age of Extinction Crosshairs, which by the way is one of his favorite Age of Extinction toys due precisely to how well the ABS and PVC plastics were used in conjunction with each other.
Another illuminating discussion about the design process came after a question about how they continue to create fresh takes on Bumblebee given the amount of product the character has received over the last few years. The answer was split into three parts: character design, scale, and kids. When the designers are given each new Bumblebee character design, whether it be from the movie or video game or cartoon, the first thing they do is look for the parts of the design that make it unique from other Bumblebees. They then make that a focus of their design, ensuring that those differences are explored and emphasized. The same is true when they consider the size class that the toy will be released in. Taking that into account, they consider how they can give something unique to each size toy. Something that will make a smaller toy different from a larger toy and not have the two just be different scales for the same figure. Lastly they mentioned the kids who will ultimately be the ones playing with the figures. This seemed to be where the true inspiration to make unique Bumblebee figures comes from. Since he character continues to rank highest amongst amongst the target audience (that’s the kids) by far, the Brand team want to make sure that each child who likes Bumblebee gets a toy that the child feels suits the character best. Whether it be Deluxe or Legion, or One Step or whatever type of figure it is, children each have their own idea of who Bumblebee is and what toy is “THE” Bumblebee. So the Brand team treats that as a challenge – to find the right Bumblebee toy for each and every child.
Stepping back from the kids for a second to discuss the collectors, one of the next questions was about the rubber tires and chrome on the Leader Class Optimus Prime figure. The Brand team confirmed that this was done due to input that they received from the older fans and collectors. The team also agreed that those things – chrome, clear windows, rubber tires – help change the feel of the toy and make its seem like much more than just an action figure. They “add to the authenticity” as they put it. They also said that it’s something that they will continue to try to sneak in here and there wherever they can. Although those places where they can sneak something in are getting smaller and smaller due to budget constraints.
Not everything was about the toys – packaging was discussed as well. It was noticed that quite a few of the toys are packaged with their weapons in hand or in an action pose of some sort. This was definitely on purpose to make the figures feel more alive and fun for anyone who sees them on shelf. Also, the new simplicity of the packaging design played a part in that as well. The Brand team wanted to make sure that the toys themselves made as much impact as they can and that meant downplaying the typically busy designs and graphics that used to confuse the eye when looking at the figure in the box or on the card. Now with their being less to look at around the toy, and the toy expressing itself as best that it can inside the package, they have a new way of presenting the product to consumers. One that let’s potential buyers assess the toy itself rather than be bombarded with things that may actually be meaningless to them.
This led into a question about the on package bios. The Age of Extinction bios are boiled down to just a few sentences and no longer include tech spec numbers or anything of that sort. This is because of two things 1) having to translate the bios for foreign, multi-language packaging and 2) the aim of the simpler package design. To the first factor, once they start having to fit 3, 4, 5 or 6 languages on the box, there is simply no room for a lengthy bio. And to the second, they again wanted to keep the packaging as clean and free from distraction as possible, meaning reducing the obstruction a large bio and tech specs create on the back of the box or card.
Another fun discussion arose when the team was asked about the “code names” that the product had received before the final names were to be announced. Thunderlips, Paulie…a plethora of Rocky characters had their names plucked and placed on the Transformers toys. Fans may have thought this was done to obscure and hide what characters were going to be in the final line-up, and well they certainly helped do that the code names originated much further back than that. When the design process started, there were no consistent names given to each character. Due to legal and trademark reasons, names had to be changed and evolved – sometimes more than once – and that’s were the code names came in. So that the team could have something to refer to the specific characters as, they developed a list of fake names for everyone to use with a few little ties to help with memorization – such as the similarities in the pronunciation of “Thunderlips” and “Triceratops”. But why Rocky? That was simply because of the number of Rocky fans on the team.
The insight into the design process was fascinating, and quite welcome. But for the fans sitting there reading this thinking, “But what about anything newsworthy? Like what figures are still coming out!”, here’s a recap of some of those topics that were discussed as well. First, there are currently no plans to bring over any of the figures from Takara Tomy’s Lost Age toy line. Such as the Soundwave, Dino, or Dispensor action figures. They will keep an eye on those and should any spots become available for those sorts of figures they look into adding something similar to their own roster, but right now there is nothing planned like that. So what does the rest of the line look like? They say that the mainline numbers have not changed from the numbers they listed at Toy Fair, and that they will most likely be showing off the rest of the main line at BotCon next month! Lastly as far as keeping this divide in product aimed towards the fans and product aimed towards a younger audience, this is a marketing plan that they aim to maintain for future product. They wish to keep giving fans and collectors the action figures that they are looking for while not disenfranchising their main target audience: children. So while they want to keep with the “puzzle play” aspect of the toys, they want something a little less complicated for younger children to be able to handle and interact with as well.
Although it wasn’t the last question asked, this summary of the event will end on a particularly fun question that was asked “Which are your favorite toys from the line?” John Warden chose Voyager Hound. Not only because Mr. Warden is a huge military buff, but he also says that the toy is just amazingly impressive. He also hinted that there was a toy in the second wave of One Step product that he likes, but couldn’t say anything more than that. Jerry Jivoin likes the more child-oriented toys, since they are simply fun to play with. His favorite of the lot is the Stomp & Chomp Grimlock with its gimmicks and quick transformation. Joshua Lamb didn’t even have to think, his favorite is the Quick Switch Drift figure. Calling it “magic” and “repeatable” he had been fiddling with the toy throughout the entire video chat, converting it back and forth between robot and car with a flick of his wrist. That particular toy is also the toy that spawned the divide between toys for children and toys for collectors, so it’s “historic significance” also played a role in his selection. As mentioned before, one of Lenny Panzica’s favorite toys is the Deluxe Class Crosshairs. He points to the way the plastics work together, the toy’s unique silhouette, and the way the character design provides an instant story about the character for his reasoning. Also amongst his favorite is the Voyager Grimlock because he’s a huge fan of the Dinobots.
They closed the chat by asking fans to keep sharing their thoughts on the toys and to keep offering suggestions. They take the feedback seriously and take it in consideration when working on future product. So write those reviews of the figures you buy at retail, go up to the designers at BotCon and SDCC and share your thoughts. They’re eager to hear just how they’re doing!