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BotCon 2011: Roundtable Interview with Hasbro Studios Creative Team (incl. Bob Orci)

by on June 14, 2011

Top Row: Mike Vogel, Steve Davis, Bob Orci, and Dave Hartman, with Duane Capizzi kneeling
Top Row: Mike Vogel, Steve Davis, Bob Orci, and Dave Hartman, with Duane Capizzi kneeling

On the final day of BotCon 2011, Toonzone News was granted the opportunity to participate in a roundtable panel featuring the executives of Hasbro Studios and members of the Transformers: Prime creative team. The panel featured Hasbro Studios Head of Development, Mike Vogel, and Hasbro Studios President, Steve Davis. Other participants included Transformers: Prime executive producer and writer Bob Orci, writer Duane Capizzi, and art director Dave Hartman. Orci is also the creator of such shows as Fringe and the new hit series, Hawaii Five-0. Orci was also the co-writer of the live action Transformers movies and the new live action Star Trek films.

TOONZONE NEWS: For Bob, after the second Transformers movie how did you get involved in doing an episode animated Transformers series?

BOB ORCI: We got along with Hasbro so well, they thought, “Well OK, you don’t want to do another movie? What about a show?” We immediately thought that was interesting, just immediately knew we were going to be able to do things that we weren’t able to do in the movies and knew that because of the movies that we would attract basically the best people. That’s why we ended up with just the most amazing people doing the show. That’s why it’s so good, because we knew we could use that momentum to get amazing going.

TZN: One of my favorite things about the show was starting right off the bat with a five part miniseries, like a feature length movie. How challenging was it to start with a five part miniseries and getting it done by Thanksgiving last year?

DUANE CAPIZZI: It nearly killed me. *The group laughs* It nearly killed a lot of companies.

BOB ORCI: It was very bad for these guys.

MIKE VOGEL: These guys had to come right out of the bat with a majority of the characters designed just from a build standpoint from Polygon [the animation company for Transformers: Prime]. When you do a movie like that, it really frontloads a lot of the design. And because these guys are crazy, you then have stuff like Dave [Hartman] saying, “We can fit a battle with seventy plus zombie robots there in the fourth episode. That’s fine! Right, Polygon? We can drop that in there.”

STEVE DAVIS: You know all kidding aside we had an amazing partner in Polygon. I can’t remember Shuzo [Shiota, executive producer from Polygon Pictures] saying no to literally anything. He really tried to make everything work.

MIKE VOGEL: The thing about having the best crew and a passionate crew extends to [Polygon]. We went to Japan to just kind of see the first couple episodes in rough form, and the pride that these guys take in Transformers is insane. And that’s why – like they were talking about — the acting is just ridiculous. For me, as visually cool as it looks, as much as the reflection of the bots and the detail and everything is amazing, for me it’s 100% the acting.

DAVE HARTMAN: They’re invested in the show. I mean we consider them as a partner more than as a work-for-hire.

Bob Orci and Duane Capizzi
(l to r) Bob Orci and Duane Capizzi

TZN: Bob, did you and Alex Kurtzman have any specific ideas you wanted to use in the movies but couldn’t, and instead brought them to this show?

BOB ORCI: Did we? I can’t remember anymore.

DUANE CAPIZZI: Absolutely. They were feeding us all kinds of ideas. A lot of them got in. Some of them were like, “Eh, can’t do that,” just because of the physical nature of the production.

BOB ORCI: What did I get in there? *The group laughs.*

DUANE CAPIZZI: You wanted the battle in space. You got it in the five-parter for instance. I’ll tell you one thing that we couldn’t do. They [Orci and Kurtzman] wanted an Autobot that transformed into a train. Because of the nature of the limited CG –

BOB ORCI: That was Alex. I didn’t want that. *The group laughs again.*

DUANE CAPIZZI: However, I remember, Dave correct me if I’m wrong, in Polygon terms that is actually three builds, because you have the bot and then the actual transformation is actually considered a character build, and then the vehicle itself.

DAVE HARTMAN: Yeah, three separate models.

DUANE CAPIZZI: So we said, “We can’t do that train unless you literally want a train running around in the series.” And I said, “However. We’ll give you a train and we’ll give you an awesome set piece,” like we did with Optimus stopping the train in the “Convoy” episode.

BOB ORCI: And obviously Frank [Welker] as Megatron was the big thing I always wanted.

TZN: Both Transformers and G.I. Joe are heavy merchandise and toy brands. We are going to see toys for Transformers: Prime and G.I. Joe: Renegades this year, but did it make it harder to market these shows without having toys on the shelves when The Hub and the shows got started?

STEVE DAVIS: No, I think that the show lives independent of what we do at retail. We’re all about making great stories with great characters, which clearly these guys have done. The rest of it comes along.

TZN: But why wait a year after the shows have come on to bring in the toys?

MIKE VOGEL: A lot of it is timing. Ten months to get the series done is crazy, but for the toy team, they’ve got such a long lead on modeling and figuring it out, I think that you’ll see the strategy with a lot of our shows coming out. Sometimes we’ll work it out where a toy will come out at the same time or just before, and sometimes you will wait a year.

BOB ORCI: You want to make sure there is demand too probably.

DAVE HARTMAN: They’re also working off our lead, and they have to wait until we get our designs completed for those first five episodes before they could even start looking at how they are even going to look physically.

Mike Vogel

MIKE VOGEL: And just looking at the stuff that’s out there right now, I think it’s worth the wait. They did such a good job. I mean if you just go out there and look at that Starscream toy, that literally is Starscream from the show.

TZN: For Bob, has this process made you want to work on more animation in the future? Or between the other TV shows and Star Trek, is your dance card pretty much full at this point?

BOB ORCI: No actually it’s made me hungry for more. It’s just been one of the more satisfying things we’ve done in a long time. You know, and people go, “Why would you want to get back into the grind of TV?” Well first of all, with a team like this, it’s not a grind. But you just get to do stuff you don’t get to do anywhere else. It’s a whole other ballgame.

TZN: There are almost no limits in animation.

BOB ORCI: Yeah, that’s right.

DUANE CAPIZZI: *Humorously* Except for how many characters [you can animate on a budget]. *The group laughs.* Those limits that come with it are actually in a weird way sort of liberating.

BOB ORCI: Yeah, you work more creatively. Absolute freedom is horrible.

MIKE VOGEL: It’s like what I said out there. You guys take it and you turn it into an opportunity, because we get to spend so much more time with Starscream, or Knockout, or Megatron, or Arcee, or Ratchet that you get to know these characters at a much more intimate level than you ever did in any previous incarnation of this.

DUANE CAPIZZI: Because of the limited number of characters, we wind up relying a lot more on intrigue and shifting alliances, more so in the coming episodes; but never arbitrarily. Whenever we do a turn with the characters in the storyline, it’s our internal rule: it’s got to be meaningful. So we’re pretty proud of what we accomplished so far.

TZN: Bob, I’m really excited about the Star Trek videogame based on the new movie which will feature Kirk and Spock as playable characters. Are you working on the game?

BOB ORCI: Yeah. It’s actually in [movie] universe continuity-ish.

TZN: So is it an in between story from the 2009 movie and the next one coming out?

BOB ORCI: Yeah, yeah exactly. It could absolutely be that.

TZN: For the panel, what is your favorite Transformers character ever?

MIKE VOGEL: To answer your question, in the whole world of Transformers, actually Hot Rod. The 1986 movie was kind of epic for me. I cried. Even though it was kind of Hot Rod’s fault that Optimus Prime, I still thought he [Hot Rod] was kind of awesome. I liked him when he was Hot Rod. Rodimus was cool and all, but I liked him when he was Hot Rod.

STEVE DAVIS: Now listen. I love them all.

MIKE VOGEL: That’s why he’s the president.

DAVE HARTMAN: On our show I’m leaning towards Ratchet. I liked Prowl a lot when I was a kid.

Arcee and JackBOB ORCI: On our show, I’m with Arcee.

DUANE CAPIZZI: Arcee or Ratchet or Starscream or Bulkhead *the group laughs and jokes about Duane liking so many characters the best.*

MIKE VOGEL: Airachnid is like – I mean again, one of my favorite things about the show — being someone who has worked on a lot of action shows — is awesome females. And not just the cool female, Arcee is arguably the best warrior on the Autobots team. Airachnid came out of the gate just scary as hell. And watching the two of them fight is like my favorite thing in the world.

TZN: Thank you all for your time. “Till all are one.”

*The Group laughs at the quote.*

Toonzone News would like to thank Hasbro and The Hub for having us at Botcon; and thank you to the creative team behind The Hub and Transformers: Prime for participating in the roundtable session.

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