Design Decode had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Kubalsky, an Australian toy designer who worked with Takara Tomy to bring us many memorable Transformers toys.
As we edge closer to the release of Transformers: Bumblebee live action movie, we should not forget to thank Mr. Alex Kubalsky; for he is not only the main engineer of the Classics Bumblebee but also the co-engineer of Movie Bumblebee (2007) as well as Animated Bumblebee.
…I eventually realised that the transformation itself can have an art or meaning to it. It does have to just be a functional process to get it from form A to form B; it can also be about the journey. I call this Signature Transformation.
In this concept the transformation movement should either relate somehow to the character or creature that it becomes. For example, I once designed a Bumblebee Transformer that did the helicopter breakdance movement with his legs as he transformed so the end user gets to experience a sense of drama or character as they transform the toy. When I was at TakaraTomy in Japan I wrote a piece explaining this titled “We are not engineers, we are dance choreographers”
I like how when you look at a Transformer in its initial state, its surface is riddled with cut lines, recessed sections for the clearance of moving parts, and recessed holes with exposed screws – the necessary sacrifice to the otherwise smooth surface of its form if it didn’t need to transform.
Instead of viewing these engineering constraints as a compromise to art we should see it as just another tool or medium in the art. I don’t think engineers can benefit too much from art. We need their stoic and objective resolve to pair with the artist, not compete.
When I started at Takaratomy on the Transformers action figures I noticed that they had been designing their robot forms with very straight backs and legs like they were standing to attention. If you were to look directly at the side of one, the neck, shoulder, pelvis, knee, and ankle joints were all in a vertical line top to bottom. I suggested that we move the shoulder line back, make him seem more confident, move the pelvis line forward, make him seem more arrogant etc.
The result was that if you look at a lot of Transformer toys designed between 2005 and 2009 you see this stance start to move. There is a curve through the form. They used to call it the ‘Kubalsky S’. This small addition added more drama in the robot form and I think Takaratomy still use this idea in the Transformer toy line today.
You can check out the full interview at Design Decode. We also mirrored some of the cool engineering sketches and prototypes shared with the article.