Events: Hasbro Toy Fair 2014 Fan Media Day Interview

in 2014, Interviews

Toy Fair 2014 Hasbro "Transformers" Brand Team Interview

At Hasbro's Toy Fair 2014 Fan Media event, BWTF sat down with Jerry Jivoin and Joshua Lamb from the "Transformers" brand team to discuss the line including what's going on now, what's in store and whether you'll need to spend $30 to own Legends Swerve and Cosmos. It was a bit noisy when we did the interview so some words were lost, so pardon the odd transition here and there. Either way it's a great, information packed interview and gives insight into the thinking behind the process that brings us our favorite robots in disguise!

The 30th Anniversary of "Transformers" has arrived, how will this year distinguish itself from previous years?

JJ: I think when you look at the 30th's a great year for Transformers. There's two things: One - we've got the "Transformers" movie coming out so that's huge. When you look at 2014 as the fourth install ment of the movie franchise and it's the 30th anniversary of the brand starting from 1984 til now I think what you're seeing is a whole reinvention of the brand and how kids and collectors are going to be able to experience the brand. For the first time we've made two toy lines. When you think of a toy line that's for kids 5, 6, 7 years old there are very magical transformations, things you can do very quickly and then you have a whole dedicated line for fans and collectors in our Movie "Generations" and Classic 30th Anniversary "Generations" line so it's really a huge moment for the Transformers brand as we kind of restage the brand and relaunch it for the next thirty years.

JL: I think what's magical about this time is that it's so easy for any brand in the toy industry, in the world, a car company or whatever...when you have an anniversary event you tend to get reflective. You go "Oh let's look the past, let's celebrate the past." and what we've done is said "Ok, we're going to celebrate the 30th Anniversary by starting over, starting again, starting fresh." at a point when we don't have to start over, it's a very successful brand but just to use it as a launching point has got people really excited. You know, we had a good presentation here today, we've got a lot of great feedback, we've presented this to our retail partners and to walk into a room and say "30th anniversary and here's where we're taking the brand..." and people just got excited about that because it's so easy to fall into that "30th anniversary? Let's go back thirty years and do what we did thirty years ago!" We're not doing that. We're taking the spirit of what we did thirty years ago and the idea of imagination from thirty years ago and reimagining the brand today in a whole new way.

A lot of the Autobot designs in "Age of Extinction" seem to take design cues from ancient knights and samurai. Can you tell us about the design philosophy that went into these Autobots?

JL: We kicked off early on working with Bay studios in the beginning of "Transformers 4" pre-development [with] some conceptual artwork that we worked on and shared with Bay. Bay and his team took that artwork further and you know...a back and forth process. And I think some of that artwork had some of that kind of influence in there. We actually had some artwork very early on where we put Optimus on top of Grimlock, some really cool images. It was very, I'd say, Asian influenced with some of the scenery and the ways we designed some of the characters. It was just to have some conceptual art just to have some fun and people got excited about what they were seeing and it really drove Michael Bay and his team to just explore something a little different with the brand and what you see is, I think, a lot of very talented and imaginitive people with great imaginations taking it to the next step.

This year seems to be a lot about the Dinobots, but in past films there was a reluctance to bring them in. What changed?

JJ: I think the previous storyline from Movies 1, 2 and 3 were, there was a specific storyline that Michael Bay and Paramount were telling. In looking at those storylines, the Dinobots didn't really fit in that storyline. If you look at how they're reimagining for Movie 4 and bringing Transformers's after the battle in Chicago and now they've been able to bring in the Dinobots in a way that feels natural from a storyline perspective and it fits really, really well. It's a great new way to introduce new characters in a storyline that are loved by fans and we think that kids seeing it for the first time will absolutely love them.

JL: I think also...that early artwork we had, you've seen the trailer where you've seen Optimus Prime on Grimlock - which is an incredible moment. That kind of scene where you see a partnership or something, it's a very different scene than you see Autobots next to each other running into a scene, you know. It's like all of a sudden something different is happening here. I think that capturing the Dinobot Grimlock in that kind of capacity was very different and very fresh.

JJ: Yeah, there was an artist sketch that we presented to Michael Bay and Paramount that showed Optimus on Grimlock and it was just like "Wow, that's different!". Michael Bay and Paramount were like "That's really cool!" It was something that Hasbro showed and they really kind of latched onto it and took it a step further.

And that was the money shot in the trailer!

JL: I'll say when we pitched it, we pitched it as that's the money shot because it was such a unique expression and two, you know we've had the whole history of Grimlock who was a little goofy in the cartoon to be honest and to picture him in a massive heroic way teaming up with Optimus was a fresh experience and that got people both at Hasbro, Paramount and Bay...everybody got excited at that kind of imagery.

Can you talk about taking classic characters like Dinobots, like you have before with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, and now taking them into the Movie universe which is aesthetically different?

JL: I'll say we do it for the Movie universe, but we also do it for "Generations". One thing we always talk about with the team and I stress every day...I don't want to do "retro". People already own the toys they had as kids. There are a few times we'll reissue something from the past for a particular experience but in general I don't want to recreate that character thirty years ago, I want that character from thirty years ago done today with a new version of him. That's just really exciting to be able to take your characters and reimagine them so they are for today's audience.

Recently the "Transformers Legends" mobile game offered synergy between the toy line and comic book. Now dinosaurs are a theme in "Rescue Bots" and "Age of Extinction". Can we expect to see more of this cross-media alignment in the future?

JJ: Yes, I think what you'll see more of is themes and storylines that will go across toy lines where they're meant for the age target to make sure that we're maximizing the story. That way we can make sure we're not telling a lot of different stories...that way we're telling one story across different expressions and outlets. I think you're going to see more of that going forward whether it's in our main entertainment, whether it's movie or TV or even in "Generations" where you're seeing leveraging IDW or DeNA with the "Transformers" game making sure hey, we're all telling the same story.

Can you talk about the challenge in managing different levels of transformation complexity across the line?

JL: It's actually not a challenge. Especially now that we've separated the buckets, it makes it a lot easier. We set parameters up front. We said "Ok, we're going to hit this kid with this particular product and we wanted to be able to have a one step or under five steps, we came up with mini-rules. Once you have those rules in place it becomes very easy. I think what took us a while was to get to those rules. For a while there, especially in the past movies before, as Jerry said before (note: during the Hasbro presentation) we were making the same product for a lot of different people and it just wasn't working. We were trying to do all these little "fixes" everywhere trying to make everybody happy and no one was happy. By having the buckets separated for this year in what we saw downstairs at Toy Fair...once we figured it out...then it became easy. It was "Ok, got it."

JJ: And Josh used that word. He would say "We were designing something that was for a five year old, really meant for a five year old to play with and Josh would challenge his designers and engineering...we would say "Can a five year old play with it? Will they have fun playing with it?" When you can simplify it to that message then it makes it easier to design and engineer the products. It makes it easier on Takara Tomy to develop because we can give them clear direction on how to go. And then vice versa we can say "This if for a fan. This is for a collector." then the appropriate product is made there from the number of steps to the articulation to the decoration needed so it does help design and engineer develop according to the age being developed for.

"Generations" is being expanded into the Leader Class. For many years it stayed in the safe "Deluxe" price point. What was the inspiration behind breaking out of that?"

JJ: What happened was...when we relaunched "Generations" in the Fall of 2012 we launched it with the Deluxe Scale with the Combiners that came out with Bruticus from the "Fall of Cybertron" Activision game. The product line sold so well that when we looked at that we were like "We have an opportunity here where we can expand Generations" because people were asking us to. They wanted Voyager, more Deluxe, eventually they wanted Leader. We wanted a price point that was $10 and below so we did the Legends two packs. As we put the product out it sold really well. So it's given us this opportunity where we can expand into these other scales and continue to expand "Generations" as a whole from a business. Also when you look at Titan, for the first one we did Metroplex - the video game inspired that one. Let's do the biggest ever, let's bring Metroplex back to the fans! The things we've done have all been very successful and it's continuing to feed it. Now we're like "Okay we can do this." and now we're building and expanding with the new Leader coming out, with Jetfire to expand into those other price points and filling out what fanswant.

JL: It's working because the fans are buying it. We came out with Bruticus in that line and the fans bought it. We're making it because the fans are buying it not because we're just pushing it out there so as you can see from what we saw downstairs with the expansion - it's very easy to go into a management situation and say "Hey, we want to do this because we have the proof...the previous year look what happened. I've said many times, Brian Goldner told Wall Street, told the analysts this! It's very rare that your CEO is going to get up there and talk about the fan community of the brand when a majority of the brand is a kid-focused brand as "Transformers" is so he recognizes that, which is huge. He's recognizing it because the fans are there for us.

Spinning off that question, because I don't think my readers will forgive me if I don't ask this, Swerve, Cosmos, Tailgate, Skrapnel - we're getting that right? My understanding is that they were underordered originally but more are being made...

JJ: They were underordered, we're going to make sure there are more releases. We've already informed our U.S. Sales team about that. As we do more orders, we'll make sure the waves that come out...that the mix within the case pack will include those characters along with the new characters in the waves three and four so that all those characters get out there in a healthy supply.

And to address the other half of the rumor, upscaled "Beast Hunters" and those guys?

JJ: They were ordered in small amounts, I know that from a U.S. perspective. The challenge we have with the "Beast Hunters" line, separate from "Generations" because "Generations" is continuing is that "Beast Hunters" has a finite shelf life because the Movie line is coming. So this is always a challenge we run into when we switch entertainment themes is that the last product that is set to hit the shelves sometimes are underordered or we get into a situation where retail is simply not ordering anymore and they've shifted their orders now to Movie. So those are newly tooled products, so we as a company have a high desire to ge them out there to the public. We're pushing to get them out this Spring or maybe we can get them out as an exclusive.

JL: Unfortunately it's a product of what you saw downstairs for the Movie line. When we showed that pitch to our retail partners, everyone got so excited that they just..."Ok we're gonna make sure that when the Movie starts we're going to have clean shelf space, set the Movie property and just go for it!".

JJ: The new Movie line hits the week of May 17th. There's going to be an online sell date of May 12th. We're code naming it "Cybertron Monday", so that's when people will be able to go online and then brick and mortar will have it the week of May 17th.

BWTF thanks Jerry and Joshua for taking the time out of their busy and exhausting schedule to talk to BWTF!