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NYCC 2012: Hasbro's "Transformers" Panel Report

Thursday was the least crowded day at New York Comic Con, but fans still filled the room for Hasbro’s afternoon panel for the Transformers brand. From Hasbro Studios in Burbank, CA, Transformers Prime producers Jeff Kline and Duane Capizzi were in attendance, as well as Executive Director Brian Lenard and Vice President of Development Mike Vogel. From Hasbro in Providence, RI, the panel included Director of Global Brand Manaagement Jerry Jivoin, Director of Design & Development Andy Schmidt and Global Brand Manager Clint Chapman.

The panel began by focusing on on The Hub’s animated series Transformers Prime. A sizzle reel recapped the second season up through the 22nd episode, after which the staff started an open discussion about the show. For them, Prime has been and will continue to be “a serialized, continuing story”, and the panel emphasized their view of the series as a story-driven show. Kline divulged that the show has “burned through” story ideas, revealing that at the beginning they had a three year document for plot that the show has ended up already fulfilling in practice.

Capizzi and Kline commented on the pressure to keep doing better with Transformers Prime, as fans and staff alike are “very defensive” of the brand. Kline clearly asserted his belief that they were doing just that, as things have kept escalating and they’ve honed the way they work throughout production. As Kline simply put it, “…the deeper we get in, the more stuff we get to do”. The panel also highlighted that Transformers Prime has full-time writing stuff, in addition to four directors and their teams that work to put the series’ episodes together. Development of the show was portrayed as being very much a team effort, as when concept is introduced they rarely settle in favor of passing it around for feedback and alternative ideas. Ultimately, wherever it may come from, “…the best idea wins.”

The panel also spent significant time on the subject of the villains. In addition to a video highlighting the various Decepticons a short clip was played featuring Starscream from the latest episode Inside Job, wherein Starscream reflects on his current situation and what he could accomplish if he possessed the all-important Omega Keys being pursued by both the Autobots and Decepticons. Afterward, Capizzi praised the voice acting talent of Steve Blum and discussed how the Decepticons were not unlike a “deranged family” when it came to the way these villains would work as a team to one degree or another. The panel heaped praise on the Prime versions of Megatron and Starscream who were described as the best and most refined versions they ever had.

Fair warning, dear reader: we’re headed for spoiler territory now.

A third season of Transformers Prime is on the way, and the panel came prepared to talk about how they were going to top what’s happened so far. The audience was shown a short and ominous teaser clip, where Shockwave emerges from a space bridge to introduce Megatron to “…the ultimate Autobot hunter”. Behind him emerged a monstrous Cybertronian creature of which little is seen besides its shadow, but it clearly towered above Megatron and his underlings.

What was this new foe? Say hello to the Predacons, who in the Prime continuity are “Cybertron’s version of dinosaurs”. They were an ancient race decimated by a great cataclysm on Cybertron, but how they will be introduced in Prime is considered to be a secret. While the creators didn’t want to repeat what was done in Beast Wars or Beast Machines, the Predacons give them an opportunity to “…use animals in a Prime way”. Kline also hinted that we would be seeing and hearing more about connections between Cybertron and Earth in the third season, as these two planets are “…related in surprising ways”.

With that, the panel shifted gears to the rest of the Transformers franchise and the Hasbro staff presented the audience with a look at the upcoming line of toys. The new theme to coincide with the third season of Prime is “Beast Hunters”, driven by the concept that the Autobots will be so outmached by the Predacons that they’ll be needing serious upgrades to take them on. To wit we have such things as Wheeljack wielding an oversized spear, Bumblebee with a special crossbow and Bulkhead with a hammer and extra armor. The Deceptions have their own assets of course, such as Airachnid with a bow and Breakdown geared in the Apex armor. Fans should temper expectations though, as the panel made clear that not everything being shown for the toys was going to appear in the animated series. However, the display of toys did highlight three Predacons, all of which had a draconic appearance of sorts: Laserback, Twinstrike and two versions of Predaking – very likely the Predacon on display in the easier clip. Also on display were some Kre-O toys, featuring Legoesque Transformers. Hasbro plans to release all this merchandise in early 2013.

Toy discussion concluded by highlighting the relaunch of Transformers Generations with the video game Fall of Cybertron, which Hasbro decided to mark with a collectible “Mercedes” version of certain transformers. To that end they hyped an upcoming reissue for the titanic autobot Omega Supreme, featuring a new head and spinning claw as well as a “metallic” paint job and a transformation into a sizable train. Hasbro also plans a collectible release for Optimus Prime, with both him and Omega Supreme having a motif based on the year of the snake.

The panel also highlighted Hasbro’s upcoming digital card game Transformers Legends, a game for mobile devices with detailed and colorful transformer art being presented as a strong selling point. On the publishing front, IDW Publishing will be printing artbooks for the Generations line, and starting in November the company will publish a tie-in for Transformers Prime titled Rage of the Dinobots. The comic will serve as a prequel to the third season and offer fans the first look at the Prime version of the Dinobots.

The panel also gave the audience an opportunity for a Q&A session. In regard to Transformers Prime on Blu-ray, season one has been released while season two will be out “a week or two” after it ends on television. The panel also made clear that The Hub embraces Transformers and will, if it has its way, run Transformers series for a very long time to come. On whether toys based on IDW’s Transformers comics would be coming, Hasbro is working more and more closely with IDW and is “keeping an eye” on popular characters. One fan asked about Javex’s massively multiplayer game Transformers Universe, is “moving forward” and likely to enter beta testing soon. Multiple questions about future toy releases got some variety of a “stay tuned” answer, though a question about Beast Wars merchandise also led to a comment about how 2014 would be the franchise’s 30th anniversary. For Transformers Prime, an inquiry about whether the Dinobots would appear and multiple questions about Unicron also got “stay tuned” responses.

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