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SDCC2011: "Transformers Prime" Roundtable Interviews

by on July 29, 2011

(l to r) Bob Orci, Jeff Kline, and Therese Trujillo

While at the San Diego Comic-Con, Toonzone was able to catch up with the creative minds behind Transformers Prime. The production crew revealed a montage of clips for the show’s first season plus a special teaser for the multi-part season finale to broadcast soon. The teaser featured a sinister looking robot with purple, glowing eyes laughing menacingly. Could this be the animated version of The Fallen, recently referenced in the series by Bulkhead?

Roundtables Part 1: Bob Orci (Executive Producer), Jeff Kline ((Executive Producer/Producer), Therese Trujillo (Animation Producer), and Dave Hartman (Art Director)

TOONZONE NEWS: Bob, when do you sleep between working on this show, your live TV shows, and your movies?

BOB ORCI: First of all, on Transformers Prime, I can sleep because of the people sitting next to me who really do everything. I’m here now after we got the show launched as a shoulder to cry on, a place to come get food, and a place to stay. We launched the show together but the team around me is really the team that’s got the show going and that’s how I see it.

JEFF KLINE: He’s being a little kind. As I’ve said before, Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob, right at the beginning and throughout have been much more involved than I ever would have thought they would’ve been capable of.

TZN: Jeff who is that nefarious looking robot in the teaser we saw during the panel?

JEFF KLINE: Definitely blog your thoughts about it. I would suggest you really start guessing.

DAVE HARTMAN: There are a lot of clues in there. You just got to put them together.

JEFF KLINE: There are.

TZN: Is it the Fallen? Is it Unicron?

JEFF KLINE: Keep going. You know I’m not going to tell you.

BOB ORCI: We have a great crossover with the Hamburglar.

(l to r) Dave Hartman, Bob Orci, and Jeff Kline

TZN: Earlier you mentioned showing things that have been talked about including Unicron considering dark energon comes from his blood. Will we see Unicron in season 2?

JEFF KLINE:I would say again, like the Native Americans, we use all parts of the buffalo. So if we have built it or brought it up, it is going to come back in some way. It may not come back the exact way you expect, but we typically don’t put anything in we don’t intend to pay off in some way. As fans we really don’t want to disappoint.

BOB ORCI: I’ll tell you, they really are planning ahead. It really is like building on something we’re setting up. It’s amazing.

TZN: Knockout is a breakout, hit character. What was the impetus behind Knockout and having this very cultured, “auto-enthusiast” Decepticon?

JEFF KLINE: When we know we want to introduce a new character, we kind of start thinking what personality type are we maybe not representing in the show? You don’t want to put two or three of the same personalities in a small ensemble because there’s nowhere to go with them. We’re so limited with characters as it is, we try really hard to if we’re going to bring someone new in, have a very different point of view for them. And one of things that especially Duane had kind of been thinking was, alright they’re all cars, they’re all vehicles by necessity, but what if one of them really enjoyed that? And actually went out and took advantage of it in ways that other bots that never would think too. That’s really what it grew out of.

BOB ORCI: We’d love to base a character on Michael Bay. So we’d like to open up the conversation of what kind of car he should be? Just blog it, you don’t have to answer now. But Michael? What kind of car would you like to be if we’re going to put you in Transformers Prime? Leave it to you buddy. Love you.

TZN: Bob, to clarify what is it you don’t like about the Dinobots and not having Dinobots around so fans around the world will know and understand why is it you don’t like the Dinobots?

BOB ORCI: It’s not that I don’t like them, but for the particular way we were going I couldn’t imagine why a robot would want to hide as a dinosaur in 2011 because there are no dinosaurs. And the only reason to look like a dinosaur is to hide from other dinosaurs, I thought. Because hiding as a dinosaur is not going to help anybody in terms of like – in Chicago if you’re a dinosaur, you don’t go, “Oh. It’s a dinosaur great. I’m glad it’s not a killer robot.” It’s still a freaking dinosaur. So that’s what we thought. However, suddenly if in the next incarnation of movies or maybe the third season, there’s some crazy I don’t know, time travel? Crack in the Earth? Find a dinosaur island? Maybe it makes sense to hide. But until then . . .

TZN: Therese, how do you like getting to work on animating a show with strong female characters like Airachnid and Arcee?

THERESE TRUJILLO: Well I’ve worked on action adventure shows with these guys before and I think that’s one thing about all the quality of the work that we bring in to Transformers. Even with Miko, she doesn’t seem like a strong female, but she really is. Along with June and Airachnid, I think these guys are just equal opportunists. They don’t write towards the female or male characters, so it just elevates the qualities that we all bring to the table. And we actually have quite a few female crew members on our show.

BOB ORCI: Yeah this whole crew is actually bisexual (laughs).

TZN: We know about Jack and the relationship with his mother. But will we ever see more of Raf and his family and also Miko and her foster parents?

JEFF KLINE: Quite honestly, we would love to. We would love to expand our world as much as we can. The tough thing again is, would you rather have Miko’s foster parents or would you rather have another Autobot or Decepticon. And that’s literally some of the decisions we have to make. So right now we actually just showed you her foster parents just as a still image on a cell phone or something like that. Raf, we say it’s a big family and we reference it. If honestly using an off-screen voice for mom is going to let us build a new Decepticon in season two, probably a better place to put our efforts just because, how much time was spent at Raf’s house? Although, I will tell you, you will spend a little bit of time at Raf’s house coming up for story reasons.

DAVE HARTMAN: We’re definitely still delving into stories, giving little tidbits.

TZN: In one of the recent episodes on TV, we actually saw Miko show a lot more vulnerability. And the execution came off like there was some regret and loneliness with Miko that attracts her more to her Autobot friends. Is it part of being an exchange student in the US?

JEFF KLINE: I think it’s a great question. I think that again we again tend to leave little clues. Also just good storytelling requires that you dig into characters and find things about that them that are more interesting than they are just this one dimensional thing.

BOB ORCI: We’re going to start doing that?

JEFF KLINE: (Laughs) So – if you were sent to this country, I’m not sure willingly, and you live with people who you obviously don’t really feel the need to go check in with periodically, you spend a lot of time with the Autobots; and usually you spend more time with the surrogate family where maybe for the first time you do feel people care about you, doesn’t that make you a more interesting character? Isn’t that more stuff for us to play?

TZN: How did it work out getting Adam Baldwin playing Breakdown?

JEFF KLINE: We had used him before [with] Jackie Chan [Adventures]. There’s a lot of people we’ve used before who have come back around: Clancy Brown, etc., etc., Kevin Michael Richardson.

BOB ORCI: People like to work with this team.

JEFF KLINE: And we like to work with – and again, you want to try and create a surrogate family. You spend a lot of time with these people. We try to get people who actually look forward to working with us.

Roundtables Part 2: Mike Vogel (VP of Development, Hasbro Studios), Vinton Heuck (Episode Director), Jose Lopez (Art Director, Characters and Props), and Duane Capizzi (Supervising Producer, Head Writer).

(l to r) Jose Lopez, Mike Vogel, and Vinton Heuck

TZN: Mike, when can we expect season two of Transformers Prime to come around?

MIKE VOGEL: After season one (Laughs).

TZN: So Fall 2011 maybe?

MIKE VOGEL: Is that the official Hub answer? Yes. The Hub does all the programming. So we do all the shows and they figure out when the best time is to get the shows out there. They are awesome programmers.

TZN: So how about seeing a new series of MASK?

MIKE VOGEL: Hasbro Studios does have a lot of awesome brands and actually out of all the 80’s brands, MASK is one the few 80’s shows that has not been re-imagined yet. I’m a geek; I would love to do it. I would love it. There’s a bunch of brands we’re looking at as we look to the next two or three years of what we’re going to be doing at Hasbro Studios with The Hub. MASK is something that comes up a lot because there are a lot of geek fans at Hasbro as well.

TZN: Jose who is your favorite character to design or work on?

JOSE LOPEZ: I have to say Soundwave, because we took a lot of liberties. Everything starts from doing lots of writing, so the direction that character was going, I always thought it was very different from what happened before. Obviously he can’t be a boom box anymore. When we were designing the character, we looked at things that had been done and we look at the most iconic elements of every character, pick those elements, and we change them to what we want. So obviously the personality of the character will dictate a lot of what the shapes in the design is going to be like. The vehicle mode is a big part of what we are going to do, but I think to me, designing Soundwave was a lot of fun. Designing Arcee was a lot of fun. I like the girls in the show, Miko and Airachnid.

TZN: Was Skyquake’s original robot design a bit of a cheat because his robot body already looked like the design of a human military jet before he transformed?

DUANE CAPIZZI: We sort of have reasoning behind it. Absolutely it is because of the CG limitations, but the reasoning is when they were on Cybertron, they did have their Cybertronian vehicle forms. So our thinking is they’re choice of what Earth vehicle they’re going to be usually compares well with what they were on Cybertron.

MIKE VOGEL: When you look at War For Cybertron, the game, for the most part, the jets were like cool Cybertronian jets. The vehicles, the cars were cool Cybertronian cars. So Duane’s right, absolutely it’s because of the limitations of CG because you don’t want to build a build that you are going to use for twenty minutes of an episode-

JOSE LOPEZ: Like Wheeljack, for example. We tried to hide the wheels on the shoulders and we tried to give him fancy looking rims to make him look a little more alien. With Skyquake, we tried to break the parts a little bit more so you could sort of tell that it’s a jet.

TZN: Is this show a continuation of War for Cybertron or is this just a different chapter in the Transformers pantheon?

DUANE CAPIZZI: How could it be a continuation if War for Cybertron ends, like, eons before our series begins?

MIKE VOGEL: Well because we do leave Cybertron and go to Earth. I think that the rule we kind of go by is we don’t go out to contradict anything. We want it to be something so as a Transformers fan, you can have that continuous experience. About 85% makes sense. It’s those little things that pop up like a different name here or a different name here, a thing that happened in the game doesn’t quite match something we referenced that happened on Cybertron. We all discussed the fact that as we continue to build the big continuity, there are going to be the little things that don’t quite match, but in the broad strokes, yes, we are trying to create a giant continuity for Transformers. But if these guys come up with something that’s great for story and it doesn’t quite match, we’re always going to err on what makes the best story.

(l to r) Mike Vogel, Vinton Heuck, and Duane Capizzi

TZN: Duane, when does Silas head into “frenemy” territory? I think that is where he’s heading.

DUANE CAPIZZI: Oh, is that what you think? (Laughs)

TZN: I want to call Silas a frenemy, but he isn’t quite there yet.

DUANE CAPIZZI: What makes you think it’s going that way?

TZN: A character like that at some point will be in frenemy territory?

MIKE VOGEL: Wait, are you thinking a frenemy to Megatron or a frenemy to Optimus Prime and the Autobots?

TZN: He could be a frenemy to both. I just want him to be a frenemy.

DUANE CAPIZZI: We are playing a lot of frenemy stuff. To say something more about Silas, it’s actually an arc that pays off devastatingly in season two.

MIKE VOGEL: I think it’s safer to say that Silas gets closer to some of the characters.

DUANE CAPIZZI: Yeah, yeah; absolutely.

TZN: Vinton, what is the toughest part of your job?

VINTON HEUCK: It’s having a script and then reading it and going “Holy ****!” Yeah, holy ****…they just come to life in a sense. It’s part of the process. I meet with my board artists. We come up with shot ideas together. But it’s just having that big pile of what used to be storyboard paper, but now it’s all done digitally. And you just have to make that and realize it visually. That’s a challenge.

TZN: I think one advantage of CG for a show like this is that it opens up the direction and the things you do with the camera angles and make the movement more dynamic. The camera can be more kinetic.

VINTON HEUCK: It’s like thinking more in terms of live action.

TZN: In one of the last episodes we saw a scene with Miko and Bulkhead in the cave, where the shots were really intense with the close-ups and were really claustrophobic. You might not get that as much in a traditionally animated show.

VINTON HEUCK: Yeah, yeah. And really too if you notice, it’s about not overusing what we have as far being able to move the camera and just making sure that the camera is just on those characters and just letting those dramatic scenes play. But then when we want to do a big 360 [shot], as long as the set is built in 360 – that’s another thing that’s almost like working with live action. We have the sets. Sometimes the sets are just three quarters built and you can only do a couple different angles. Sometimes you can do it in 360, but in the backgrounds it’s just matte paintings. It’s very fascinating.

TZN: Duane how far are you into writing season two right now?

DUANE CAPIZZI: We are just getting into the final scripts of season two. We are writing the finale as we speak. Season two is all figured out. Season three, we know where we want to go if there is a season three hopefully.

TZN: For Vinton, is season one production finished and are you animating season two as we speak?

VINTON HEUCK: Oh we are well into season two.

DUANE CAPIZZI: We’re looking at number fourteen next week aren’t we?

VINTON HEUCK: The storyboards?


VINTON HEUCK: Yeah, so [there you go].

TZN: For Jose, in designing the props and weapons, are there any famous artifacts of Transformers lore you’ve been able to take a crack at?

JOSE LOPEZ: I think the biggest would be…(Jose is talked down from revealing it). You’re going to love the biggest one that’s coming up.

Jose gets to do some really cool stuff with things that exist in Transformers lore.

TZN: So Mike, is there anything we can do to sway anyone about maybe getting a new MASK TV series?

MIKE VOGEL: You are all about the MASK, huh?

TZN: It’s the one show we haven’t gotten a reboot of. We have new ThunderCats. We have new Voltron. We have new Transformers. We need new MASK. You agree, right?

MIKE VOGEL: Hey, I agree.

DUANE CAPIZZI: I’m still waiting for the Pogs movie.

MIKE VOGEL: Pogs? Wow.

Thank you to the Transformers Prime creative team for once again speaking with us as well as Hasbro Studios and The Hub for allowing us to join in for the roundtable sessions. New episodes of Transformers Prime are broadcast Saturdays on The Hub.

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