After the conclusion of
“Transformers: Cybertron” in 2006, which brought to a close the “Unicron Trilogy”
of series that had been running for the last four years, 2007 saw Hasbro take the “Transformers”
franchise in two bold new directions: a blockbuster live-action movie, and a new
stylized animated series that would mark the return of Transformers
animation to North America for the first time since “Beast Machines”
ended seven years beforehand. This is the story of how that cartoon was created.
These are The Basics on Transformers Animated! Development on the series that would become
“Transformers Animated” began at Hasbro in late 2004, at which point it was known
by the working title of “Transformers: Hero.” In early 2005, Hasbro partnered with Cartoon Network Studios to co-develop the series into a cartoon, creating a story and character designs that
the accompanying toyline would then be based upon. Early story ideas conceived by executive producer
Sam Register were expanded upon by writer Ford Gilmore to lay down the basic
premise of the series: the Autobots were cast as the heroes of a
near-future version of Detroit, Michigan, aided by their human friend Sari Sumdac, and
her robotics magnate father Isaac. In December 2005, writer Marty Isenberg, well-known
to Transformers fans for his work on “Beast Machines,” was
brought on to serve as story editor for the cartoon. He revised Gilmore’s work, keeping the premise,
but overhauling the characters’ personalities; in particular, he reinvented the series’ version
of Optimus into a youthful underdog, still struggling to prove himself as a leader. Isenberg also came up with the idea to set
the show AFTER the great Autobot/Decepticon war, reimagining the Decepticons as a defeated
and exiled army out for revenge, much larger and more powerful than Optimus’s
inexperienced team of civilian Autobots. The story of “Animated” was also influenced
by the concurrently-produced live-action movie; the life-giving Cybertronian relic featured in the film,
the AllSpark, was incorporated into the show, and Unicron Trilogy characters Hot Shot and Red Alert, who were initially intended to be part of the main cast, were replaced with Bumblebee and Ratchet,
who were also appearing in the movie. In terms of art style, right from the beginning,
the emphasis for “Animated” was on stylization: creating a Transformers series that looked
like no other had before it. Early on, as styles were experimented with,
it naturally looked very different from what we’d come to recognise as the finished product,
but some concepts prototyped in this early phase, including a pair of combining hot-and-cold
themed Autobot jet twins, would survive and be adapted into the finished series. The distinctive, finalized look of the series
was created by Derrick J. Wyatt, who was hired on as the show’s art director
and lead character designer in 2006. Fresh off of the hit Cartoon Network show “Teen Titans,”
Wyatt was a lifelong Transformers fan, but chose to design the show’s major brand-new
Autobot character Bulkhead first; as no previous incarnations of Bulkhead existed, Wyatt knew he could push his design choices
as far as he wanted, unhindered by nostalgia, and used Bulkhead to define the style that
the rest of the series would follow. With this style in place, animation duties for the series were divided between Japanese studios Mook Animation, The Answer Studio, and Studio 4°C, under the supervision of producer and director
Matt Youngberg. Unsurprisingly, as with any big departure
from the norm, Transformers fans had a vocal and polarizing reaction to the
first reveal of the show’s art style in June 2007, but all but the most strident naysayers quickly
had their tunes changed when the series movie-length premiere aired
in December of the same year. This three-part adventure told the story of
an Autobot space bridge repair crew, made up of loudmouthed pipsqueak Bumblebee,
gentle giant Bulkhead, cranky old medic Ratchet, cyber-ninja Prowl, and their captain, disgraced
Autobot Academy cadet Optimus Prime, who stumbled upon the long-lost AllSpark
in the depths of space. Attacked by Decepticon leader Megatron,
their ship crashed on Earth, where they lay in stasis on the bottom of Lake Erie for fifty years, until awakening in the 22nd century. They quickly befriended Sari Sumdac, who was
chosen by the AllSpark to wield a powerful key that could channel
its energy, which she used to help the Autobots defend
Detroit against Starscream. The movie concluded with the revelation that
Sari’s father had built his robotics company on Cybertronian technology reverse-engineered
from the remains of Megatron, a twist that led directly into the first season
in January 2008, which saw the Autobots defend Detroit against
the threats engineered by the still-living Megatron in his efforts to repair his body, as well as human supervillains, and more invading Decepticons. In the season finale, Megatron used Sari’s
key to complete his restoration and once more battled Optimus Prime for possession of the
AllSpark, culminating in the relic’s destruction. This, in turn, led straight into the second season,
which aired right after the first in April 2008, as shards of the destroyed AllSpark rained down on Detroit, bringing machines to life as new Transformers. The season also saw Optimus’s arrogant rival
Sentinel Prime arrive on Earth to become a new thorn in the Autobots’ side,
while Megatron schemed to build a space bridge with which to invade Cybertron, only to be
foiled by the giant Autobot, Omega Supreme. The first “Animated” toys arrived on shelves
as the second season began. Derrick Wyatt had worked closely with Hasbro and Takara designers Eric Siebenaler and Alex Kubalsky. to develop the character designs in such a way
that their stylized, cartoonish appearances could, against all odds, faithfully be translated
into transforming toys. Abandoning the line-wide gimmicks that had
defined the last few years of Transformers toylines, each “Animated” figure came with its own
unique action features and weapons; in-keeping with the differences between the
two factions in the cartoon, the civilian Autobots came mostly with tools
and melee weapons, while the Decepticons, built for battle, were
heavily armed with guns and blasters. There was no shortage of ancillary media and
merchandise, either; animated shorts, story and activity books,
a video game for the Nintendo DS, and comic books including a mini-series from IDW Publishing
titled “The Arrival,” written by Isenberg and set between episodes
of the first season, and a short-lived series released in the United
Kingdom by Titan Magazines. This all served to tide fans over until the third and
final season of the cartoon arrived in March 2009 A little on the darker side to fit in with
Cartoon Network’s retooled programming line-up, the season centred on Megatron’s efforts
to seize the power of Omega Supreme, and shocked audiences with the bombshell that
Sari wasn’t human at all, but a techno-organic Cybertronian
of mysterious origins. Plans for a fourth season of “Animated” did exist,
further influenced by the success of the live-action film, which would have seen movie characters Ironhide
and Jazz replace Bulkhead and Prowl on Optimus’s team, to help battle the new
triple-changing Megatron, who had transported the Decepticon city of
Kaon from Cybertron to Earth to harvest new techno-organic energon that
had begun growing on the planet. But ultimately, a combination of factors,
not least of all Hasbro’s new plans to launch their own TV network in partnership
with the Discovery Channel, led to the curtain being drawn on “Animated”
after season three. The season’s conclusion in May 2009 saw
Optimus defeating Megatron and being hailed a hero, making it a reasonably fitting end for the series,
but it did mean the mystery of Sari went unsolved, and numerous toys were left unreleased, including
some that never made it out of the prototype stage, with several prominent characters never getting
any kind of figure at all. The end of “Animated” came as a blow to
many; from that first divisive announcement, its dramatic plots, lovable characters, and
the way it mixed original ideas with inspiration drawn from every corner of
Transformers history, including the return of classic Transformers
actors like Susan Blu, Corey Burton, and John Moschitta to the roles they had made famous, had seen it quickly grow into one of the most
beloved Transformers series of all time, and that love kept it alive even for some
time after the cartoon ended. Between 2009 and 2015, the world of the show
was expanded upon by IDW’s series of “AllSpark Almanac”
guidebooks. Several of the toys Hasbro failed to release
would see the light of day in the Japanese market after the series was
released there, where it was supplemented by new live-action segments
starring the “Otoboto Family,” and by a manga adaptation titled
“Transformers: Animated: The Cool.” And further new stories and toys were also released via the official Transformers convention, BotCon, the Transformers Collectors Club, and the
Japanese “Transformers: Legends” series. In the years since its conclusion, several
of “Animated”’s original characters and concepts have gone on to feature in other Transformers
toylines and series; perhaps most famously, Bulkhead would appear
in the very next Transformers cartoon, “Transformers: Prime,” while bounty hunter
Lockdown showed up as the arch-villain of the 2014 live-action movie “Age of Extinction.” Lockdown currently appears
in the “Cyberverse” cartoon, with new versions of other
fan-favourite “Animated” ‘bots: fanatically loyal Decepticon Lugnut and the
female Starscream clone Slipstream. Even “Animated”’s decision to recast
Ratchet in the role of a grouchy old-timer would prove influential, becoming the standard
depiction of the character for several years, in both “Transformers: Prime” and the
IDW comic, “More Than Meets The Eye.” Sadly, despite frequent calls from fans, there’s no sign of an official continuation
of the series in any form to wrap up its story. However, in 2019, UK convention TFNation reunited
the original cast to perform a reading of the outline for the proposed fourth season
premiere, proving that, even ten years later, love for “Transformers Animated”
from not just fans, but from the people who created and worked on it,
is still as strong as ever!


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