Article: "Transformers: A Visual History" Book Review

in 2019, Book Review

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Transformers: A Visual History Book Review

Transformers: A Visual History

Official Product Descriptions in italics

Transformers: A Visual History
Celebrating 35 years of rare and iconic TRANSFORMERS imagery, this deluxe art book will delight fans of all ages!

One of the world’s most popular franchises, Transformers has been delighting fans since 1984. Now, in this deluxe hardcover celebration, Hasbro reveals behind-the-scenes production sketches, beautifully polished final art, and everything in-between. From the obscure to the iconic, this book features packaging artwork, animation models, video game designs, comic pages, and, for the first time ever, production artwork from all six Paramount live-action films! Lovingly curated by Transformers archivist Jim Sorenson, this is the most comprehensive collection of Transformers imagery ever assembled. © 2019 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

Transformers: A Visual History (Limited Edition) Hardcover
Celebrating 35 years of rare and iconic TRANSFORMERS imagery, this deluxe limited edition art book will delight fans of all ages!

This deluxe limited edition comes packaged in a beautiful collector’s box with an exclusive variant cover design and five gorgeous and frame-ready prints showcasing art from across the franchise!

One of the world’s most popular franchises, Transformers has been delighting fans since 1984. Now, in this deluxe hardcover celebration, Hasbro reveals behind-the-scenes production sketches, beautifully polished final art, and everything in-between. From the obscure to the iconic, this book features packaging artwork, animation models, video game designs, comic pages, and, for the first time ever, production artwork from all six Paramount live-action films! Lovingly curated by Transformers archivist Jim Sorenson, this is the most comprehensive collection of Transformers imagery ever assembled. © 2019 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

Transformers have many appealing aspects, but perhaps one of the most important is their visual appeal. They are fun to play with, but they also look super cool. Over the past 35+ years not only has the Transformers toy line generated a lot of beautiful toys and products, but the line has also generated an amazing amount of art. Package art, animation, comic books, video game art and movie CGI models are all part of the visual tapestry that comes together to form an integral part of Transformers history. It is that lense that the Transformers: Visual History uses to explore the history of Transformers.

Author Jim Sorenson is a long time Transformers fan who has been behind impressive Transformers projects such as Transformers: The Ark - A Complete Compendium Of Transformers Animation Models, Transformers Animated: Allspark Almanac, Transformers: The Art of Prime and Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging. The "Art of Transformers Packaging" in particular is a perfect companion piece for this book and it makes Sorenson the perfect person to author this book.

Note: This review is for the regular edition of the book.

Even before we get into the book's contents, the book itself is beautifully constructed. This is a hardcover book measuring 9 x 1.4 x 12 inches (22.86 x 3.55 x 30.48 centimeters) and weighing in at about 5 pounds! The pages are made up of a glossy paper and every illustration reflects light beautifully. The colors are rich and vivid and the size of the pages really makes the artwork pop right off the page. When you thumb through this book, you do not feel like you are just casually going through a magazine. This tome feels like a beautiful book that you would find in an art museum.

This book is divided into five main categories: Packaging, Comics, Animation, Video Games and Movies.

Packaging
For fans who were introduced to Transformers in the 80's, the artwork found on the packaging form some of the earliest visual memories they may have about the line. This chapter opens by acknowledging the important role of the artwork in the success of Transformers It offers a brief history of how the style of art changed over the years and even offers a couple of comments from artists from both the G1 and Beast Wars eras.

Often time the artwork produced for Transformers packaging only showed part of the entire art piece. This was less true in the 80's but as the Transformers line continued artwork was often cropped to fit the shape of the packaging. This section shows the package art in all its glory, without any packaging graphics getting in the way. Among my absolute favorite pages are a two page spread dedicated to Micromaster Countdown's box art and the full page spread showing Star Convoy's artwork against a space background. This section also gives a few examples of G1 Japanese package art versus the artwork used outside that country. If you want to see more modern artwork, don't worry, the artwork is presented chronologically going from G1 all the way to Siege!

In an unexpected addition, there are several pages of design drawings for G1 toys. These were never meant for public consumption, but something about that makes them even more appealing. For a hardcore Transformers fan these are basically historical documents and I loved seeing them!

Comics
Many people think of Transformers as just a cartoon or series of live action movies, but the line has a rich history in comic books. Indeed, many of the personalities and archetypes that we take for granted in the line were originally developed as part of the Marvel Comics title in the early 80's. This section is extensive, featuring artwork starting with the Marvel Comics G1 title to the Dreamwave years all the way to the current IDW Publishing era. Even better? In between there are some unexpected surprises including artwork from Studio Ox that was published in the Japanese "TV Magazine" and artwork used for Botcon and the Transformers Collector's Club. In many ways this section offers more of a history lesson than the package art and it makes for a very good primer for the world of Transformers comic books.

Animation
The general public tends to remember the G1 cartoon with its bright color palette and wonderful voice acting. However, ask them about Beast Wars or Robots in Disguise and they may have more fuzzy memories unless they grew up with it. This section offers several pages which take you through a history of the Transformers cartoons from the original 1984 series all the way to the 2019-20 Cyberverse series.

Rather than just take a pile of screen captures and post them in this section, this chapter provides beautiful promotional artwork, sketches of unused art, sketches of the location art used in the G1 series and of course model sheets for the various characters seen in the series. Much to my delight, the Beast Wars/Beast Machines era gets several pages of gorgeous and crisp artwork. This includes several of the promotional images that were distributed by Mainframe Entertainment in the 90's. The book even includes some artwork and sketches from the Japanese exclusive Beast Wars shows! Some of my favorite illustrations are the fully painted backgrounds from various shows such as Animated. As you progress forward and see sections dedicated to shows such as Animated and Rescue Bots, it is fascinating to see how the visual style of Transformers has evolved over the decades.

Video Games
The world of video games is a crowded one, and often folks do not have high opinions of licensed brands in the game world, but Transformers has had a long history in the gaming world going back to the first Transformers game originally developed for the Commodore 64! This section offers some really fun and obscure pics including the artwork for the Japanese exclusive "Return of Convoy" game including screenshots! You also get a look at the artwork for the 80's game "The Transformers: The battle to Save the Earth" (which I personally have not seen in over a decade). Once you move ahead to modern day games it is like a quantum leap forward. In particular the "War for Cybertron" game series has some incredibly rich and detailed artwork. While the game series is a decade old at this point, the artwork developed for it rivals that of some motion pictures.

Of course, in the modern age gaming is not just about consoles or PC's. Mobile gaming is huge in this day and age and there is a section devoted to artwork from the current "Earth Wars" and "Forged to Fight" games. Sadly there does not appear to be artwork for "Angry Birds Transformers", a very silly yet fun mobile game that is still running to this day.

Movies
The Transformers live action franchise is arguably one of the most polarizing areas of the fandom. There are those who love it, there are those who hate it and there are others who take a more nuanced view. Regardless of how you feel about the movies, it is undeniable that they represented a shockingly different visual language for our favorite Robots in Disguise. This section discusses how the Transformers franchise was developed into a movie series over the course of years before the debut of the 2007 live action film.

Of course, the real appeal of this section are the visuals. There is a nice combination of concept art and final art that would later be used in Transformers promotional materials and sometimes toys. My favorite part of this section were the concept art pieces for "The Last Knight" which speculated on a "DaVinci" Transformer or one that transformed into a sailing ship. I would have loved a whole book of just these awesome concepts!

For fans who are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into this book, Viz Media has posted a video interviewing author Jim Sorenson. Check it out below:

Final Thoughts:
"Transformers: A Visual History" is a fantastic book. It is a wonderful primer on Transformers history and it offers gorgeous visuals to take you through that journey. Personally I would have liked to see a lot more of the package art in the first section, but I suspect part of the intent is to have Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging serve as a companion piece to this book. If you are into Transformers history and art, this is a book you will want to have on your bookshelf!