"I've been one of the biggest fans of Transformers™ since they first came out," says executive producer Steven Spielberg. "I'm not talking about buying the toys for my kids. I'm talking about reading the comic books and buying the toys for myself. I'd play with them at home with my kids, but I'm the one who was enthralled with them," he recalls. "I was a collector and I always thought the Hasbro toy line would one day 'transform' into a big summer movie."
Spielberg was not the only one to think so; several of the film's producers had the same impulse. While producer and former studio executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Hasbro COO Brian Goldner were talking about possible movies ideas for Transformers™ and other Hasbro franchises, Tom DeSanto was approaching Don Murphy to form a partnership in hopes of making his own Transformers™ project. When all was said and done, the core creative force behind the film is a virtual who's who of Hollywood producing royalty: Steven Spielberg, director Michael Bay, di Bonaventura ("Shooter"), DeSanto (the "X-Men" series), Murphy ("Natural Born Killers") and Ian Bryce ("Saving Private Ryan").
From the get-go, all of the producers did their homework and knew that making a Transformers™ movie meant honoring a much beloved franchise backed by a strong base of devotees, many of whom had lifelong ties to the characters.
"Transformers™ has a rich, established history that inspired all of us," says di Bonaventura. "It's no wonder we each had the same brainstorm; each of us was attracted to its mythology.
"The hardest aspect of overcoming people's assumptions about robots - even the fans' - was that until we could show footage, no one could really understand what this particular movie is all about," he says. "So we focused on the work at hand: developing a human story, finding the best cast and producing the most exciting effects we could. The rest would take care of itself."
DeSanto swears that he's dreamt of making a movie about Transformers™ since he was a kid, but it didn't occur to his partner Murphy until years later as he was strolling through the Comic-Con convention in San Diego. "I was walking around, looking at a lot of properties and franchises, and all of a sudden it hit me," Murphy says. "The kids of the '80s have grown up and now they probably want to see movies based on all this stuff around me, all their beloved characters and stories. Oh my God, this makes perfect sense."
Murphy also knew that DeSanto, whom he'd met when the two worked together on "Apt Pupil," was not only a huge fan of the toy franchise, he was a walking encyclopedia of comic book information. DeSanto, who owns over 35,000 comic books, called Murphy to partner on the project as Murphy had a previous relationship with Hasbro.
"Transformers™ was something I loved and cared about as a kid," says DeSanto. "It's hard to get these movies made, so you better love what you do because otherwise you're in for a few dreary years trying to make the idea a reality."
"When DreamWorks told us that Steven loved the idea, I couldn't believe it," DeSanto recalls. "As a kid from New Jersey, to hear that Steven Spielberg liked the same robots, I just thought, 'how did I get here?' The rest is a dream; it's just been great."
"Hasbro and Paramount were very excited about the process of putting another successful product into live-action format," di Bonaventura says, "and of course Transformers™ came up because its one of Hasbro's crown jewels and a brand Brian believes has great potential.
"Brian is understandably protective of every franchise at the company," di Bonaventura explains. "For that reason he wanted to be involved as a producer, an idea I readily embraced because Brian really knew the brand and has a lot to offer."
Ultimately DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures chose to partner on the film. In previous years their collaborative efforts have yielded such successful films as "Dreamgirls," "War of the Worlds," "Collateral," and "Saving Private Ryan."
Screenwriter John Rogers, a comic book writer and enthusiast, was asked to put together an initial draft of the script. "The nice folks at DreamWorks know I'm a geek; I make my living as a professional 12-year-old," jokes Rogers, "So considering I was assembling and disassembling Optimus Prime® in their offices, I really had no defense when they asked me if I was interested. I was very eager; it was a great opportunity. The only real direction I was given was: write a human story."
Rogers' initial three plot lines eventually evolved into the rich, textured story that is "TRANSFORMERS," crafted by the talented team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Prior to passing the torch, Rogers spent an inordinate amount of time monitoring different Transformers™ web sites. "When I moved onto another project, I left Alex and Bob to take the heat," he jokes. "The fan base is so huge you could devote an entire section of your life to answering their questions. These people care. No one knows that more than the writers."
Rogers' favorite Transformer™ is Sound Wave "just for attitude and sheer crankiness," with Optimus Prime® running a close second "for moral clarity."
A longtime aficionado of science fiction, Spielberg was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. "The reason I love science fiction so much is because it's the only genre that allows you unlimited access to your imagination."
For that reason, Spielberg took a special interest in "TRANSFORMERS" and called director Michael Bay while he was putting the finishing touches on "The Island," to ask him to helm the film.
"Michael is the perfect director for "TRANSFORMERS," says Spielberg. "He really had a feel for this material; he had a focused vision for what this franchise could look like as a movie. Michael had all the freedom he needed to breathe life into the humans, the Decepticons® and the Autobots®."
Without much thought, Bay initially dismissed Spielberg's offer, but when he realized that Spielberg was serious about the project and wanted to act as a hands-on producer, Bay relented and agreed to take a trip to Rhode Island to visit Hasbro's home base. After meeting with Goldner, Bay caught the bug and he swears it took him all of three seconds to change his mind.
"Walking down the hallway where they created the Monopoly® game, Mr. Potato Head® and G.I. Joe® - everything from my childhood - I knew this was a company that took their toys seriously," Bay says. "Meeting with Brian, who's probably more manic than I am, if that's possible, really started me thinking. He's wild, he's an absolute zealot about these action figures and he loves his business; his enthusiasm was infectious."
Bay along with producers di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce were put through their paces and attended "Transformers™ School." (DeSanto and Murphy had taken the course on a previous excursion to Hasbro.)
"That's actually what they call it," Bay explains. "They take you through the lore and the different incarnations of the comic books and the toys - kind of an overview of Transformers™ history - the brand, and the characters. The scope of it just blows you away, and the first thing that struck me was the idea of robots transforming at 80 miles an hour on a freeway. Right then and there I was sold on making this idea work."
Bay has been offered many super hero projects over the years, but has turned them down for the same reason many aficionados of original fantasy characters dislike their interpretation on celluloid. So when Spielberg tapped him to direct an action picture bringing to life a 20-year-old iconic toy line that had already been immortalized with lunch boxes, comic books, games and its own cartoon series, Bay realized he would be confronting an outspoken army of die-hard fans who were dedicated to the original action figures.
An admirer of Japanese animé, Bay knew he and his production designer, Jeff Mann, would do justice to the Transformers™ franchise, but neither of them was prepared for the onslaught of harsh criticism they would face even before a single frame of film was shot.
"You have to respect the guys who created these phenomenal toys," says Bay, "but I was set on taking them into a real world where they'd have to be more intricate to fit in. The Generation One robots were very blocky which would have been like using the unarticulated marshmallow man from 'Ghostbusters.' Our Optimus Prime® has 10,108 parts, each of which move.
"It was a big leap of faith for me to sign onto a movie like this," he continues, "because I only wanted to make something that was as photorealistic as possible. These robots are the most complex modules ILM has ever made. We couldn't have accomplished this two years ago. I guess that's my answer to people who complain that the robots will look a bit different from the originals. Sometimes it's best not to answer your critics and just let the work stand for itself."
"Our goal was always to be true to the original spirit behind the Transformers™," says di Bonaventura. "You never want to disappoint the people who really care about the franchise if only because it translates to a larger audience and negativity spreads. Besides, we would never want to alienate our core fan base; it's like alienating your family."
Actor Shia LaBeouf, who portrays Sam Witwicky, puts it succinctly. "People love Michael Bay or people hate him. It's just a fact," he laughs. "He's not Elia Kazan. Even Mike will tell you that. Of course, my goal is to work with all types of directors, I want to stretch and make films that mainstream audiences really appreciate for the visceral experience.
"Michael is the sickest action director on the planet," La Beouf continues. "He's General Patton: hard as hell, opinionated, but with a great sense of humor, and he's got an amazing visual sense; he's a genius. I know that I worked with the best Michael Bay there's been so far."
Jon Voight was familiar with Bay, having previously worked with him on "Pearl Harbor." He knew well the director's fast-paced shooting style, his love of action and his desire for perfection, and similar to Voight's co-stars, he sees Bay's sense of humor as one of the tools in his arsenal of filmmaking techniques.
"Michael has a great sense of fun," Voight says, "and all of his films reflect that no matter how serious the subject matter. It's also what I like about this film - we don't take ourselves too seriously."
"Michael is definitely the fastest director I've worked with," say actor Tyrese Gibson. "He keeps everybody on edge so that we stay sharp and on top of our game, and that's because he's on top of his game. When I watch everything and everyone he has to deal with on set, it makes me feel that much more responsible to do my part. Michael keeps me motivated."
"As my mother would say, Michael's a pip," laughs Voight. "He's got this tireless energy and he jumps from one set to another. Sometimes it seems as though he's making it up on the spot, but he's so familiar with the script that he has that leeway. You just never know where a scene might go, so you have to be on your toes and pay attention because all the pieces have to tie together; it's a challenge. But with Michael the creative juices are continuously flowing. It's as though he is meditating in motion."
All of the actors were amazed by the secrecy surrounding the project. Most of them only received script pages with their own scenes rather than the entire script.
"This is as tight as it's gotten for me," says Voight. "I never know what I can say, so I just don't say much," he laughs. "But when I walked onto some of the sets and saw how amazing they were, I understood why Michael and Steven wanted to keep it under wraps."
It became a joke with cast members how many people would ask them which Transformer™ they were playing when friends and family found out they were starring in the film.
When Hasbro, Inc. introduced the TRANSFORMERS™ to the U.S. in 1984, it revolutionized a category it had itself invented some 20 years earlier -- action figures.
TRANSFORMERS - originally dubbed "The Transformers" -- heralded an entirely new way to interact with action figures, giving kids the power to literally change the toys from one form into another (initially, from robots to vehicles). As the iconic theme song went, there was "more than meets the eye."
But that was only the beginning. With intriguing personalities, captivating story lines and great battle action, Hasbro firmly entrenched the TRANSFORMERS brand into the pantheons of modern pop culture. Over the past two decades, the TRANSFORMERS brand has emerged as one of the most successful properties in action figure history, spawning numerous television series, comic books, and even a feature length animated film.
Today, the TRANSFORMERS brand has a devoted following of fans of all ages, with OPTIMUS PRIME® and MEGATRON® captivating a whole new generation of fans. The franchise is about to be taken to a new level with the July 4th premiere of the first-ever live-action feature film TRANSFORMERS from DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, directed by Michael Bay and executive produced by Steven Spielberg.
A timeline of key TRANSFORMERS brand milestones follows:
Pre-1984: Hasbro secures the rights to many changing/converting robot brands in Japan and creates the umbrella name THE TRANSFORMERS to unite them. Takara, a Japanese toy manufacturer, saw the potential for future TRANSFORMERS growth and becomes Hasbro's lead partner in the development of new TRANSFORMERS products. This successful alliance has lasted for more than 20 years.
1984: The TRANSFORMERS toy line is launched by Hasbro, with a classic theme song that had kids all over the U.S. reciting the refrain "Robots in Disguise." The 21 toys in the original set include OPTIMUS PRIME, MEGATRON, BUMBLEBEE, JAZZ and STARSCREAM. This is the beginning of what has come to be known the "Generation: 1" era. The TRANSFORMERS animated television series debuts with a mini-series entitled "MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE." New episodes began in September, airing on Saturday mornings. Marvel Comics releases four-issue TRANSFORMERS comic series titled "The TRANSFORMERS."
1985: Hasbro releases a second series of TRANSFORMERS toys, highlighted by the introduction of DINOBOTS and CONSTRUCTICONS (the first group of figures that can combine to form a larger robot). Two TRANSFORMERS figures are introduced with battery-operated functions: SHOCKWAVE has a flashing light and sound effects, and OMEGA SUPREME walks and has a tank with a turret that spins and lights up while rolling around a track.
1986: The animated feature film entitled "TRANSFORMERS: The Movie " was released in theaters, featuring many of the characters that the new toys were modeled after. It featured the voice talents of Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, and Orson Welles and a rock soundtrack. Hasbro introduces cities for both the AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS: METROPLEX for the AUTOBOTS and TRYPTICON for the DECEPTICONS.
1987: The HEADMASTERS and TARGETMASTERS figures are introduced into the TRANSFORMERS toy line. Hasbro introduced FORTRESS MAXIMUS, the largest TRANSFORMERS figure at the time, measuring a whopping two-feet-tall.
1988: Hasbro released the PRETENDERS, robots that disguise themselves inside an included shell, and MICROMASTERS, very, very small vehicles that change into robots. OPTIMUS PRIME is revived with a new TRANSFORMERS figure from Hasbro, featuring "POWERMASTER" technology wherein a smaller robot is used to unlock a special feature on the larger, more deluxe figure.
1989: Hasbro introduces four of the TRANSFORMERS fans' favorite characters back into the toy line: BUMBLEBEE, JAZZ, GRIMLOCK and STARSCREAM.
1990: TRANSFORMERS ACTION MASTERS are released by Hasbro. These feature action figure versions of both classic and interesting new characters that don't change modes, but have vehicles and partners that do change modes.
1992: Late in the year Hasbro introduces "TRANSFORMERS: Generation 2." All of these toys are re-colored versions of figures from the early years of TRANSFORMERS: JAZZ, SIDESWIPE, INFERNO, STARSCREAM, RAMJET, OPTIMUS PRIME, the DINOBOTS, and CONSTRUCTICONS. There is a Generation 2 Television animated series, which featured all-new CGI graphics.
1993: Hasbro introduces a new TRANSFORMERS feature into the lineup. Color-change cars have weapons that shoot water and parts that change color when hit by water, creating "battle damage." MEGATRON is revived by Hasbro and introduced as a tank with projectile weaponry and electronic sound effects. As a prelude to the new TRANSFORMERS comic, MEGATRON first appears in the G.I. JOE comic series.
1994: The first BotCon, a TRANSFORMERS fan convention, is held in July in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The annual event has been held every year since, and continues to attract TRANSFORMERS fans from around the globe! The AERIALBOTS and COMBATICONS TRANSFORMERS are revived by Hasbro with some new friends, the LASER RODS with light-up engines and weapons, and the ROTOR FORCE with rotor-weapons that can travel across a room. Hasbro introduces one of its most popular TRANSFORMERS to date - DREADWING, a Stealth bomber with three modes.
The animated series titled TRANSFORMERS: BEAST WARS debuts and is an instant hit.
1996: Hasbro releases the TRANSFORMERS BEAST WARS toy line, featuring characters from the animated series. AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS are replaced by MAXIMALS and PREDACONS, robots that turn into animals and insects. This line also introduced the first female TRANSFORMERS figure, BLACKARACHNIA.
1998: Hasbro's TRANSFORMERS BEAST WARS line expands with the introduction of TRANSMETALS, figures depicting mechanical animals with chrome-painted features. Some of these figures feature three or four conversion modes.
1999: The TRANSFORMERS BEAST WARS animated series evolves, introducing new characters and taking on the name TRANSFORMERS BEAST MACHINES.
2000: TRANSFORMERS BEAST MACHINES figures are released by Hasbro, including new DINOBOTS and BEAST WARS figures with alternate colorations.
2001: Hasbro re-introduces TRANSFORMERS as ROBOTS IN DISGUISE, returning to the classic concept of robots that change into cars, trucks, and other vehicles. The "TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE" series debuts.
2002: The "TRANSFORMERS ARMADA" animated series debuts. Hasbro also launches the ARMADA toy line, featuring MINICONS, which connect to larger figures to enable new features. MINICONS were a big hit with a new generation of young fans. Hasbro re-issues TRANSFORMERS GENERATION: 1 toys exclusively at Toys R Us.
2003: Hasbro introduces the first-ever TRANSFORMERS UNICRON toy based on one of the most evil TRANSFORMERS characters ever! UNICRON is also voted one of the top 12 toys of the year by Toy Wishes. TRANSFORMERS ALTERNATORS toy line is introduced, featuring authentic-looking licensed vehicles that change into familiar characters.
2004: TRANSFORMERS CELEBRATE ITS 20TH ANNIVERSARY. From Hasbro's action figures to the animated series, comic books, and video games, a new generation of kids have discovered the thrills of the TRANSFORMERS saga. The TRANSFORMERS ENERGON theme is introduced, along with new TRANSFORMERS ALTERNATORS vehicles and new toys from the TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE line, a collection of the best TRANSFORMERS toys from years past. Hasbro introduces a 20th Anniversary special version of the heroic OPTIMUS PRIME robot as a fan-requested tribute to the original 1984 toy.
2005: The TRANSFORMERS CYBERTRON line is introduced by Hasbro, featuring CYBER KEYS that unlock weapons and new features within each figure. Hasbro announces that together with DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, they will bring the TRANSFORMERS saga to the big screen. New comic book licensee, IDW Publishing, re-launches a new line of TRANSFORMERS comics.
2006: Production begins on the live action feature film and the anticipation in the fan community builds exponentially. The TRANSFORMERS CLASSICS toy line is released by Hasbro, featuring a selection of favorite characters from Generation: 1 with new designs and re-colorations. Characters in the line include MEGATRON, OPTIMUS PRIME, ASTROTRAIN and BUMBLEBEE. The animated TRANSFORMERS movie (1986) is re-released on a commemorative DVD from Sony BMG.
2007: Hasbro unveils its new TRANSFORMERS toy line, based on the live-action movie from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, with the release of all-new action figures, games and role-play toys. TRANSFORMERS toys and merchandise are set to go on sale June 2. For the first time ever, BotCon will be held in Providence, Rhode Island, near Hasbro's hometown, on June 28 through July 1.
July 4, 2007: The TRANSFORMERS movie is released in theaters!!!
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