As a follow-up to our latest article over on TheVisionaries.net we thought we would bring you a short piece on some of the history of the Transformers TV spot. The information contained within this article was taken from an series of Q&As we held with Robert Runbaken in November 2014.
Hasbro Inc. were one of Griffin-Bacal's first clients and are best known for producing the toy adverts for the Hasbro franchises G.I. Joe: Real American Hero and Transformers. As Hasbro Inc's client, Griffin-Bacal also shot the spots for most of their other brands, and worked closely with Hasbro Inc and Sunbow Productions on the supporting TV series to go with which ever line they would be shooting spots for.
Griffin-Bacal mainly shot from studios based in Amsterdam and Arizona, though some of their latter TV spots were shot in studios in Vancouver. The Amsterdam studio was used as the primary location for the more successful brands, whilst those with lower advertising budgets were shot in the US studios.
Robert Rundbaken and the first Transformers Toy TV Spot
We had the pleasure of speaking with former GB employee Robert Rundbaken who worked on most, if not all, of the Hasbro Boys Toys properties including Visionaries, Inhumanoids, G.I. Joe and Transformers.
Robert remembers re-cutting the very first Transformers TV toy spot with Optimus Prime along with creating the signature look for the various video transitions and effects which were used during the Transformers toy commercials. Robert was quick to also credit his editors. At the time Robert held the position of an Associate Producer for Griffin-Bacal.
The original spot was cut by Roberts boss, Bacal. The spot turned into a bunch of stills as he was trying to show each stage of the transformation transition. I.E a shot of the arms folding out, another shot of the rotating etc. The Hasbro Reps hated it so Robert was bought in to re-cut the footage and to
come up with something. He remembers that they recut the footage at Broadway Video and he had them bring every video transition device into the room so that they could experiment all night. He asked about a transition effect that was created by the ADO which was a digital effects tool. The effect turned an image on screen into a ball. Robert asked if one image could start the effect and then have another image come out. From this idea they took the footage of the child actor rolling the Optimus Prime toy and applied the effect to the footage resulting in him becoming a robot. Another technique which they applied on the Transformers commercials, and latter on others including Visionaries, was to film with a huge turntable that was a cyclinder painted to look like the sky, or they could build the side of a mountain and a road on it. When you spun the cylinder and held the toy, they found that you could simulate it driving or flying. Once they spliced the two scenes together with the ball transition in between it was an epiphany for them and that opened up the spot to move forward. From there they were able to cut it to the track and employ similar effects and transitions to the rest of the footage. This would become "the look" for the Transformers TV spots in the future.
After working through the night, Robert went straight from Broadway Video to the office to show his boss who took him to the back room where they would look over the footage alone. Robert was convinced that he was going to be fired on the spot as he had left out all of the still shots of the different transition stages of the toy. His thinking was that kids knew how they worked and that they did not actually need to show them on screen. In their, the kids, minds and from the animation, they knew the robots changed quickly which was an effect he wanted to emulate in the TV Spot.
Promotion and Brand Diversion
Immediately after Bacal saw the cut he called the other agency heads into the room to see the footage and then they (Bacal and the agency heads) flew out to Providence to show the new spot to Hasbro. They loved it! Thanks to his work saving the spot, Robert was then assigned to work on cutting the rest of the spots from the first package of spots. He remembers creating 4 or 5 spots from that footage.
The spots were a hit and Robert was soon promoted and started producing whole packages of Transformers and other Hasbro Boys Toys spots. Soon he found himself on his way to Amsterdam where we wound up then shooting most of the G.I. Joe spots and other lines as they were introduced including Visionaires, Inhumanoid, Battle Bearts, Air Raids, Jem, etc. He remembers tat Visionaries was short lived with them trying various techniques to highlight the holograms. The Visionaries, Battle Beasts and Air Raiders were all very short lived whilst he remembers that the Inhumanoid brand was a little more successful even though, as we all know, it did not produce enough revenue to warrant the 2nd series release. Transformers and G.I.Joe were their "billion dollar", in sales, products where as everything else just came and went. Transformers, G.I.Joe, Jem, My Little Pony and Inhumanoid all has decent advertising budgets and were shot from Amsterdam, where as Visionaries had a smaller budget and was shot stateside. Robert remebers that Battle Beasts were really hot for a short period before they dried up.
Changing Demographic and Affecting Change
When you look back at the early Transformers TV spots, and other Hasbro brands for that matter, you will notice that the kids who are cast tended to very much be blonde haired and blue eyed. It was actually Robert and his colleage who wrote the spots that convinced Hasbro Inc. to allow them to cast minority child actors including Black and Asian kids. Hasbro agreed and this change is obvious when you watch the spots now.
Transformers Initial Meeting
A interesting piece of trivia for you all is that despite being an Assistance Producer at the time, Robert was actually in the office when they came up with the name "Transformers" for the brand. Robert recalls that they had a prototype of Optimus Prime and a bunch of people were bouncing around ideas for the brand. He was fascinated by the process and decided to stay to learn more. Someone said something like "they transform from this into that .." and then a voice, which Robert believes was Mr Bacal exclaimed "Transformers!", and thus the brandname was decide.
Robert remembers that Hasbro Inc wanted to re-issue the 12" G.I.Joe figures from the 1960s, he actually owned seven himself, but he recalls that Mr Griffin suggested to Stephen Hassenfeld, the "Has" in Hasbro, that "kids love collecting smaller things so reintroduce G.I. Joe as smaller figures". The idea was that if you sell the collectible, small action figures, that this would lead to sales of larger, more expensive vehicles and accessories. This of course is exactly what happened and the Hasbro account, which started at $7 million and had grown to to $30 milllion, would now grow to over $300 million. Life was good for everyone at GBI and Robert places a lot of that down to Griffin and Bacal themselves who he describes as being the "very best bosses".
We'd like to thank Robert for answering out questions and for sharing his insight and memories with us, so that we have been able to share them with you. It sounds like he loved his time working at Griffin-Bacal and that he was not the only one.
On the 2nd December a new 3rd party figure was revealed to the world. This figure was a giant toy based on the Generation One Predaking design. Five days later, after much speculation, the group behind the figure was revealed as Unique Toys and the toy was named as War Lord Beasticon. The first figure to the released from the set has been confirmed as War Hawk (Divebomb) but the fandom still have many questions regarding the group and the figure and so we are extremely pleased to be able to bring you our very own version of 20 Questions, as we recently spoke to Unique Toys regarding themselves as well as their coming release.
TF At The Moon: Unique Toys is a new group out of Singapore who hit the news headlines within the Transformers fan community recently as an unknown quantity, could you tell us a little more about the Unique Toys Team?
First of all,we are a group consist of TF fans and production specialists,we just want do something cartoon show accuarate items.
TF At The Moon: Fans around the globe went crazy when the first images of War Lord - Beasticon surfaced, what have you made of the feedback you have received thus far on this set?
Fans are crazy and most of people can't wait for our first shot.
TF At The Moon: What made you decide to tackle Beasticon as your first outing?
That's historically strongest combiner ever appeared in TF TV scene,and we can't make Devastator,can't make Superion, so that we choose Beasticons as our first outing.
TF At The Moon: Customisers were quick to point out that "Beasticon" appears to be a mass produced version of Rosedjs' custom revised "Predaking 2.0" figure (http://bit.ly/TNnWBi). Could you tell us a little more about the relationship between yourselves and rosedjs?
rosedjs is a talented guy,and we love his designs, unfortunately, we got many ideas impacted with him, but when you see our details, and played our toys, you should find more than one different places. BTW,the second figure War Leo ,the not Razorclaw,are completely different from his DIY,will update soon.
TF At The Moon: Hawk has been announced as the first figure to be released from the Beasticon set, do you have a potential street-date and price point in mind for the figure or are you still working on finalising the costs?
We have costed on this and after we show our update mold of War Hawk,we will authorize our retailer to announce the price,I think that's not too far away from my typing replying mail to you,lol..
TF At The Moon: Since Hawk is the name of the first Beasticon member, would you be able to share the names of the other four members with us?
Sure,that's fine, I am gladly to announce that:
- War Hawk
- War Leo
- War Panther
- War Rhino
- War Bull
TF At The Moon: Is their a release schedule for the other figures in place yet, as well as an order and if so would you be able to share that information with us?
Thanks for taking care of this, I am not available now to announce this as this is our marketing schedules at this moment,we will release the information at Jan,2013,keep waiting for a while.
TF At The Moon: Would you be able to give us the dimensions of the Hawk toy as well as the final Beasticon figure himself?
I think the War Lord combiner is nice to match Maketoys Giant and Fans Project Cross fire kit for class Bruticus. So ,you may guess that? lol?
TF At The Moon: What is the biggest challenge to working on a toy of the scale and detail of Beasticon?
It's hard work for the structures of so big robots toy,as we must consider more about the articulations that can hold the weight of the body, the limb,also the big wings so, the gears and spring is oftenly applied to the toy. Also for the details, we consider more to close the simplicity and 3-4 layer on the very surface, for avoidng detail stuffed outlook, the simplicity and cleanness is most of our persuit during the development, and you can see, that's mostly Japanese styling robot, if you played with Gundam, you can see there are similarities.
TF At The Moon: Individual groups have been springing up producing garage kits / 3rd party add-ons / figures over the last few years. Over this time the quality of the materials being used has changed which has help the reception and sales of these figures.? Can we expect the Beasticons to be made from high quality materials?
Yes,we are not the first time making toys,actually we doing some production for other 3P company for years,so the material we will use first class ABS with polished mold surface, compares to other nicely successed 3P products.
TF At The Moon: On FB you mentioned that you share factories with some other 3P companies to help guarantee quality, would you be willing to name one such company?
Sorry for this question,we can't release that company name,as we only like people remember us by our performance more than relating us to other existed 3P companies,beg your pardon for that.
TF At The Moon: I know it it early days, butdo you have any plans to release a the figures as a complete set or only through individual released?
We will release individually ,the full combiner members will not last too long to be combined together. it's near the new year,so it's may influence our prodcutions.
TF At The Moon: Is there any word on theproduction numbers for the figures?
Yes,first shot we won't do so many production numbers,it's test how it would be popular,then we can decide to move next.
TF At The Moon: How will you be making the figures available for purchase and how are you finding demand from sellers?
It's quite complicated question, however, that's the most concern of our team. We find that fans love the toys with cars, aeroplanes, and beasts, just like the Beast Wars, so that's why we have confidence to select War Lord as our first shot. the good seller depending upon design,quality, and price as well, we have our reliable distribution net worldwide, if we do it right, we should have market.
TF At The Moon: How long as the figure been in production?
It's about 1-5 months depend on how the product complicated and the other elements.
TF At The Moon: You recently released some images on Facebook of lineart of Hawk, will this artwork be used on the packaging of the figure?
Yes, that's a teaser, we hope that can attract collector's interest, as we trust, the toys is a culture. it's for a dream come true, or the aestheticities and that's part of our comic or illustrations in the package or manual.
TF At The Moon: On a comment on your wall on Facebook, you made mention to looking for a large Italian seller to distribute the figures, would you be able to give us a list of territories where this figure is likely to see distribution?
We have our own distribution nets, but we like to know more people in special area, who are interest in our project, we always open the door for new friends become our distributor in the future?
TF At The Moon: What are you most proud of about Beasticon thus far?
Just like our childhood dreams coming true, lol. We are simple people we just go after our simple dreams.
TF At The Moon: Have you thought about producing a recolour of Beasticon in "heroic colours" to represent the original concept of the figure who inspired this release?
Yes, from molding re-use considerations, we shall have this planning in the future. the basic is, we need make the first shot perfectly, then collectors will asking for more redeco, dosen't it?
TF At The Moon: Is there anything else you would like to share with the fan community?
Thanks for all the fans who are becoming our facebook fans and friends, that's fantastic to show you all the War Lord - Beasticons, because we are in the same persuit as you, do TF right,that's our target and what we endeavor on. Will keep updating our Facebook pages with more War Hawk, War Leo, War Panther, War Bull, War Rhino.
And good day for you.