Creating The Next Innovative Toys: Hasbro On Developing Transformers
by Gary Catig
Hasbro is one of the biggest toy companies currently and they create products from many popular franchises including Star Wars and Marvel. Transformers is another of their successful brands and at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, we spoke with team members responsible for developing toys related to the robots in disguise. Design Manager, John Warden, and Assistant Brand Manager, Ran Sun, filled us in on some of the news coming out of SDCC and beyond.
Gary Catig: We’re here at San Diego Comic Con and the Transformers brand has big plans for the show. Can you tell us what you plan to showcase here at SDCC?
Ran Sun: We have a lot going on this year. I think the biggest thing, the biggest announcement that we have at this year’s San Diego Comic Con is definitely our Unicron. The one that you see over there are the samples that we have. This is by far the biggest transforming figure that we have created from Transformers. We are doing a type of crowd sourcing type of thing where we are looking for our fans to sign up and get this toy, but we need all our fans help to get this toy alive. That is the number one thing we are doing.
John Warden: Really, I think one of the most exciting things that’s happening here at San Diego Comic Con is it’s the 35th anniversary of the Transformers franchise. What better way to celebrate that but with the legendary Transformer toy like Unicron? Unicron not only is the largest Transformer toy ever created at 27 inches tall, but he is also the heaviest. He’s 19 pounds. He has 50 points of articulation, almost 50 steps of conversion. He’s an incredible replica almost of what you see in the 1986 movie. So, when you think about the 35th anniversary that transcends all generations, it’s something that really pulls people together as an incredible Transformers toy but like Ran said, this is a crowd funded event It’s happening on the pulse.com. It’s part of our HasLab project. It can only happen with backer support so it’s really cool to be part of it.
GC: You touched upon it that this year marks the 35th anniversary of the franchise and you are running a #MoreThanMeetsTheEye campaign. Can you tell us what this entails?
RS: Yeah, so it’s a great campaign that we started this year. Our brand is all about the essence of “More than meets the eye” because of our heroes and the stories that we tell. We just ask our fans, “What makes you more than meets the eye?” It’s just a great campaign that we kicked off this year to celebrate the overall brand of Transformers.
JW: I think one of the incredible things about being on a brand that has something that is so powerful with “More than meets the eye” is being able to reach inside yourself and really think about what is my potential. When you think about a young Transformers fan, they could be looking at a fire truck going down the street or a race care and they could think to themselves, “That might be a Transformer.” I think there’s incredible promise there and as we reach inside of ourselves, we are actually able to accomplish so much more than what we are even capable of. There is something awesome and powerful about an event like San Diego Comic Con. It brings all of us geeky types together. We all have common ground here. I look across, I see all sorts of other cool stuff that I like but as Transformers fans, we can all get together and celebrate here, once a year. This is a very cool event to be able to do that.
GC: Speaking in general terms, how do Transformers appearances in other mediums such as comics, TV and movies inform what figures are made. Does one of those mediums take precedence over the other?
JW: I think storytelling is such an important part of what we do at Transformers. Not only do we have all the epic movies with our great partners at Paramount Studios, you also have great stories through our comic books. We have a legacy of incredible animation like G1, Beast Wars and Armada and we have fans all around the world that are creating their own stories. There is something about being able to tap into some of that collective fan passion. We look at people’s collections and we looked at characters, even the small characters like Rung from the IDW series, has a home within the Transformers franchise. I think storytelling is such an important part of what we do and being able to bring it to life with awesome toys that people can collect is one of the best parts of our job.
RS: Yeah, definitely. I feel like there’s so many different aspects of Transformers. So, whether it be from people who love the Transformers movies, that come into fandom through the movies or whether it be from our original G1 series or maybe it could be little kids coming from animation. I’ve never worked on a brand that had so many different platforms with so many different fans coming together as one brand. It’s great to see that we are able to create this storytelling from different parts of the brand and be able to recreate that toy from that series.
GC: Speaking of the comics, that’s where we kind of focus. There’s a new series entitled Transformers: Galaxies coming this September and there’s also the new anime Transformers: War For Cybertron on Netflix next year. Can we expect any products from either of these sources in the future?
JW: I wish we could talk more about that. You know it’s incredible to be able to work on a project, especially as epic and cool as a Netflix project but unfortunately, it’s a little early and you have to stay tuned.
GC: I know you have your panel tomorrow.
JW: We got some surprises definitely in store. I think Ran spoke to the shared passion of storytelling. It’s all about trying to find the right moments in time and the right characters. Fans, stay tuned because we have a lot of great stuff on the horizon.
RS: Yeah, you’ve got to stay tuned. We have a lot of surprises this year.
GC: I enjoy how you released mashups like the exclusive Optimus Prime Ecto 35 and you did the Ectotron through GameStop. Especially because of the comic crossover miniseries. Can fans expect other figures based off of these crossovers? They partnered with Star Trek in the past and G.I. Joe and even if you go back in history, they even worked with the Avengers. That’s not as realistic but some of the other stuff like G.I. Joe is still within the Hasbro brand.
JW: Absolutely. Great partnerships are really what drive a lot of awesome, creative storytelling. You know you think about the Ghostbusters’ project; we were actually able to bring to life some great new stories as well through our comic book series. When you think about other franchises, it makes sense. We had an opportunity this year because we have our 35th anniversary celebration for Transformers. Ghostbusters is also having a 35th anniversary this year as well so it made sense. So, I think when fans think about what are other types of mashups that make sense, an event like Comic Con, really anything is possible. I think it’s all about trying to figure out the right time and the right franchise.
RS: Absolutely. I want to ask you, is there any collaborations that you want to see with Transformers?
GC: Here’s the thing, a while back, they were trying to put together a Hasbro Universe and there were comics that came upon M.A.S.K. and Rom and G.I. Joe and Transformers and all these different brands. It would have been cool. Plus, I know Hasbro plays a hand in developing the other content. Maybe something along those lines.
RS: I mean the reason I asked is because the reason we did this collaboration is because we’ve been getting so much feedback from our fans of like, “Oh my god, we love Transformers. Hey, what happens if you guys meshed these two worlds together?”. Really, that’s where it originated when we heard our fans say, “This would be something really cool. We want to see something like this”. While we can’t comment on what happens in the future, the success of the Ectotron figures has been phenomenal. We really do hope to continue this kind of work in the future. We definitely want to see what you guys say, our fans. And like John said, it matched really well this year with 35th anniversary with Transformers and as well as Ghostbusters. When there is an opportunity, we do like to take advantage of it.
GC: You mentioned the fans and that you listen to their input. How do they reach you? Is it just through social media?
RS: You’d be surprised how much we look online and comment and taking inspirations from our fans and how they react to our new reveals and new products that we make. We want to make sure that we are always engaging with our fans because that’s how our brand is built. There’s a lot of platforms for you guys to be able to voice your opinions. We’re just really grateful for all these different forums that engage you guys. You’ll be surprised how much we watch those comments.
JW: I think one of the cool new things that we have this year, it’s a new tool for us, is Hasbro Pulse, which is a great way for fans to connect and share. It’s a place where you can purchase exclusive products. But honestly, probably the best thing of all is being able to meet people face-to-face. We come to an event like this and be able to shake a fan’s hand. Hear what they have to say. Eventually, you’ll start to hear some patterns. You’ll talk to a huge Transformers fan who has a Ghostbusters shirt on. You might see another fan with a Ghostbusters shirt on and it gives you an idea. So, I think coming to an event like this and meeting people face to face is one of the best ways for us to meet. But like Ran said, just make your voice heard, no matter what way that is.
GC: Going back to Unicron. There haven’t been many projects funded through the Hasbro crowd sourcing initiative. What made you take this particular project that way? Is it just the sheer size and it’s not practical to develop it as its own line?
JW: Yeah, when you think about a platform like HasLab, it’s really the perfect place to create something that is larger than life. When I first saw the 1986 movie as a kid, I didn’t think it was possible to create a Transformer toy as large as Unicron. But with a platform like HasLab, really the sky is the limit and it’s fueled by the passion of fans so we’re able to do a 27” tall Transformer that weighs 19 pounds because it’s all backed by the fans. Honestly, Unicron made the most sense. When we talked to fans at Comic Con, or any other of our conventions that we visit throughout the year, they’re like, “This is great but, god, when are you guys going to do Unicron?” There’s no other way to do it without getting backer support through HasLab.
RS: Yeah, absolutely. John mentioned Hasbro Pulse earlier. We just established that website at the end of last year and this is a great way for us to use that platform to create such an enormous, huge toy. We weren’t able to do this in the past because we didn’t really have a great resource or place to do it. Now that we have HasbroPulse.com and now that we have HasLab, we really want to challenge ourselves to create the next innovative toys we could and we thought, “What other character could we do?” Of course, it was going to be Unicron. We thought Unicron was the perfect character to kick that off.
GC: Finally, I know you want to make a splash at this year’s SDCC and I know you’re keeping tight lipped about what you’re going to be revealing. Can you at least enlighten us about what’s next for Transformers in 2019 and beyond?
JW: Well, when you think about the War For Cybertron Trilogy, it’s really given us an opportunity to bring to life characters in a common scale. For the Transformers in Siege, it’s really the start of their battle on Cybertron. I think that their journey is just beginning and there’s so many more stories to be told and fans are just experiencing the tip of the iceberg of something that is much, much bigger and even more awesome than they can possibly imagine with War For Cybertron.
RS: Yeah, I mean I feel we surprise our fans with another wave of War For Cybertron: Siege characters. We thought the storytelling and the fans loving our product for War For Cybertron: Siege series were so big, that we felt there were a lot more characters that we wanted to explore. For new announcements for San Diego Comic Con, we brought in new characters and new waves. We’ve never done these many waves in one year but we felt this year it was right to do. We’ll see a lot of new revealed characters at San Diego Comic Con this year.
JW: We have Apeface, Spinister, Astrotrain; a genuine triple changer. It’s very, very cool to bring these things to life for fans.
We would like to thank John and Ran for speaking to Comicon.com about Transformers and the Hasbro team that made it possible. There is still time to back the Unicron action figure and you can find more information here.