Our NYCC 2017 Interview with John Warden, Design Manager

During NYCC 2017, Allspark reporter Patrick spoke to John Warden, Design Manager for the Transformers brand. We reported on the reveal highlights here, but the interview also included some details and perspective on the process, planning, and decision-making for the Generations line, from target audiences to release order to foil stickers.

Warden seemed excited to talk to us about the process behind the Prime Wars trilogy, and a little freer to share some perspective on Titans Return with the line drawing to a close. We’ve selected out some highlights from our conversation with some slight editing for readability below.

It turns out that the Terrorcons’ alternate forms are a roc, a two-headed dragon, a landshark, a dog monster, and an ogre. They waited out Combiner Wars but weren’t forgotten.
AS: How far ahead do you plan out the release sequence for a line line, who gets in where?
JW: We kinda did it in chunks. I’ll work with Ben on trying to figure out the full year. Because a lot of it will come down to how many characters we can afford to include, the cost-value, and then once we figure out which characters we’ll try to figure out pairs, because a lot of Transformers come in pairs, we try to get them in the same year. Then there’s the gaps we can fill from previous years, like the Terrorcons, we needed to get those guys in. So once we figure all that out, with Titans Return, we kinda started going in groups to understand, like for the flipchanger Wreckers guys, Topspin and Twin Twist, we wanted them to kind of have a brother kind of thing happening. We literally had meetings about it all the time, and it was a lot of work. And they end up being this sort of little small detail, but it was satisfying to see so many people get into it. Because we just thought, you know, no one’s going to go that deep with it, but it’s nice to see people appreciate that.
AS: On that note, in Titans Return, every mold got a second use except Hot Rod and Galvatron. Is there something else in the works?
JW: No, I think it’s that some characters are more unique designs, so it’s a little bit more difficult to make a second head for them. But we do plan ahead and build in a second head into the toy plan from the beginning. So we’ll work with Takara and kinda get their suggestions, and some of them end up being kinda weird and obscure, like a lot of the little Titan Master assortment guys, they’re like Beast Wars characters or characters produced in their markets.
For Galvatron, I believe his second head was like animated? It was an an animated Galvatron, and we never ended up making the silver [toy] Galvatron. When would we have done that? We would have had an extra place for it. Or Hot Rod, it was his IDW version.
AS: IDW Hot Rod?!
JW: His head design. I did see designs for like an IDW version of that guy. And the other thing is, too, that just because we didn’t here, doesn’t mean we’re never going to do it. We always get a lot of like, we’re not going to do Snapdragon and Apeface now, because they weren’t in Titans Return. Like, no. You know, you just have to wait sometimes. There were a lot of people who were thinking we would never do the Terrorcons because we didn’t get to them in Combiner Wars.

Stickers to here.
AS: About those stickers. Is it a design choice or a cost choice?
JW: It’s a little bit of both. You can do more with labels than you can, with labor rates and things like that. When you’re going to produce a figure, the label allows you to get four color printing, so you’re able to get the sheen of the foil as well as all of the details you get from the printing process, whereas if you were to straight up deco it, you deal with a surface in a single color.
Now in the case of tampographing, which is pad printing, that’s actually two paint apps. So on Grotusque for example, an Autobot logo would be tampographed, so that’s two ops. So for the cost of two ops – the two ops and the cost of the sticker sheet are different, so you’re able to get a lot more details, so that was part of the discussion.
The second part is, because some characters like the Dinobots or Hun-Grr had foil labels as a part of their historical character, it made sense for us. That said, we are looking at improving the adhesion of the stickers and trying to improve upon the processes by which they’re applied. That make sense?
AS: Yeah, that all makes sense. What about the choice to make the Titans’ stickers not factory-applied?
JW: I think that it comes down to labor. And it’s also presentation on shelf, because the larger items like Titans are closed-box, we would like to pass that value on to consumers and kinda let them take on if they choose to put on labels themselves. For everything up to Leader Class, you have to keep in mind that Generations is not just for adult collectors like me who grew up with the stuff. At Hascon I met quite a few kids who were like, you know, eight years old, or eleven years old, and this was their first transformer, and we want to make sure that that on-shelf experience is still very very rich for a kid. Just like when I saw Grimlock for the first time in detail, there’s something really magical about that, and being able to see shiny stickers on in the robot mode increases the shelf appeal, which totally makes our brand stronger and makes our collector community larger.
AS: So you focus-group, and kids are more attracted to the shinier toy?
JW: Absolutely are, yeah.
It’s good to be able to talk frankly about something like that. I know fans have had a lot of questions about the decisions behind the labels, hopefully I’ve answered those questions.

AS: Any plans for IDW characters in Power of the Primes?
JW: So Power of the Primes, I can say that you won’t see any IDW characters in Power of the Primes, or any IDW-specific characters, I should rephrase. I think it’s tricky, because we want to try to get a broad spectrum of fans excited about transformers, and that’s not just the guys or girls – women and men – who are reading IDW, it’s also your general audience Transformers fan. Like my neighbor who remembers a stegosaurus Transformer, and he sees it in a toy store. Or eight year olds to teenage kids where this is their first Transformer. So we’re trying to make that spectrum, that net, wide enough that it’s going to attract the biggest group. I mean, we’re excited to see that Generations now is bigger than it’s ever been.
AS: G2 decoes then?
JW: We’ve got some surprises. But I think I can say that we’re not doing those – no, not for Power of the Primes. But we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves.

Power of the Primes combines prior line themes into an encore performance.
AS: So, Power of the Primes ends Prime Wars, right? What’s next?
JW: Yes, it is the end of the Prime Wars trilogy, it is closure.
I’m gonna be honest, it’s too early now for me to answer that question in a clear way. But I can say that the Prime Wars trilogy does end with Power of the Primes, and I think philosophically it’s like the last act or encore act in an awesome rock concert. We’re trying to really get as much excitement as we can out of the group we have here. The Prime Wars trilogy takes place sort of in the same universe as the IDW universe, technically a little bit before, but it takes place in the future. So, there’s no telling what the future for the Transformers universe holds yet for 2019 and beyond. But fans will stay tuned, we’ve got some really cool stuff – in fact we’re already planning out to 2021.
AS: Are there any future IDW tie-ins in that plan?
JW: I hate to dodge the question, but too early to say. But we’re excited to have IDW as a partner right now. There’s some incredible storytelling, and it’s really some of the best writing that I think fans have had a chance to be a part of, it’s really, really exciting between all of the different storylines that are happening right now.
AS: Those fans seem passionate.
JW: Oh yeah, totally, right? They’re always coming out to me, “When do I get Rung, I want Rung!” And I’m like, “I gave you Nautica,” and they’re like, “No, I need more! Where’s my Tarn?”
AS: What would Rung turn into?
JW: He turns into a Rung!
AS: Maybe a ladder for an upcoming Titan?
JW: I dunno, I haven’t thought it through. I need to do some sketches in my little book!

Is there any figure you’re really looking forward to in Power of the Primes, or an unrevealed character you’re hoping to see? Chime in on our discussion here (and stop here first to create an account if it’s your first time.)