Nick’s all-new series, debuting today on Paramount+, introduces a new species, the Terrans, adopted and cared for by humans, who must grow together as a family to become a team of heroes.
It’s not an easy task creating a bond between characters with a 20-foot height difference. But that’s exactly what the Transformers franchise has been doing for almost four decades.
“I think character scale plays a lot into the character dynamics,” says Dale Malinowski, creator of Nickelodeon's all-new 3DCG animated Transformers: EarthSpark series, which debuts today, November 11, on Paramount+. “Our new Terran bots, Twitch and Thrash, their alt modes – the drone for Twitch and the motorcycle for Thrash – means they're not as massive and tall as, say, a semi-truck like Optimus Prime, who always is and feels larger than life in comparison to the human characters around him.”
He continues, “Robbie and Mo Malto, being young human kids, are much closer in scale to a quadcopter drone or a motorcycle with a sidecar. And I think that comes through on screen.”
Transformers: EarthSpark is the newest addition to the extensive Transformers family, which sometimes feels a bit larger-than-life. Extending the universe even further, the series introduces a new generation of Transformers robots called Terrans – the first Transformers robots to be born on Earth – and together with the humans, such as the Maltos, who welcome them in and care for them, they’ll redefine what it means to be a family.
“It started with a little idea: what if an everyday human family adopted and cared for a new species of Transformer robots, the Terrans, in a world on Earth where the Autobots and Decepticons are already here?” explains Malinowski, who previously served as a writer on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “It’s post-Great War. So, their dynamics have changed. And how does this new generation of bots fit into all that?”
Ant Ward, who executive produced the series alongside Malinowski, adds, “Transformers, as a franchise, has focused on this never-ending, eons-long war. So, we’re taking these iconic characters and putting them in a completely different scenario, with the Malto human family being front and center. It's just wonderful because you watch them grow, and you watch them adapt to everything.”
Of course, even with the war over, there are still plenty of action sequences and Ward says they really gave the team a run for their money. As animation continues to advance, especially in the realm of 3D, the same tricks and cheats animators used to get away with are not quite as status quo. So, now animators have to build Transformers not only to look epic, but each part of their armor must appear as if it were actually a functional piece of machinery.
“I really wanted the bots to have strong, recognizable motor-like elements for their alt modes to feel like they really would transform,” notes Ward, who was also executive producer and director on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “But I didn't want any of the plates to be soft deformations. So, we had to make sure that all the chest components would turn to the right, to the lower chest, to the abdomen, that the clavicles could work properly with the deltoids and you get the rotation and everything in the right place.”
He adds, “Each bot was its own set of challenges. And then realizing, as soon as you got all that working, then you've got to go back into the animation design of it all and make sure that it is aesthetically working and it shoots well and you can get the shots you're wanting… it’s a lot of back and forth on nearly every bot because you’ll think it works, but then it doesn't work.”
There were plenty of animation features requiring a more meticulous approach in EarthSpark, but on the narrative side, even during fight scenes, the new series allowed a bit more room for playful humor that showcases more character personality.
“You want to make sure you don't get action fatigue with an action sequence that goes on for too long and you almost forget what's happening,” explains Ward. “And we try to keep the action very playful, like Elita-1 skating around on her back wheels getting out of the way and dodging shots in the pilot. It adds an unexpected playfulness to the fighting, even though it's still really badass, and you remember those moments so, when you go into the more narrative-driven, quieter moments, you’re not necessarily on the edge of your seat waiting for the next action sequence to kick in.”
One of the biggest challenges on EarthSpark’s production was making sure the many old and new characters featured received their fair share of development. “Finding and plotting out real estate for each character to pop and have their time in the spotlight was a challenge,” says Malinowski. “The cast is so large. There are so many Autobots, there are so many Decepticons, and we have a whole brand-new group of characters in the Maltos and the Terrans. And they all deserve and need time to grow and become who they are as a unit, a family, and a team of heroes.”
Which was why it was so important to make sure the familial dynamic was believable between the human characters, the Terrans, as well as the humans and Terrans together. When trying to build a connection between the audience and a character, when there are so many moving parts (literally), the best way is to capitalize on viewer empathy and feeling for that character, because they themselves have gone through a similar situation in their own family.
“We wanted the world to feel familiar and easily recognizable down to even the Malto’s kitchen that you see a thousand times in the show,” says Ward. “We want everybody watching to feel like, ‘Oh, I know that house. I know that car. I know that living room,’ and then juxtapose that with the science fiction cinema of aliens living in your backyard. Dale and I were both really keen on films like E.T. and The Iron Giant; that Amblin sense of wish fulfillment, kid adventure. Bringing that into this generation with the bots was a lot of fun.”
Both producers hope that this Transformers series ignites some wish fulfillment for both the kids that make up a new generation of franchise fans, as well as for the parents who grew up watching the original animated series.
“We hope that it's a whole family viewing, with the older generation like ourselves who grew up on this franchise introducing it to their kids or the younger individuals in their lives that are meeting these characters for the first time,” says Malinowski.
Ward adds, “We’re putting in a little bit of something for everybody to get enjoyment out of. For legacy fans, for various iterations, they’ll have little bits and bobs and big bits and bobs that they can get a kick out of and we're going to be very open and welcoming for the new generation of fans coming in.”