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Toonzone Interviews Jeff Kline on "Transformers Prime" and "G.I. Joe Renegades"

Jeff Kline But what really appealed to me when I first started digging into both Transformers and G.I. Joe last year was the depth of their respective mythologies. I can’t imagine any other “brands” out there with a lore as detailed.

TOONZONE NEWS: What are your day-to-day responsibilities at the studio? What does a typical day for Jeff Kline look like these days?

JEFF KLINE: The good/bad news about being a “showrunner” is that my fingers are stuck in every, single aspect of both series. From overall concepts to specific story ideas; outlines and scripts; casting; records; crew; macro look/feel; character, prop, and background designs; color palette; shot choice; editing philosophy; music; publicity…etc. etc. I tend to be at the studio seven days a week, 16 hours a day, and even with that, the only way these shows come together as well as I think they have is if every single “partner” in the process—and there are a couple hundred of them—plays at the top of his/her game. After I said “yes” to Bob and Alex, the first call I made was to Therese Trujillo, the animation producer on both series, and architect of our in-house studio. If she hadn’t agreed to take a flyer, I don’t think I’d be talking to you right now. The next call I made was to Dave Hartman (supervising director on Transformers Prime). Then, Duane Capizzi (supervising producer/head writer on Transformers Prime). And so on. Believe me, you’re only as good as the talent you surround yourself with, and I’ve tried to surround myself with the very best.

Tunnel Rat reporting for duty as resident smart aleck, ma'amTOONZONE NEWS: How much leeway were you given in choosing the major cast members for each show? Were there characters that Hasbro mandated you include, or ones you wanted to use that you couldn’t?

JEFF KLINE: For the most part, Hasbro (in Rhode Island) gave us a pretty wide berth when it came to the characters we chose to feature. Obviously, there were a few we were asked not to include because Hasbro has plans for them in other media, but overall, we took a fanboy approach to the whole thing, and largely worked off of our own internal “wish lists.” Being a wholly CGI show, Transformers Prime was more constrained than G.I. Joe Renegades, which may be why we’ve gone a little wild in G.I. Joe Renegades this year… introducing dozens of classic G.I. Joe characters even if for just a scene or two.

TOONZONE NEWS: Transformers and G.I. Joe have pretty rabid fanbases. How much or how little do you take the existing fans into consideration when you’re making decisions for these new series?

JEFF KLINE: Much of the talent who came to work on these shows came because they were diehards. Truthfully, we were a start-up studio, still ironing out any number of procedural kinks. So, Transformers Prime and G.I. Joe Renegades were crafted by fans, for fans. Of course, there is no way we could ever make everyone in the fanbase happy, and to try would be an enormous mistake. With every show I’ve ever worked on, the goal has been to entertain ourselves, and assume that there will be enough like-minded viewers out there.

TOONZONE NEWS: Are you happy with the reception both shows have gotten among fans and in the ratings?

JEFF KLINE: Very happy. A little amazed, actually. We’d kind of girded ourselves for the worst, given the size and breadth of the respective fanbases. Again, most of the credit has to go to all the people whose names fly by at the end of each episode. And to the keepers of the flame in Rhode Island (Aaron Archer, Brian Chapman, etc.), and the self- proclaimed “nerds” in the executive offices (Mike Vogel, Brian Lenard) and at the Hub, (Donna Ebbs, Scott Pennington, Ted Biaselli, et al.) whom we work closely with.

Here’s the single most important commonality shared by everyone I just mentioned: they’re fans of television. True believers. Again, I think because of the start-up nature of Hasbro’s west-coast studio operation, a specific kind of person was attracted. Passionate. Creative. A little crazy. I know that’s what we looked for in our show-specific hires.

TOONZONE NEWS: What’s the strangest debate or argument you had to decide so far in working on either show?

JEFF KLINE: Um… there’s usually something strange each and every day, and most of it isn’t fit for print.

Prime: I don't care how fast you are, I know I have righteousness and a wicked cool voice actor on my side.TOONZONE NEWS: How far in advance have you planned G.I. Joe Renegades and Transformers Prime?

JEFF KLINE: From the beginning, we’ve had—at least—a three-year plan in our heads for each series. Of course, the best laid plans can go astray, but we try. From a production standpoint, in an all-CG series, a disproportionate amount of money and time goes into the initial builds, so projecting ahead becomes not just prudent but absolutely necessary. We’ve already asked for the impossible from Polygon in Tokyo (our partner studio on Transformers Prime); the least we can offer them is a reasonably current road map.

TOONZONE NEWS: Can you give us any hints or clues on who we can expect to see in upcoming episodes of either show?

JEFF KLINE: All I will say is that we strive to have both series “build” from episode-to-episode. Hopefully, you can jump into either show at any point and quickly get invested in what’s happening on-screen. But, if you have the frame of reference of prior episodes, and/or mythology, then you’ll be even more aware of the character growth, changing relationships, escalating conflicts… a sense of moving toward something bigger, bolder, and—hopefully—even more satisfying.

Don’t forget to check out Toonzone News’ coverage of the Transformers Prime series premiere event, with a video clip from the season premiere.

Toonzone News would like to thank Jeff Kline for taking the time to talk with us, and to Whitney Champion of Bender/Helper Impact and the folks at The Hub PR for setting this interview up. G.I. Joe Renegades airs Fridays at 6:00 PM (Eastern). The series premiere of Transformers Prime debuts on Friday, February 11, 2011, at 6:30 PM (Eastern). For more information about the premiere and The Hub, visit www.hubworld.com.

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  1. […] quite accurately. It’s also fun to spot numerous familiar names in the credits, such as Jeff Kline (currently at Hasbro overseeing Transformers and the short-lived G.I. Joe Renegades), Sam Liu […]

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