Takara-Tomy Transformers Staff Interview – Human Alliance, Gravity Bots and more


Disclaimer: The original of this interview was published in Generations 2009 Vol.3.
This translation is provided solely to help non-Japanese fans who are unable to read this insightful interview in the book they purchased. Hope you ‘ll enjoy :)
Revisions by Sol Fury, who is always there to help and never says a harsh word on my Engrish ๐Ÿ˜€ Thank you!!

Who are they?
Mr. Shogo Hasui aka Mr.Starscream (left)
Mr. Hisashi Yuki, whose previous intervies are found here and here.

-We hear you presented some “Revenge (of the Fallen)” products to Hasbro around the time the cinemas finished showing the first movie.

Hasui: We were informed that there would be sequels during the development of the first movie merchandise. Also, the fans’ reaction to the first movie line gave us confidence that we were more than capable. At the presentation, we suggested the ideal future merchandise and discussed how we could expect a new wave of customers, and the products would likely be supported by wider range of age groups. Transformers as a character brand is changing now, and we put our ideas together as to how the toys should be and how they could be marketed.

– What was the very early stage of the product development like?

Hasui: We didn’t know anything about the characters or when the movie was to be released. We tentatively started with the data from the first movie, and more or less guessed how the next ones would be like.
Yuki: The robot designs in the first movie surprised us, but it wasn’t very difficult to imagine the new designs since we had already been through (the first movie designs). Having said that, it was expected to be a while until we would receive information about the movie, so we started with a new gimmick to replace “Automorph”.

– Many designs are even more distinctive looking than the ones in the first movie.

Yuki: They didn’t surprise me that much. I just thought, “So, that’s how you want it this time?” (*laugh)
Hasui: I did think they would be a pain to make toys of. I also feared their robot mode might be seen as staying in a half-transformed state. I tried to emphasize their body frame as a life form even though some of them were not close to humans in shape.
Yuki: With the first movie products, one of our regrets was that the characters could be indistinguishable. Apparently the creators of the movie felt the same way themselves, and this time the characters are quite varied with more car robots on both sides, the Constructicons and such.

– What is the process of the toy development like with “Mech-Alive” mechanism involved?

Hasui: Firstly, every member of the staff was to understand the concept of “Mech-Alive”, after that it is up to each designer to work on his project. One designer generally is responsible of one product from the start to the completion. This time we also had to come up with the (“Mech-Alive”) gimmick on top of the usual vehicle to robot transformation, which is already enough of a challenge. Each member struggles with his project on his own until it takes up the form of a product.
Yuki: The final check (of a product) is conducted by the all staff members. We discuss each product to see if there are any flaws. The purpose of these discussions is to even out the quality level of the products, but we still can’t eliminate our individual style. (*laugh)
Hasui: Some products focus on “Mech-Alive” gimmicks while the others have the strength in their weapons. Each product has a different balance.
Yuki: At the beginning of development, the designer adds as many gimmicks as he can think of, then less important ones get omitted one by one to reduce the cost. All products start off quite extravagant. As for the movie products, the character designs always come first, and it is important to think of the way to reflect those images to the toys. The result differs depending on the character and the staff member in charge. It is an interesting part of the job.

– How did you come up with “Mech-Alive”?

Hasui: At first, we suggested the gimmicks which would be relevant to the story, and next we tried to contrive something that could be unique to the movie merchandise like “Automorph” was to the first movie. Eventually we decided on “Mech-Alive”. I came up with the concept while watching the first movie on DVD and noticed how one part of the robot moves in conjunction with the other. But the gimmick is hard to appeal visually by package photos and such, and finding a better way to show off is our future task. True to “More Than Meets The Eye” catch phrase, some aspects of Transformers products are always impossible to convey to the customers until they are actually handled.
Yuki: I do hear comments such as, “I never fully appreciated it until I had it in my hand”. I think that is the appeal of Transformers, but I can see how it can be a problem when it comes to marketing. (*laugh) It is often not easy to show the appeals of these products, and that is why I’m very appreciative of the on-screen images of the characters in action, because I know the toys will not fail to impress when actually handled (with those on-screen actions in mind). Also, many fans can read news from internet, hobby magazines and such as soon as it is out nowadays, but (Transformers products) can be very surprising, more so to those who collects early information. There is certain appeal to Transformers that you can’t recognize until you actually play with them.
Hasui: As a new recruit to the company (Takara), I couldn’t figure out why so much time and effort were put into Transformers toys when the results weren’t even apparent. (*laugh) But having observed how everyone at the development team was always eager to introduce new type of fun (to the products) and I gradually understood that strong sense of enjoyment was essential to Transformers. I now know without it Transformers would be mere form-shifting toys, and always remind myself never to disregard it.

Mechanism test models to show the concept of the feature.

– Some gimmicks are similar to the first movie’s “Automorph” mechanism, such as how Sideways’ front wheels are stored inside.

Yuki: I wanted to leave some sort of “Automorphing” as the movie toys have complicated transformations. I also thought casual fans would be impressed with the gimmick.
Hasui: Our theme for this line is the expression of the characteristics by “Mech-Alive” and the weapons. For example, to emphasize Sideswipe’s ability as a fast runner, his “Mech-Alive” gimmick was decided to go in his knees. “Mech-Alive” came first for some of the “Revenge” products, while for some others transformation structure was developed first.

“Meager information, strict restriction”

– How did you come up with the Transformers that are not in the movie?

Hasui: We discussed and decided on those toy-only Transformers with Hasbro. Some of the scout class characters such as Ransack who have no appearance in the movie in fact had their roles considered at the early stage of developing a plot, and Depthcharge even had his character design drawn up. We were told Jolt wouldn’t be in the movie initially and discontinued his toy development.
Yuki: Then we saw his vehicle in a still image taken during the production, and hurriedly went back to working on him!

– There are many unique characters in this movie, such as the Twins and Jetfire.

Yuki: Generally it took quite a long time until details of the movie became available to us, but Hasbro also provided us with some information. For example, we knew “the Twins” would be just that as it was their code name since the beginning. I was considering the possibility of symmetrical combination, but was told they would combine not as a robot but as a vehicle, which was Ice Cream Truck.
Hasui: In addition to the verbally relayed information from Hasbro, we were shown several concept sketches. One of them was of Sideswipe running on the wheels on his feet like an ice skater, and it helped us to visualize his actions in the movie. Wheelie was yelping with his foot caught in a rat trap in another drawing. (*laugh) We also heard at an early stage that Sideways was to be sliced in half by Sideswipe, but didn’t know that he would remain in vehicle mode! I somehow assumed those two would have a history and expected to hear some dialogues about grudges held over years or about avenging family members…
Yuki: He went out rather uneventfully. (*laugh) The Fallen was also different from our expectations. I thought he would be the one to emerge from the pyramid, but surprisingly he was somewhere completely different. Also, I never imagined him to be such an old fellow! All we knew about the Fallen was that his vehicle mode would not appear, and we weren’t even clear about what sort of role he was meant to play. Hearing of the title “Revenge of the Fallen” did not help much because we couldn’t guess who the Fallen had a grudge against and how he would show it. It was also due to our uncertainty as to how much of G1 influence would be there.
Hasui: Some important factors of the original have been introduced this time, such as Matrix and Space Bridge.
Yuki: The original Jetfire was also found dormant in the ice; I was impressed with the way they implied the movie Jetfire was not the same character as G1 Jetfire, but at the same time not completely a different one.
Hasui: Starscream was acting like Starscream. He didn’t become a traitor, though!

“Devastator” concept model by Mr.Hasui. It was presented to the movie staff through Hasbro.

– It must have been challenging to contrive the Optimus and Jetfire combination as their design style is different from previous series?

Hasui: I remember the staff member in charge of those, Kunihiro (Takashi,) was just looking paralyzed. (*laugh)
Yuki: When I saw Jetfire’s design, I was surprised, too (*laugh) A illustration of his combined mode with Optimus was sent to us later, and the products were updated accordingly. Kunihiro said the most difficult part was to reserve the space for the electronics. He said, “I can manage the realization of the CGI design, but creating the physical space for the batteries or the speaker is not manageable.” It would make our job easier if the batteries could transform to a smaller size! There are other restrictions, for example, the switch has to be placed on the front side because of “TRY ME!” packaging.
Hasui: “TRY ME!” switch needs to be pressed easily with one finger, and for the sound to be heard clearly, the speaker cannot be on the back. Also, we can’t include a transformation which involves twisting the parts which contain the wires inside as it might sever them. With such elimination, a transformation process for a leader class is more or less decided.
Yuki: Speaking of Jetfire, I think he is rather unusual as SR-71 merchandise. There has never been one in such a large scale except for expensive model kits.
Hasui: In old days, Transformers made such (unfamiliar) vehicles recognizable to many people. I expect something similar this time around. (*laugh) Because of the high cost of oil, economic cars are more popular than big automobiles these days, and I hope people can feel more excited about the cars through Transformers.
Yuki: It would be fun if Camaro sold more thanks to Bumblebee!

In the first movie, only these images (above) are given to design Starscream toy, while in the second more images were supplied (below) to help improving the appearance of the figure.

Drawing used to develop Sideswipe toy by Mr. Hasui.

Supreme Devastator drawing also by Mr.Hasui. Initially he was in charge of this figure, but due to the conflictiong schedule the project was handed over to Mr.Takio Ejima.

“The Birth of a New Product Content”

– Tell us about how you came to create Human Alliance series.

Hasui: We went through a great deal of pain for the series. Hasbro initially requested a set consisting of “a vehicle and its driver”, and when I asked if anyone wanted to take this project on among the members of the staff, no one volunteered. (*laugh)
Yuki: Well, we were all busy with the tasks we had already been working on!
Hasui: So I had no choice but to present it myself and I built a sample with Ratchet in a rush. The main idea was that the driver figure sitting in the seat of the vehicle would appear on the shoulder of the robot. The aim was the element of surprise that the vehicle was transformable without taking out the driver figure. I was a big fan of pre-Transformers Diaclone, and I always wanted to make a Transformer with a driver. But I wish it wasn’t for the movie figures (*laugh) Because they are troublesome enough just to contrive vehicle to robot transformations, and now I had to figure out the way to add the figure on top of that. Initially we planned on Bumblebee as the first, then the larger vehicles, Ironhide and Ratchet. Bumblebee is smaller compared to the other two, so it was more difficult to come up with the transformation, but I was encouraged to try my best because he was one of the main mecha. I went as far as adding the console.
Yuki: I took charge of the later products after Bumblebee. I have worked on Binaltechs and I thought I would manage with the know-how I built up. But coming up with a transformation with the driver inside was much more trying than I expected. I had to include a working steering wheel in a Binaltech, but this series was more challenging than that.
Hasui: Complicated transformation like Binaltechs was not allowed either as the series was aimed for a younger generation than for the main line. Also, the common theme of this series was to reflect the bond between the robot and the human. That is why Bumblebee has a visor on/off feature; it is to distinguish the battle situations from the life not at a battle. Then, when we were just about to start with Ratchet and Ironhide…
Yuki: Due to the product size, the lineup was switched to Sideswipe and Skids. Somehow we ended up with smaller cars than Bumblebee, and it was going to be even harder to add gimmicks! I included Arcee in Skids set to adjust the product size. Human Alliance figures are larger than their main line counterparts and I entertained the possibility of realizing more movie accurate transformation, but there also had to be a consideration to how they were meant to be played with and I abandoned the idea.
Hasui: As merchandise, the focus of the series was to be on the vehicle mode and the robot mode only required a passable resemblance. Though I accidentally created a well-made Bumblebee and that must have intimidated Yuki. (*laugh)
Yuki: You never thought of the others that had to follow Bumblebee! Really, it was cruel. (*laugh) Sideswipe has gull wing doors, and I had enough trouble just to make the driver figure sit inside. Though I also had great fun with this series because I could add extras that weren’t possible with a deluxe thanks to their bigger size. Though the deluxe versions have more movie accurate transformation process, as I had to take the driver figure’s position into consideration with this series. Human Alliance is more focused on a play value as a vehicle toy.
Hasui: As of now we are working on several HA figures due out in 2010, and I hope this type of products will become a regular lineup.

HA mechanism prototype built to present the concept of the series. The grey parts are the new parts added to Ratchet figure. There is also a mini bike which is in scale with the driver figure (stored in the vehicle; not shown in the image). The bike becomes the upper arm of the robot.

– Tell us about Gravity Bots.

Hasui: As I mentioned earlier, we are seeking to expand our customer base and have considered various new possibilities. Once the subject was on how we would make Transformers that could be enjoyed by anyone, and I casually said, “What can be easier to do than to stand the vehicle upright?”. We generated several ideas from there and eventually settled with an auto-transformation activated by standing up the vehicle.
Yuki: To be honest, I play with them quite often and find them most enjoyable. There is always one of those on my desk so that I can fiddle with it any time. It is hard to describe the fun with written words though, so I hope the readers of this book will pick one up and actually try it themselves.
Hasui: They are the products most true to “More Than Meets the Eye”.
Yuki: There are also EZ Collection figures that transform neatly despite their small size. This series also features Devastator that manages individual transformation as well as combining. Along with the main line, all products are full of Transformers charm.

“The Future of Transformers”

– Which figures left you strong impressions throughout the development of the first and the second movie products?

Yuki: Sideways for me. I had to add the tires on his arms in a big hurry thanks to the sudden design alternation. I went through such a hassle only to see him chopped in half just like that in the movie. (*laugh) Such movie appearance and all that considered, he is the memorable one (#).
Hasui: The ones (#) that didn’t turn out like we wanted to and gave us trouble are more memorable indeed. For me, Barricade from the first movie was just that. The first prototype I made was so awful, and as I amended him again and again, I got more attached to him. (*laugh) This time I put in lots of time and effort on starting up Human Alliance series, so HA Bumblebee is the product that stayed on my mind. Though it was a long time ago now and my memory is getting rather vague. (*laugh)
Yuki: There are so many products in the movie line, and we work on an extremely fast pace. Because of that, we forget about most of them within a year.

(#Note; Both Mr.Hasui and Mr.Yuki affectionately refer to the toys they developed as “child” (子), which many Japanese TF fans also do when they refer to the figures they own. I find it very endearing, but unsure about how it sounds in English and chose not to use the word here. – Sydney) – Tell us about your impression of the movie.

Yuki: I was not sure about the first movie because I knew nothing about which characters would be in or what they would be like. The second one had more reference to the original, which gave me a high expectations for the third one. I wonder if there will be more new characters, or if there will be an unexpected turn in the story.
Hasui: I always worry if the characters I created the toys of would play important parts or not. At the same time I look forward to seeing the new characters for the next movie. In “Revenge” I was really hoping to see Starscream doing something important during the absence of Megatron. But Megatron returned much sooner than I expected!

– What are your resolutions for the future?

Yuki: I fear there may not be much left to improve Optimus Prime figure for the third movie because the “Revenge” version is such a huge step up from the first movie one. It is not that you can always make a better figure by including more intricate transforming mechanism. We can also try a new approach like we did with Gravity Bots.
Hasui: I would like to try something different again. We came up with “Automorph” for the first movie line, and “Mech-Alive” and combiners for the second, and I should think we are expected to do something even better for the next movie. I will do my best not to dissappoint the customers who will see the movie.
Yuki: Thanks to the movies, the word “Transformers” has become more recognizable. I want to provide good product contents that will attract those new fans. In America, Transformers garner more interest, but there were also many Japanese people who remembered Transformers when the movies came out. The franchise has finally become a brand which bridges 2 generations like we have been hoping. It used to be like, “Convoy’s real name is Optimus Prime”, but now I guess it is more like, “Optimus used to be called Convoy”. I would be really happy if parents and their children could have a conversation like that.

– Finally please send your messages to the fans.

Yuki: In Japan, there are many Transformers lines besides the movie series, such as Device Label. I think Japanese fans are very fortunate. Please try these other series, too. Also, when you will watch “Revenge” on DVD, please take the toys you are collecting now and have fun with them again.
Hasui: Sometimes you don’t notice certain details of a movie until you watch it a few times. Toys can have such details, too. As you play with your toys more, you get to see them better. There are more to them than your first impressions. We always think in the long term of 10 ~ 20 years when we develop a product, and will never cease to do so. I will do my best to relay our enthusiasm to the customers.