Interview: Hasbro Interview at HasCon 2017

in 2017, Interviews

Interviews
Hasbro Interview at HasCon 2017

BWTF was fortunate enough to have the chance to interview Ben Montano and John Warden from the Transformers brand team at HasCon 2017. Unfortunately it was very loud in the area we stood in so a lot of words were lost in the transcription (hence the "..."). However, enough came through that the context of the answers is clear. Some chunks of this interview that were more difficult to fully understand were not included in the transcript below.

Dreadwind

With Power of the Primes, it looks like you’re mixing up a lot of play patterns. You’ve got a little bit of...with Titan Masters. With microplay, you have sort of the semi-pretender play, you have combining, you have a back...trailer combining the cab... Is this a movement towards trying to diversify the play pattern instead just having one play pattern as with Combiner Wars and Titan Masters that focused on one pattern?

John: We mentioned this in an interview earlier, but it’s worth repeating that... I think we...Ben and I kind of think about the Prime Wars trilogy almost as an awesome rock concert. Our first act was Combiner Wars, we got that play pattern. The second act is Titans Return. And the third act is when those two great musicians get up on stage, and they rock together like an acoustic act and...electric act. And they’re doing a really great song. I think that’s really the spirit of this, is the Primes, which technically are the most powerful beings of the Transformers Universe...had the ability to shape the battle.

We wanted to bring them to life in a scale that was backwards-compatible with the Titan Masters, so they fit inside the vehicles and things like that, but then also utilize technology of Combiner Wars. But you’re absolutely right — diversifying is a big, big piece of what we’re doing.

Ben: Honestly, I want to credit John. I talk about this a lot...the fans for leading us down this path.

John: Absolutely.

Ben: That’s the complete truth. Whether it was the fan votes or Hall of Fame votes, it was very clear that fans wanted Dinobots. This chapter gave us the chance to revisit...make things compatible across...because everyone loved Combiner joints and how they work and... But I think what John and team did is upgrade where we could, with feet and ankles. So, I think it wasn’t just the fun we wanted to have and a rock concert of a line, but it was the voices of the fans that said, “Give me more of this, give me some of this,” and that steered us.

Rodimus Prime

Do the Prime Masters have the little holes underneath so that you can still place them on the bases?

John: Totally do, and we actually test them. It’s a little crazy testing these because you have to test the combiner joints, and all the tags, and all the things of the things because the Matrix of Leadership is also...fits the...of a Titan Master. So, you could put your character’s favorite face into the Matrix of Leadership..., which is just bonkers.

The enigma of combination, which comes packed out with every single voyager character, is also a modular part as well. Having to test all of those little pieces to make sure that they are backwards-compatible is...it’s a little whacky.

Ben: Yeah.

John: But it’s all about the consumer experience in the end.

Starscream

Now, very early on when Generations kind of first took off, it was largely plastic characters, but reinterpreted with very...sometimes very different forms than what we’re used to, but kind of...there was a spiritual lineage there. But now, we see...in the last three years I would say, we’re leaning much more towards, “Let’s update it a little bit but put as much G1-ness as we can into it.”

Now, this really shows itself with The Dinobots. Why stick with the traditional, classic translucent plastic forms and the very mechanical look? Why not try to modernize it as Generations once would have done?

John: I think from a design standpoint, we try to reconcile a lot of different fans with Generations, and I think that’s one of the cool things about working on a brand like this, is that it’s not just for fans, it’s for maybe new fans or families or eight-year-olds that never had a Transformer before. So, when you try to do a version of Grimlock, there’s a lot of expectations.

Do you modernize it, like what we did for War for Cybertron, or do you give fans what...a G1 version? So, when we come to events like HasCon or ComicCon, we listen and kind of absorb this part of our...we talk to you guys–we’re also absorbing all the time. We kept hearing fans really wanted these G1 Dinobots, so of course, we’re... In the future, we might modernize something or update it, and I think...personally, I think it would be really, really cool to do “skin” dinosaurs, that kind of Beast Wars, Megatron.

But what fans really...what we found by and large, is that families really want great renditions of those G1 Dinobots because they just haven’t gotten in a really long time.

I think as we start to cross things off our list, it sort of changes the game for us and is... It changes the outlook for our future, but Ben mentioned before... It’s one of things that’s very organic, so as we continue to come up with new stuff... The future’s always changing. It’s really wild.

Dinobots

Since Combiners are coming into the picture again, were there any lessons learned from Combiner Wars that you worked into the...this new era of Combiner toys?

John: That is an excellent question. And yes, yes it...yes, there are. The biggest thing is the hip joints, as well as the ankle joints. We found that many collectors, when they were posing these things out – and even me as I was playing with them... For over the course of the year, I found that it was difficult to strike really dynamic poses. We started to solve it with a Computron set, which had bigger feet...a little better center of gravity. By including the feet components with the Voyager class Transformer and just putting the ... parts with the Deluxes, it kind of ... a little bit to do better combiners. [Note: John meant the foot/fist pieces with the Deluxes, but the audio was distorted].

Then from a minutia standpoint, we’ve gone in and done a lot of little fine tuning in the hips and really spent some time looking at how does it work when it’s...and in Combiner mode. So, you’ll find...I think fans will find that the Combiners, they seem evolved. They seem like a little bit of next generation Combiner Wars for sure.

Ben: Even the dinosaurs are evolved. That seems a little weird.

John: Yeah, oh.

Ben: It’s getting very meta.

John: Yeah.

John: ...thing, too, is... I think from just the aesthetics standpoint, the Combiner Wars had a look – Titans Return had a look — and we found that fans are really excited by all the detail that was in Titans Return. So, we basically...for this third act, we put all that detail in Titans Return and the function of Combiner Wars to kind of have this perfect marriage of form and function.

One thing that fans noticed as Titans Return came in — there’s a lot more use of stickers now. And I’m not talking about Titan, I mean on Voyager. Was there a reason why stickers were chosen over tampos?

John: Well, for stickers, you get...sometimes you get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of story-telling on the figure; you get logos full color, you can get...you can hide voids and stuff like that; if there’s a ... or something like that, you can cover up a...[Note: the idea was to cover up parts such as screws. Apologies again for the loss of words due to audio quality].

This is a technique that they even used back in G1, but I think one of the biggest things is that it allows us to really bring a different dimension to the character. So, when you think about characters like Dinobots, Grimlock really... Part of his thing was the foil stickers. Personally, I think it would be really cool to get foil stickers on the deluxes too, but that wasn’t part of the spec.

I think bringing the stickers in really, I think, gives us license to get in there and get... I don’t know... Like one the wings of Starscream, there’s all sorts of writing. It would have cost us many, many ... to do, but we’re able to get broad strokes in there.

Bludgeon

Can you talk a bit...I don’t know if this is your department really, but can you talk a bit about the expansion of Transformers to Walgreens? Because between the Cyber Battalion and the clones... We had Brainstorm last year... I mean, this is...I view this as a positive.

Ben: Yeah, I think what’s great is that there’s a lot retailers in the U.S. that are seeing there’s opportunity for...to bring fans into the store, that there’s a convenient shopping experience, right, to say the least. There’s some retailer that’re better suited, that will restock quicker, and I think we’re...Hasbro’s looking to capitalize on...like that to make toys more accessible, and you also think something like that is..., right? They’re way more accessible in big cities, where people may not have a Target or Wal-Mart, when you get product that’s great for fans into prices that ... through a huge mass-retailer.

Is there a plan to expand the Cyber Battalion line beyond what we have now? Because Jetfire and Prowl were a surprise to everybody — no one saw that coming. Now that Walgreens is getting them in, do you think they’ll keep ordering them?

Ben: I really can’t answer that. Not that I can’t legally, I just can’t answer that right now. Time will tell, and if the orders come, they’ll put more product out. Obviously, people are really excited about that..., it’s a nice kind of G1 simplified play. So, yeah, if we have the opportunity to do more characters, I think we will.

So, going to R.I.D., the series is ending in about a year or so, is it?

Ben: The end of season three is this fall. I think the future R.I.D.... More to come on that. But the toy line, there will be a few more tricks here and there over the next couple months as well.

Okay.

Ben: Nothing more to show now, but there will be some toys ,,, get to share ... R.I.D. center.

Benson: Okay, so there aren’t...? What we’re seeing right now on shelves, that’s not it, right?

Ben: Correct.

But that’s not the end of the line?

Ben: Correct.

Micronus with Cloudburst armor

Can you talk a bit about the challenge of making Rodimus and Optimus so that the trailer can actually combine with the smaller robot and make something that looks like?

John: [Note: There was a bad, inaudible section where John references the Takara designers working on Rodimus and having worked on the original Star Saber]. The guy’s literal living legend. He was the one who’s working on that. And when we first started off, he says, “John, I have to admit, this is going to be a challenge to keep the G1 look, give it a trailer, and do ...” He was explaining that the scale of ... is a different chest plate, then the scale of the front of the cab, and then there’s...you’ve got another scale in front of the large Optimus Prime robot.

So, that character actually has three chests inside. Putting them together... He actually had to reconcile a bunch of different geometries and create, basically, three false chests that all nested...Easter-egg nested inside of each other and have them all open up so you can get the Matrix of Leadership. It’s a work of engineering beauty. And honestly, if it wasn’t for the help of the talented [Note: Takara designer], I don’t know how we would have ever figured that out. [Laughs] The guy is a brilliant genius. Even the people in... Wow, he’s incredible. He’s the most humble guy, too...you’ll ever meet.

Final question — it’s a general question. More with Generations than R.I.D. or Rescue Bots, there’s been some very noticeable Q.C. issues with...that’s been fairly consistent throughout the line... Is a little more attention being paid to that? Example: Skull Smasher’s hips, universally, were loose when that figure first came out. You improved it with Krok when that came out. So, is there kind of a recognition that, “Oh, some of these maybe need another pass before we put them out?”

Ben: I think we listen to our fans when it’s on blogs or people call our Consumer Affairs group – which is fantastic. And yeah, if there seems to be something consistent, we will look into it and try to address it where we can. We’re only human. We make the best product we can, but we accept that there are times where it’s not perfect and try to honor our fans...a better product if that’s what’s necessary.

So, I think, yeah, it happens in times. But I think at the end of the day, you guys do the count. We’re doing over 150 plus figures a year... There’s a lot of really good stuff out there.

Ben's World of Transformers thanks Hasbro for taking out valuable time for this interview. You can read my review of the event with additional coverage links here.