TFW2005.COM’s very own Kickback was given the opportunity to ask Derrick Wyatt, character designer/art director for the hit show TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED, some questions about himself, his career, what’s it like being a part of Transformers lore, and of course, questions about the as-of-yet unaired Season 3!
Learn some tidbits about Rodimus Prime, Shockwave, Waspinator, and more!ABOUT DERRICK WYATT: TFW2005: Where did you grow up and what hobbies and activities did you enjoy as a youngin?
Derrick Wyatt: I grew up in a tiny village in southern Michigan called Paw Paw. I pretty much did the same things as a kid that I enjoy doing now. Collecting toys, watching cartoons and movies, reading books and comic books, and drawing.TFW: Every one has fond memories of their childhood and the forms of entertainment growing up. Did you have a specific cartoon, toy, video game, etc., that you just couldn’t get enough of?
DW: Transformers is definitely at the top of that list. I was also into Star Wars, G.I. Joe, MASK, Ghostbusters (the movie) and the Real Ghostusters cartoon, Super Friends, Mighty Orbots. All that stuff and lots more.TFW: How did you first get in to the business of animation and design?
DW: I worked as an intern, p.a., then artist at Spumco. After that a design job opened up on a little Warner Bros. show called Mucha Lucha. After I was in at WB, more opportunities like Teen Titans popped up.TFW: How did you get your start with Cartoon Network?
DW: I had been doing freelance development design while I was still on Teen Titans and Legion for Sam Register (who was still at CN at the time) and Tramm Wigzell (CN development exec). They had both liked my Titans designs, and would often hire me to get my design take on various projects they were developing. Sam and Tramm are into a lot of the same geeky stuff that I’m into, so they are always fun to work for.DERRICK’S CAREER: TFW: Some of your credits over the past few years have included some animated programs that proved to be big hits such as Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Mucha Lucha, Ben 10, and even Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Of those credits (my apologies if I’ve left some out), which one would you say is your own personal favorite to have worked on?
DW: Transformers has been my favorite so far. Teen Titans comes in a close second. That was a really fun show to work on too. Some of the shows like Foster’s and Ben 10 I only did freelance character design for. I think the only thing I ever did for Foster’s was an old lady in a rocking chair!TFW: How much of a difference is there designing animated characters for say Teen Titans, which was primarily a televised project, versus something like Transformers Animated, where the designs have to have an aesthetic to be close to a transforming toy?
DW: Well, I wouldn’t say there was a huge difference. Designing robots or designing superheroes, you are still designing a character and trying to get across a personality with a drawing. It also feels a little similar to me because on Titans I would look at the old comics, and take what I liked from the different character’s incarnations and put it back together in a way I liked. I would also get input from Glen Murakami, Jon Suzuki, and Brianned Droughard on the stuff I would draw for Titans, much like the input I get from Eric Siebenaler on Transformers. I guess the real difference is that I got to set the style for Transformers myself, and I am a bigger fan of Transformers.TFW: Have any projects come up that you wanted to do but, for whatever reason, you weren’t able to be a part of?
DW: Sure. That happens all the time.TFW: What is your dream project/job/aspiration?
DW: I think Transformers Animated is it! I am really just trying to enjoy this as much as I can while it lasts. It has always been my biggest dream to work on a show like Transformers and have toys made based on my designs. I guess my next aspiration would be to have a living room big enough to display all these toys.ALL THINGS TRANSFORMERS: TFW: You posted a really insightful look at how the design of Lockdown and Prowl evolved. Are there any other characters who went through similar radical changes?
DW: I think Lockdown went through the most radical change. His case was probably so different because Eric and I had such radically divergent ideas in mind for what the character should be. In the end we sort of fused our ideas into one design, and ended up with the Lockdown we now know and love. Prowl went through some pretty big changes too. Most characters go through minor changes along the way. A lot of the time it’s just some small details, like the placement of wheels or something that affects the toy conversion engineering.TFW: Are there any characters that you designed who never made it past the concept stage? We have heard of a character called Stiletto originally planned for the show being used in the comic, are there any others who just never worked out?
DW: Yeah. Octopunch! Matt Youngberg and I have been trying to work in Octopunch really since day one. I keep hoping some day he will make the cut. Unfortunately I lost the sketchbook I had done the Octopunch concept art in. Otherwise I would have put him up online. Maybe someday I will get the time to draw him again, and give everyone a glimpse of what might have been. Marty had wanted to do the Wraith since the get go too, but his episode also got cut for time. At least Marty got to write him into the IDW comic, and I got to design him. I have tons of doodles of characters I’d like to put in Animated. There are always more ideas that we just don’t have time to do. There are never enough episodes in a season!TFW: Can you explain a little about the process of coming up with the original idea for a character and how they become a full-fledged design? How much do you and Eric (Siebenaler, Hasbro Designer) look back to the originals in this process?
DW: My first instinct is always to look at the G1 character. I have very fond memories of the original series, and I want those memories to be reflected in the new design for a classic character. I will also look at any other version of a character with the same name to see if there is any design elements I would like to use. Then there are characters like Inferno and Rampage where I like the later Beast Wars versions much more than their G1 counterparts, so I would probably use their later selves as a jumping off point. Eric usually likes to break new ground rather than retread the past. So we try to fuse our ideas together making something new that still has ties to previous incarnations.TFW: So far, characters are mostly characters from the original series. If the opportunity presented itself, would you reach a bit further into the mythology and use some of the more unusual characters, say for example from the Japanese shows?
DW: Oh yes. Just you wait.
(TFW2005 EDIT: Recent speculation from our Chinese friends suggests that Derrick may be referencing Dai Atlas, who is rumored to appear in Season 3 as a ninja-like character, similar to Jazz and Prowl, but way more powerful)TFW: The Headmaster’s robot head, in my opinion, seems to look a lot like a purple, visorless version of the G1 Scorponok head. When that character was introduced, did you look to the original Scorponok for inspiration or is it foreshadowing the possible introduction of full-fledged Headmaster Transformers down the road (if everyone decides to pursue that idea).
DW: Well, speaking of Japanese Transformers, I was really looking at the Headmaster Warrior, Loafer, when I designed the Headmaster head mode. I really like how Loafer has the really tall brainy forehead and the weird broad grin on his face. The purple color and the antlers probably do come from Scorponok. Design is always a mesh of conscious and unconscious thought. We have talked about what kind of possible progression the Headmaster could take, but for the moment we are pretty happy with him just being a body thief. Although I do like the idea that someday there could be a “Masterforce.”TFW: In other interviews, you’ve been described as a major transformers resource for the rest of the production staff. Do you feel this is accurate? What kind of questions do you get asked? How often? How deeply are you included in the writing of the show due to this knowledge of the franchise?
DW: I guess it’s pretty accurate. I get a whole range of questions about TF lore. A lot of the time it will be Marty Isenberg asking me for a character to fit a situation. Like Marty would come up to me and say “I need an Autobot who would be good to act as a sort of military police type, any suggestions?” Then I would think of who would fit, and who I would like to see in the show that we haven’t used yet, and I would say something like “How about Warpath? He would be a good fit.” I am involved in all the story break meetings. I make suggestions; though most of my suggestions are to do with what character I want to see in the show, and what kind of personality they would have. The Headmaster was my idea. I wanted to have a human villain in the show that would go around stealing Cybertronian bodies. Then Marty came up with the idea of him being a disgruntled Sumdac employee, and worked the story around that idea. So, I do make some plot or subplot suggestions, or maybe have an idea for a character moment, but my favorite thing to do is suggest characters and to be the nerdy fact checker.TFW: Similarly, it was said in a TFW2005 interview with Marty Isenberg that you have a “long list” of established transformers characters you’d like to put into TF: Animated. Would you care to comment at all about who’s on this list, and how this list fits into how the series has progressed / where it’s going?
DW: Well my top favorites have always been Swindle, Ratbat, Galvatron and Waspinator. Having gotten 3/4s of those guys in, my list shifted to other characters from various series that I really like a lot like Strika, Cosmos, Blot, Rampage, Optimus Primal, Grandus, Dai Atlas, Sludge, Deathsaurus, Dino-force, basically every Soundwave and Blaster cassette, and all of the ’86 movie characters. So anyway, yeah it’s a REALLY long wish list, and I do my best to lobby for inclusion of certain characters. My list also shifts according do what Transformers I’m into at the time. No one would have ever even considered Swindle if I didn’t care. But I would have been really heart broken to have worked on this show and not gotten a new Swindle toy!TFW: What are some of your favorite TF stories from other shows/comics/etc.?
DW: Well, the original ’86 Transformers the Movie sticks with me the most. It’s the one that I go back and revisit the most. There have been times when I would watch it once, then just rewind it and start it over again. Sometimes my other G1 Transformers story memories are a little hazy. The episode “B.O.T.” was one I always remembered from when I was young. But the thing is, I had just remembered the story focusing on Swindle selling off the other Combaticons, and I had totally mentally blocked out the whole school science project part of the story! Wow was I disappointed when I went back and watched that one! I really did love a lot of the stories in Beast Wars. That series had really great, character driven writing. I think the characters and personalities are really what end up sticking with me the most. That’s what I focus on. Character design and character personality really go hand in hand and rely on one another. That’s probably why I like the 1986 Movie so much, the personalities and the character designs are so strong, they really carry it.TFW: In the last couple of years, Transformers information from the animation side of things has leaked out at a much more frequent rate(Transformers Cybertron, now Transformers Animated). What are your feelings on those leaks — do you think it is harmful or misleading to the more “hardcore” fans who keep up on all of this? Or is the “hype” a good thing?
DW: Hype is one thing, but I do not like the leaks. Especially when it spoils an entire season’s worth of show surprises like the whole Dubai debacle did. It seems like the leakers only ever have the worst quality stuff too, so every fan’s first impression comes form some horrible 12th generation 17 dpi jpeg copy. That’s just not the way I would want a character’s debut to be.TFW: What role do you play with Eric Siebenaler (Hasbro designer) in terms of Transformers Animated? How much of the character design goes back and forth between the two of you?
DW: Eric and I work back and forth together on pretty much every single Transformer in the show. Sometimes he will start the design, and sometimes I start. We try to work everything out so the toys can actually transform, and still look 90% on model with the animation. It’s generally a really fun, collaborative process.TFW: Hypothetical scenario. You’re at work, whatever time it may be during the day, and you get a phone call/E-mail/carrier pigeon from Hasbro’s team … they want to make a grasshopper Transformer named “Kickback” in Transformers Animated. Walk us through how a description becomes a fleshed out character in the cartoon.
DW: First I would work with the memory I have of the character. I would probably do a few sketches based on what I remember. Then I go look for reference of the G1 version, cartoon and toy. This is where Jim Sorrenon and Bill Forster’s Ark books come in handy! I will also look to see if there are any versions of him other than G1. Sometimes I will use certain elements I like from later versions, or meld all versions into one new one. I am pretty fond of the OG Kickback design, and would probably use that as a starting point. I would guess he would probably be some kind of techno-organic. Perhaps one of Blackarachnia’s experiments. At this point, assuming I am the one initiating the design, I will do a rough sketch that takes all the parts I like from all the previous little sketches I’ve done, and then email it to Eric. Since Kickback would have a beast mode instead of a vehicle I would be drawing the alt mode as well as the robot. Eric would tell me if he likes the design rough, or if it sucks. At this stage he will also work out a rough transformation and send it to Takara to fine tune. They will let me know what will work and what won’t for the transformation. Once Eric and I have gone back and forth with the design enough that is it functional and we like the looks of it, we will take a color pass. And voila, there you would have Kickback: Animated.TFW: Follow up — would you make Kickback totally awesome, or a total wimp?
DW: Decepticons are never wimps in Animated. They are war machines. Kickback would be a total instrument of destruction. He would be a grasshopper of death.
(TFW2005 EDIT: Check out the sketches Derrick did of what Kickback would look like in Transformers Animated! Thanks Derrick, those are awesome!!)TFW: Is there anything you would like to say to the fans who have a hard time adjusting to the designs of Transformers Animated (because of the difference in style) or to those who have seemingly been turned off to new characters coming out (a la Jetfire/Jetstorm)?
DW: I do get a little frustrated with people who equate a more cartoony style with being kiddie or pre-school. It’s a weird trend with American fanboys that I don’t understand at all. Like they only way to go for these guys is to do it uber real world, dark and gritty. It’s strange to me because you look at places like Japan or Europe, and they have no problem with a broad range of styles. Most animation fans around the world realize that having a more pushed or cartoony design in no way makes it just for kids. We have done our best to make TFA a show that both kids (a new generation of fans) and longtime fans alike can enjoy. I know by now from seeing fan reaction so far that at least 85% of Transformers fans will come around once they see everything in it’s final form. For the other guys that only like the first 14 episodes of G1, season two, with the exception of the ones featuring Seaspray, and everything else is heresy, I know I’m never going to win them over. And that’s fine. I am very picky about Transformers and Transformers lore too. There are some things I will never accept either. So I understand. But it’s a great time to be a Transformers fan. If you don’t like Animated you have Michael Bay, the IDW comics continuity, Classics, and some great Takara reissues. And for those of us who like it all, this is the best ever!TFW: Is there anything you’d like to say for fans who are eagerly awaiting what happens to their favorite Animated characters in Season 3 of Transformers Animated? (Throw them a bone, get them excited, etc.)
DW: Well, from an art director’s point of view, we added two new TFA crew members to help me out in season 3. Our former director, Irineo Maramba is doing amazing character designs for us this season. Between Irineo and myself, we probably expanded the cast by two or three times. Irineo is a big Transformers fan too, and he got to add a bunch of his old favorites in to the show. We also added a full time color stylist, Claire Lenth, to our team. With Claire’s help we were able to do many more special color scenes and control the FX color a little more. One example I can point to is Blurr’s FX. We were never quite happy with how his speed powers came out in season 2, but he is really amped up for the new season. He moves as fast as he talks now.
DW: Other than that you can expect to see the Chosen One face off against the great Decepticon General of Destruction in a desperate battle where the young leader is hopelessly out gunned. You will see Autobot scientists, under orders from the Elite Guard, conduct a high risk experiment to merge Decepticon technology into the bodies of Autobot twins. Witness the traitor on Cybertron stop at nothing to destroy anyone who tries to get word of his treachery to the Autobot High Council. Meanwhile the poor bot who is being hunted as a traitor will see his luck go from bad to worse, and then things really get ugly. Autobots we are close to will be forced to relive painful memories of their past. Both Friends and foes will return. You will see characters from nearly every previous Transformers series. There will be more new characters than I am physically able to draw in time to meet my deadlines!MISC. TFW: In the 90s, the use of computers in television animation led to shows like Beast Wars that had a dramatically different style from traditional cel-based animation. In recent years, the animation style has seemed to move back to a more classic look. Where do you think animation will go next? How do you feel about the rise of programs like Flash in television animation? How will the internet, combined with the availability and ease of these programs, affect both the business and the art of cartoons?
DW: I look at traditional style animated shows in Japan, and I wish the US animation industry would go more in that direction. CG is fun once in a while, but there is such a glut of horrible unwatchable computer generated movies out there at any given moment, that it’s really hard to get excited about any of them. Unless maybe it’s a Pixar movie. I know Flash can be used by people who know what they are doing to make great looking stuff. Unfortunately that rarely happens. The truth of the matter is that both these digital ways of producing cartoons are just usually used as a crutch to crap out more junk that no one wants. Not that traditional animated cartoons are 100% gold either. Jeez, that question was a real downer.TFW: What’s been your most memorable experience in the animation industry so far?
DW: Oh, I try to forget those.TFW: What would you like to do after Transformers: Animated?
DW: Transformers Animated: VICTORY! Or NEO. Or something.TFW: Are you a comic fan as well? How has this affected your work on the two DC cartoons you’ve worked on?
DW: Yes. I really like comics too. It was a lot of fun to redesign some of my favorite super heroes and to see them animated. Although I seem to be reading less and less superhero fare as time goes on.DW: Can we expect to see an original show completely designed by Derrick Wyatt someday soon?
DW: Anything is possible. Maybe if I ever have an idea that doesn’t involve a transforming robot.TFW: What other television shows do you watch?
I like old ‘70’s game shows. Match Game is my all time favorite. I also like detective shows, like Mystery! and Monk. Lots of old British sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances. Mostly I just like to watch old movies and PBS. All shows your grandmother would approve of.
TFW2005.COM would like to thank Derrick Wyatt for taking the time to work on this interview over the Thanksgiving Holiday and for the awesome sketches he did for this interview and to Cartoon Network for the overall okay, of course!
You can check out TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED airing on Cartoon Network now. Watch for new episodes of the highly anticipated Season 3 storyline starting in Spring of 2009!
Thanks again, Derrick!