Hasbro Studios took the floor at the New York Comic Con Thursday to discuss the upcoming animated series Transformers: Robots in Disguise, which is set to air on Cartoon Network in 2015.
The panel opened with a clip from the series, featuring Bumblebee. "I need you on Earth, Bumblebee," says Optimus Prime, to track down hundreds of rogue Decepticons. "We need to be robots in disguise," Bumblebee tells his team, which includes Arcee, Strongarm and the "Mini-Con" Fixit - and the Dinobot Grimlock.
The voice talent for the show was then introduced: Will Friedle, the voice of Bumblebee; Constance Zimmer, the voice of Strongarm; Mitchell Whitfield, the voice of Fixit; Khary Payton, the voice of Grimlock; Producer Adam Beechen; Art Director Jose Lopez; and Executive Producer Jeff Kline.
Kline said that part of the limitations of Transformers: Prime was that because it was in CGI, they could only use a limited number of characters. But Optimus is not with us during this show - Bumblee is set on a mission he's not sure he can handle, as hundreds of Decepticons have been let loose. Kline said this was a more humorous take on the franchise.
Kline said that much of the core creative team from Transformers: Prime is involved in this new series, saying that it's a nice change of pace not to have the threat of war constantly bearing down on us. Still, he said, "we push the characters in places that might surprise you."
Lopez said that with this series, he wanted to make the visuals a bit brighter and simpler. One of the big influences, of course, was Generation 1. "We always go back to the source," he said.
Payton said that he was so excited to tell his brothers he was playing Grimlock - that said, he wasn't sure if he was going to keep his job, even seven episodes in. "I thought, maybe if you flew me up here, I'd have a chance." "Does anyone have a room I could just hang out in?"
Friedle, meanwhile, said he originally read for the character of Blue Streak, so he was shocked when they told him he got the job - as Bumblebee. He said he was shocked by the decision, especially when working with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime. The first time Cullen called him "Bumblebee," "it took me 30 seconds to realize he was talking to me," Friedle said.
Whitfield said he had a difficult time keeping his composure around Cullen, as well. "Optimus said I'm funny!"
As the only woman in a room of giggling Transformers fans, Zimmer said, "I didn't even know what a 'bot is!" She said that the experience was like working with "five brothers." Payton said Zimmer was "like a tornado - she takes names."
Zimmer said that the rest of the cast used to keep their distance from her in the recording booth. She explained that she's used to being physical with her acting - so she was throwing punches and kicking in the recording room.
"I love representing strong women - she's a Transformer, she's an Autobot, she's strong and she's sarcastic and she's funny," Zimmer said of her character, Strongarm. "So when they told me she transformed into a cop car, I was like, 'hell yeah!'" She said that her character doesn't have to fit in a pink box of gender roles: "It's a lot about being proud."
Zimmer added that there would be a lot of tension between her fellow Autobot, Sideswipe, played by Glee's Darren Criss. "I feel a lot of pressure, but it's good pressure," Zimmer said. "I really hope that, being a female Autobot, that we live up to the standards of Transformers."
Beechen said that while he was familiar with the basics of Transformers, he was "more of a Micronauts guy." He said that with his history on Jackie Chan Adventures, Teen Titans and Batman: The Brave and the Bold made him a good tonal fit for action mixed with comedy. While he trusted the rest of the team to make sure he was up to snuff on Transformers lore, he enjoys working with the new additions to the franchise. "That's where I've had the most fun, bringing these new characters to life."
Whitfield said that Fixit was the custodian of a prison ship, which winds up going down and freeing dozens of rogue Decepticons. He said that not only does the character provide exposition for all these different Decepticons, he also is the comic relief of the series. When Friedle teased Whitfield about being "too weak" to go in the field, Whitfield said that sometime in the first season, Fixit and Bumblebee get into it. "Remember how that ended for you, 'Bee?"
Kline described the two human characters of the series, Denny and Russell. Denny runs a scrapyard, which also works as his junk collection. He's taking care of the scrapyard with his son, Russell, who he hasn't lived with for years.
The panel then revealed animation from the series. A Decepticon is about to wreak havoc on the city - Strongarm, Grimlock and Denny want to join Bumblebee! After arguing that it's his mission alone, Bumblebee relents, but with one caveat: "We have to be robots in disguise." The Autobots check out Denny's junkyard to find cars to emulate. Fixit, meanwhile, provides Bumblebee with the tool he needs - a capture device to stop the Decepticons! Strongarm, meanwhile, shows off her new vehicle mode: a police car. Bumblee triumphantly tells his new team: "Roll up and roll out!" The rest of the team stares at him, with an awkward pause. Bumblebee sheepishly adds, "I'll work on that last part."
After receiving generous applause from the audience, Kline said that this show was 3D animation on painted backgrounds. "You don't get that often on TV," he said.
The next clip was all about the bad guys. A lobster Decepticon, Bisque, tossed Grimlock in the air, before delecting Bumblebee and Strongarm, then going claw-to-sword with Sideswipe. "You don't think I know how to defend this attack? It's just up, down, up, down, left, right, claw, claw!" Bisque quipped, before being taken out by a dive-bombing Grimlock.
The panel then opened up the floor to Q&A. The first fan asked how one gets to work on a show like Robots in Disguise. Lopez said that artists have to be specific with what they want to do, in terms of character designs, storyboarding and more. He suggested that fans take classes in character design. Kline, meanwhile, suggested taking classes in film language, saying artists have to choose where to put the "camera" for storyboards, as well as sell the emotion behind a character.
Another fan asked if Grimlock will fight Bumblebee to lead the Autobots. "Every episode," Payton laughed.
A fan who said she "roots for the dark side" asked about the Decepticons of the series. Beechen said that some Decepticons are happy to be free, some want to leave Earth, and some "have bigger agendas."
Based on another fan's question, the audience was told that at some point, we will see Optimus Prime.
Another fan asked whether or not the designers had to fight with Hasbro to not make Strongarm be too sexualized or svelte. Kline said that is staff is predominantly female: "They're not going to let us do that to a Transformer." Zimmer added: "And if you've seen my arms, you know that's where my name came from."
The final question of the panel was from a fan asking if there be Scraplets in the series. While all signs point to no on that front, there will be some miniature 'bots. Whitfield added: "I've got some friends."
Stay tuned to Newsarama for the latest New York Comic Con coverage!