The lights are on
Today, Hasbro is formally announcing the first toys that will be tied to the upcoming release of High Moon Studios' Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Not only will these new figures be directly inspired by the video game, but in a move sure to excite toy collectors, five of the announced figures all combine into one giant figure -- Bruticus.Old-school bot enthusiasts will recall that Bruticus is the combined form of the five Decepticon-aligned Combaticons. We spoke with Jerry Jovoin, director of Transformers Brand, and Joshua Lamb, director of design for Transformers Brand at Hasbro, to learn more about the inspiration behind these new figures, and exactly what goes into making toys from an existing video game property.
After you read the interview, don't miss our complete gallery of Bruticus and the Combaticons, which shows images of the toys, and the art that inspired them. You can also see the first revealed screenshots of the playable Bruticus character from Fall of Cybertron.War for Cybertron included a small number of toy figures adapted from the game designs. How did you make the decision to broaden that plan to do more toys, this time tied to the sequel?Jerry Jivoin: Overall, there was so much excitement from the fans of the first game and the toys we did for them. We did a limited run of four toys the first time for War for Cybertron. And every convention we went to -- whether it was San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, BotCon -- we always would get questions about whether we’re going to do more War for Cybertron toys. So, we were very aware of that. So, when we saw the Fall of Cybertron game, when Activision came in and showed us, it just blew us away what they were doing. We were seeing the assets in 2D. We saw how cool it was shaping up to be. They showed us the trailer and some of the game demo; it looked incredible. We were immediately, like, we’ve got to do toys of these. We know the fans want them. This is a great character lineup, with great styling, and with how big we think the game is going to be, this was almost an easy decision. It’s too rich to pass up on. We think the fans are going to love it. For fans not immediately familiar with Bruticus and the Combaticons, can you explain who these characters are, and why it might be exciting to see all five together in a single toy line?JJ: The characters are from the original classic storyline that came out in the 80s. The Combaticons are a Decepticon force of five different characters that actually combine into a gigantic character called Bruticus. Originally, he was one of the first combiners, which is a technology in the Transformers universe where a group of robots transform on their own, individually, but they also transform to combine into one gigantic character. So that’s the origin of the character. And now, Activision and High Moon are taking those characters and bringing them into the game. It’s just a perfect way to reimagine how we want to do Bruticus and the Combaticons.Joshua Lamb: One of the great things, back in the original G1 was that Bruticus was a really strong character. He was very powerful and headstrong. A character like that; it’s exciting to get to recreate in a toy. Obviously, with the game coming out, and seeing some of the animatics, and how the character is represented in the game, it’s like, wow, that’s so powerful, hitting you over the head with this great character, and we just want to recreate that sensation in the toy. JJ: Not all Transformers combine like this. For fans not familiar with it, you have these special teams within the Transformers universe, that combine into these gigantic characters. So it’s a unique type of Transformers within the fiction. How will these new Fall of Cybertron toys fit into the wider rollout of Transformers toys in the coming year? Will they be part of an existing line, like Generations? Or an independent Transformers toy line by themselves?JJ: These toys will be part of the Generations line. It fits perfectly in it as far as who the consumer is. The style fits within Generations. So we’re excited to bring them out as part of that line. We’ve released other combiners over the years within the line. But it will be the first in that scale. These characters are in the Deluxe scale. That is a first for us to do. That these Deluxe size figures will combine into this really giant figure. JL: Traditionally, our combiners have tended to be of a smaller scale, and they combine to create a Deluxe size or a little larger. In this case, each figure is already Deluxe size, so when you put them together you get this very impressive scale. From a story perspective how do toy characters from Fall of Cybertron relate to characters who appear in the Transformers: Prime television show and toy line?JJ: The characters in the video game, like Optimus Prime and Megatron, also show up in the Prime show. It’s another story that we’re telling and the characters that are a part of that universe. It’s another chapter of that story. This story takes place on Cybertron, whereas Prime takes place on Earth. It’s just another story within that timeline. This is that part of the story. JL: The great part about that is that by taking these stories and putting them in different locations and running side by side with each other, it opens up the door to more and more unique characters. Instead of having, say, six characters from the show, the movies, or the games, we’re able to bring in new characters to fill out these separate stories. JJ: It’s the same continuity. The story that is going on in Fall of Cybertron, this is before they’ve left Cybertron. This is before they come to Earth. Prime is after they’ve come to Earth. It’s all the same continuity, it’s just different points in the timeline. Are the Combaticons going to be each packaged separately for sale, or together as part of a Fall of Cybertron set? JJ: They’ll be sold as the individual characters within the Deluxe assortment, and so that we ensure that they all get out there at the same time, we’re going to put them in the same case pack. They should all show up at retail at the same time.JL: One of the great things about that is knowing that we’re going to launch these as their own individual Deluxe characters, where a consumer can pick one of these up and it’s a figure within itself. It really challenged us to make sure that each character on their own was a fully functional Transformer. You have a vehicle mode and you have a robot mode. You have the weapons. All together it stands as its own product. And, as a phenomenal bonus, you get this uber character. But they are, individually, their own character. Back in the day, when you’d get combiner figures, you’d sometimes get individual pieces that were meant to be part of the larger figure, like the head or hands. Will there be those sorts of pieces with this set?JL: The larger figure’s parts are all drawn from the individual character’s transformations. There are no floating pieces that you have to store or hold on to and wait until a later date. Each one on its own – it’s all there. Again, it’s a challenge from designing them, but they came out magnificently.While you're announcing the Combaticons as figures drawn from the Fall of Cybertron games, can fans expect any other characters from the game to show up within the toy line in a later announcement?JJ: Yes. We do plan to do more Fall of Cybertron toys, which will be revealed later. We’re very excited about doing additional toys as well. [editor's note: Hasbro also revealed Fall of Cybertron toys for Optimus Prime, Jazz, and Shockwave earlier today]When do you expect fans will first be able to purchase toys inspired by Fall of Cybertron?JJ: Currently, right now we’re targeting Fall of 2012. It will be around the August-September time frame at retail, which should put it in line with the video game release. So, that’s when you’ll have a lot of collectors scrambling around trying to find all five characters?JL: One thing that we designed and worked in early on is that Brawl is the center character, but as far as the arms and the legs, we designed them all appropriately so that they can all be hands or legs. For some reason, if somebody just has to put together that larger figure, and they find two Blastoffs, but can’t find a Vortex, they can do that. There is room for customization within the character himself. We worked really hard to have each character have a hand or a foot in it. You can really swap it around. As a toy designer, is it more or less challenging to work with an existing visual design for a character, as you have with these characters drawn from visual designs crafted at High Moon Studios? Are those challenges compounded by the decision to make a combiner toy, like Bruticus?JL: There’s two parts to to a designer’s job. Part of it is designing the product, but the other half is trying to sell it internally to the sales team and through the whole corporate structure. When you get incredible artwork, like we’ve gotten from High Moon, that shows off these characters, the selling just happens immediately. That half of my job is all of a sudden tremendously easier. Because I have this gorgeous art, and I can say, look what we’re going to do. And everybody in the company just says we’ve got to do that. On the flip side, when you’re trying to create a transformation that matches up to the designs, that is very challenging. It’s something that we’re very fortunate that we have this incredible team of designers that work on these projects that just know how to manipulate the pieces around and create the plastic to match the art. It is more difficult than when we’re coming up with it on our own, but that’s part of the fun. The more challenging it is, the better off the product ends up. Why is that?JL: It’s just a passion and a love for what they’re doing. If you have a passion for something, and you’re challenged at it, you strive to make it the best that you can. If it’s all easy, you just start saying, yeah, I can do this during my lunch time, and it’s no problem. It’s easy to not put as much effort into it. With Transformers already being such a challenging toy to design already, on top of that, getting artwork and character designs from wherever they come in from – it’s awesome. It’ s a huge challenge. And it really creates some of our best Transformers. Can you walk me through the process of an individual toy's creation, from concept to final colored version? Are changes often made along the way? How long does the entire process take?JL: Overall, it’s about a two year process, from early concept to when the product hits the shelf. Sometimes it gets scrunched a little more. So, in this case, we got it kicked off a while back, which is why we’re so excited to finally discuss it. It’s been on our plates for the last year. The way the process works, and the process is a little more complex with Transformers than with some of the other brands within Hasbro, is that the product line is really a marriage of two companies. There’s Hasbro and there’s Takara Tomy, in Japan. Even though we’re two separate companies, the people at Hasbro working on Transformers, and the people at Takara Tomy working on the brand, we are really one team. We are a complete partnership. What happens throughout the design process is finding a designer in our Rhode Island building here, and a designer at the Takara Tomy building. The designers work really closely with one another. What kind of features do you want to hit? What playability do you want? What kind of novel feature are we trying to put in there? Together, with these goals in mind, we come out with these incredible products. They really go from a sketch stage to an early quick model stage, then the next step is a fine-tuned model that is completely hand built. We have one of those in front of us right now. These models are incredible. Both the team at Hasbro and Takara Tomy are so vested in designing Transformers, and they understand the process so well, that even though they’re incredibly complicated, you watch these designers work on these, and it’s like magic. They’re working on them, and the next thing you know, you’ve got this Transformer in your hands. It’s a hand-built prototype. Because these guys are so talented, what they deliver as far as the hand-built prototype, is almost always dead on to what we ship in production. We take that prototype out to be tooled up – there’s a process by which that prototype goes out and they make the tools at the factory. The handwork that goes into one of these – it’s so detailed that the prototype is really very similar to what you hold in your hands as the final production model. Are those hand models built to scale?JL: Yep. They’re built exactly to scale, with all the articulation, everything. All the details, all the scribe lines, face sculpting detail. It’s a hand built model. It’s amazing to be able to play with these. Not only are they hand built with all the detail, but they fully transform, and they’re robust enough that you can transform them. Not like a production model – I could break this pretty easily. But with careful movements I can transform it from a vehicle back into a robot. That’s what we use, not only to evaluate, but these hand built models are also what we end up painting up to sell the product in. So when we go to presentations internally and externally, we use them, as well as the package shots – when you look at the back of a package that is a hand painted model that you’re looking at. It’s usually a hand painted model that we played with, trying to figure out what we were doing. If you want to see how good those models look, just look at any package. Being more fragile than a production model, do you have these break from time to time?JL: Oh, every day. So, there are extras?JL: It depends on the character. Obviously, with a character like Bruticus that we’re very excited about, we probably have maybe ten sets built and decorated. The first set we built to figure out what we’re doing. The other hand built sets are put together for different types of sales presentations, to be shipped around globally. After these hand-built models are put together, there aren’t a lot of changes made?JL: When we come to the manufacturing process, there are changes with some articulations. Not with how the character articulates overall, but some of the joints. Do we want to use a ball joint or a pin? Usually, once you built the model, you’re 99% there. What is the experience like working with High Moon Studios? Is there much interaction and iteration on a design with the team there when putting together a character's look?JJ: The great thing is High Moon and Activision are great parnters. With Transformers, we have this great brand, and Hasbro really drives the process of working with Activision and High Moon. Aaron Archer is our vice president of Transformers, and he works on a lot of the storytelling and IP creation, and he works directly with Activision and High Moon to really drive the story and the character selection, the look and feel of it. Once we get into the actual design, there’s a lot of back and forth to really represent the characters and the brand in the best way possible. We’ll work with Takara Tomy on the toy design and the transformation, but the early stages of the brand are really driven by Hasbro and our IP group led by Aaron Archer, along with Activision and High Moon. JL: Jerry is absolutely right. Aaron has his office, and it has the map of the brand, and where we want it to go. You can go into Aaron’s office, and be talking about 2015 or 2016 – years away. What’s going to happen in 2016 as far as where the Transformers story is going. Archer has all that. He doesn’t have it all solved. He has the ideas. It’s all mapped up there. It comes out of his office and his team and gets funneled to Activision or other media. The great thing for Jerry and I, we’re very fortunate, Archer is just great to work with, and he includes Jerry and myself in his meetings on where the brand wants to go. And once all that is worked out, we can go back to our teams and say: here’s what’s happening. Here is this character. It’s going to be Bruticus.In recent years, as evidenced by these toys, Hasbro has been looking increasingly at toys tied directly to video games, rather than always a tie to a cartoon. Why is that happening? What is it about video games that has Hasbro offering increased support in that direction?JJ: When we look at video games, they’re great storytelling devices. The high quality of the game makes it another great way to tell another part of the Transformers story. And we’ve got many fans of different expressions – whether it’s the video game format, or Prime, or the movie, or classic G1, there’s a lot of variation in Transformers fans around the world. And this is just a great way to tell another story along that timeline. And we’re excited to bring that to the fans.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.