Emiliano Santalucia Toy Design Panel at TF Nation

The Allspark was at the inaugural TF Nation convention this weekend, and one highlight was the “Constructing Toys Cold” panel with freelance toy designer Emiliano Santalucia, in which he talked about some of his recent work on the Generations and Robots in Disguise toylines. Pictures weren’t allowed at the panel, unfortunately, but read on for our detailed report!

Emiliano began by explaining how he first began doing toy design work for Hasbro, after showing his portfolio to John Warden at San Diego Comic-Con 2008.
Thrilling 30

Thrilling 30 Voyager Class Sky-Byte

Some of his first work on the Transformers: Generations toyline was on the Thrilling 30 series’ three Beast Wars figures – Rattrap, Waspinator, and Rhinox, whose design art has been previously released by Santalucia on his blog. Emiliano began working on these figures from scratch, with a brief to base them on their cartoon designs whilst also giving them a higher level of detail to match the typical aesthetic of the Generations line. He noted that in cases like these, he isn’t required to plan a precise transformation scheme for the figure, but tries to ensure that it is feasible, even if Takara’s engineers can work wonders!
Emiliano then went on to discuss another Thrilling 30 figure he worked on – Voyager Class Sky-Byte. Unlike the Beast Wars figures, Takara had already begun development on the figure, and had produced schematics for how the figure would transform. Emiliano was asked to then design the figure’s surface detail over the schematic, basing his work on the original Sky-Byte toy. One design element of that toy absent from the schematic was the chest-mounted spark crystal – Takara’s plan simply gave Sky-Byte the unbroken shark nose on his chest. Emiliano suggested on his design the addition of a rotating section to allow the crystal to be incorporated, an idea which Takara liked and added to the final toy!
Combiner Wars

Combiner Wars Voyager Class Sky Lynx

The panel then moved on to the Combiner Wars line, for which Emiliano produced a piece of battle scene artwork used by Hasbro when pitching the line internally, showing many characters planned for the line. He noted that he hadn’t been able to show this art at another recent convention appearance, as it included Alpha Trion, who was originally planned for Combiner Wars!
Emiliano did the initial designs for Sky Lynx, which he noted were changed quite significantly by Takara’s Shogo Hasui, and that he subsequently used Hasui’s style as inspiration in many later designs. The original design for Sky Lynx was sleeker and more stylised, compared to the final toy’s more G1-style look, and the Sky Reign torso mode was shown with the toy’s wings spread wide.
Emiliano also worked on the Victorion release. Due to the relatively short turnaround time, work on the figure’s new parts was split between many designers – Emiliano worked on the new heads, Marcelo Matere designed the new chest pieces, and others still worked on the weapons. Of the heads, only Victorion’s changed significantly for the final toy – the original design, with a faceplate and no eye visor has been seen on some IDW comic covers.
Titans Return
We then turned to the Titans Return line, looking first at Alpha Trion. As noted previously, he was not originally planned for that line, and as such was not originally designed as either a Headmaster or a Triple Changer. Emiliano’s original design showed a robot mode very similar to the final toy, inspired by Cybertron Vector Prime, but equipped with an extra spiked sceptre weapon and a cloak, whilst the lion mode was significantly more sleek and organic, with a Transmetal 2-style cyborg look.
Emiliano also worked on the beast modes for Skullsmasher, Mindwipe and Wolfwire, with Takara then designing robot modes out of them. Wolfwire’s intial design was very close to the final toy, whilst Skullsmasher was originally planned to have his cockpit in his crocodile head before having it moved to his torso due to space limitations. Mindwipe’s design art was most different from the final figure, having a far more realistic bat silhouette, and a more snub-nosed bat head. The final toy’s ‘robot legs to bat wings’ transformation scheme was also absent, with the robot legs forming the bat torso instead.
Next was wave 1 of the single-packed Titan Masters and their drone vehicles/beast. Interestingly, Emiliano noted that these were originally designed as brand-new characters, explaining why their robot modes didn’t appear to be based on anything in particular. Their original head modes had very cool, unusual designs, with features like large cylinders and chunky faceplates, before being replaced with those of existing characters.

Titans Return Leader Class Powermaster Optimus Prime

Galvatron was another figure Emiliano worked on, and like Alpha Trion, was not designed as a Headmaster. He noted that his earliest sketches were approved very quickly. Interestingly, these early designs sported a cartoon-style ‘crown’ rather than the IDW-style helmet seen recently on test shots.
Next up was Powermaster Optimus Prime, for which Emiliano had to search up pictures of Leader Class Ultra Magnus online to identify the figure’s transformation scheme! The initial concepts were mostly similar to the final toy, but unfortunately new parts to close up the front of Prime’s vehicle trailer didn’t make it onto the figure. Also lost from the original design art were several extra paint applications, including blue fists, detailing on the shins, and extra black and white details on the chest plate’s faux Hi-Q.
Finally for Titans Return, we saw the design art for the Soundwave retool of Leader Class Blaster. Emiliano was specifically asked to give him a modern sound bar alternate mode. Two pieces of tooling that didn’t make it to the final toy were Soundwave’s traditional rifle, and a mounted microphone which would have replaced Blaster’s boombox handle and transformed into Soundwave’s shoulder cannon for robot mode.
Robots in Disguise

Robots in Disguise Mini-Con Ratbat

We also had a look at the design process for the Robots in Disguise Mini-Con figures, for which Emiliano and others experimented with as many as 20 character designs! First we were taken through the process for one of Drift’s partners Slipstream, beginning with the very rough robot sketch that the cartoon production team provided for reference. From there, Emiliano worked on robot and buzzsaw mode art, and a small sword accessory. At this point, the show had not finalised his colour scheme, so this art had been presented in an original dark red and dark blue look.
At this point, they were asked to develop an expanded set of accessories for each figure, as well as the stylised sprues on which they would be packaged. Later, Hasbro asked for even more accessories, which could combine with those from wavemates to form a mini-figure – a lion for the first wave and a shark for the second. Emiliano remarked on the frustration of having to constantly rearrange the accessory sprue designs as more parts were added! We then looked at the same process for Ratbat, with the difference that he was an original design rather than being based on show art. And in the end, Hasbro didn’t actually advertise the combining accessories, much to Emiliano’s confusion!
Titans Return storybook

Battle scene on Eukaris

Finally, Emiliano took us through his work on the Titans Return storybook, available to view on the Hasbro Pulse website. For this book, Emiliano worked on the main battle scene art (whilst the character profile art was the work of Ken Christiansen and Marcelo Matere). The brief was to emulate the battle scene paintings seen on Generation 1 toy boxes, and trying to digitally paint in this style for the first time was a stressful job. Emiliano sought advice from other artists at times – on one occasion, Marcelo Matere reassured him that sketching out Fortress Maximus had taken him a whole day too! Emiliano mentioned that he really liked doing Transformers art that the public would see for once!
The panel was rounded off with the chance for some audience questions. Some of the discussion included:

  • The designers aren’t always told a specific size class when asked to design a figure. It’s possible that Alpha Trion might have been a Leader Class toy had he come out at a different time.
  • Emiliano has done work on several of the older brands that Hasbro is currently looking to reinvigorate, including Micronauts, of which Emiliano is a big fan.
  • Movie figures are some of the most challenging to design, due to needing to interpret or design for the high visual complexity.
  • His favourite Transformers figures he’s worked on are Galvatron and Powermaster Optimus Prime, as he had long wanted to work on the Generation 1 faction leaders.
  • The idea of a toy design book was asked about. Emiliano talked about some of his work collecting vintage Masters of the Universe artwork, and Jim Sorenson – author of numerous Transformers art books – was called on stage to discuss the idea. Both him and Emiliano were enthusiastic about the concept of a toy design book, and Jim suggested we all tell Hasbro! He did note that such a book would probably have to be limited to artwork and prototype photos, with less specific insight into the engineering process, since Hasbro is typically quite private about that for competition reasons.
  • Emiliano talked about the first figure of his that reached shelves – the Star Wars Crossovers Star Destroyer quad-changer – and the great feeling of seeing something you designed in a store. He noted that Prime Thundertron was the first “proper” Transformer he designed, originally intended to tie in with the Aligned novels.

Hope you enjoyed this insight into the design process for Transformers toys! It was certainly one of the most interesting panels at TF Nation, and hopefully we’ll hear more from Emiliano at future events! Be sure to head over to the Allspark Forums to discuss this panel with other fans!