Alvaro Carvajal reports from the Hasbro Offices in Pawtucket, RI!
One of Botcon 2007's activities I was most interested in was the opportunity to visit Hasbro's headquarters on Pawtucket, RI. As some of you know, currently the creation of new Transformers toys is a collaborative process between Hasbro and Japanese company Takara-Tomy. On the side of Hasbro the process is started by picking the central theme of a new Transformers line, sketching preliminary designs for the future figure's looks, their colors, the line-wide gimmicks are decided, alternate modes for the robots are chosen, etc. On Takara's side they work on the engineering of the figures, how they will transform, how many plastic pieces will a given figure need, etc. Due to that, a visit to Hasbro's headquarters was a one in a lifetime opportunity to get to see a very important view of how the Transformers are born.
Fun Publications (Botcon organizers) offered the tour only for 500 Botcon '07 attendees. The first 400 who registered had a guaranteed spot, while the others 100 spots were drawn from those who didn't make the first 400. I was lucky to be among the first 400.
My turn to go to Hasbro's HQ was on the 7:00am tour on June 29th. We gathered outside of the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, and there we were taken by tour buses to Hasbro's offices in Pawtucket (a 25-30 minutes ride). During the bus ride, our tour guide ran a trivia contest, with Transformers the movie beach balls as prices. I didn't know the first toy ever advertised on TV was Mr. Potato Head, so for me
even the trivia was informative.
We got into Hasbro's premises through their back door, the one next to their parking lot. There, several Hasbro employees were expecting us. They were going to guide the tour groups.
We were divided in several tour groups (I believe there were 9), each group was assigned to two Hasbro employees. Our group was guided by a man who works on G.I.Joe Marketing Department, and by a lady (Valerie, I believe) who works on Mock Up Packaging for the Transformers' brand. Then we proceeded to visit each of the 9 stations that were set up by Hasbro employees all around the main building. Each station was dedicated to a particular area of the Transformers toy making process.
On the first station, we were led to a conference room where it was shown several videos provided by Paramount and Dreamworks relating to Transformers the movie. The mission in this station was to show the collaboration between Hasbro, Paramount and Dreamworks to properly market the movie and its products with synergy. On the second station, we were shown several Transformers test-shots.
We were told there that the test-shots are used to test the molds to be used in future toys and to get a physical example of how the final product could look and transform. Also, test-shots are used to physically see how the product will look in the different proposed package for the line.
(Look there! Masterpiece Starscream and Leader Brawl!)
The Hasbro guys also told us some bits about the process needed to pick the design for the packages, blisters and cards for a given line; they always try to pick colors for the packaging that are useful to best show every product on the line, no matter what base color that product is. They said that there are excellent packaging designs that get rejected because some of the products from the line would look dull over the color chosen for said packaging, which would in turn make the final product less appealing and not a good seller at retail. Very technical stuff. :)
Once the talking part of the presentation was over, they let us take a lot of pictures! :)
After that, we continued our walk through Hasbro HQ's halls towards the next station. On the next station, we were led to a conference room. This station was manned by Greg Lombardo, Hasbro's Marketing Director for the Transformers brand. Greg told us how in these same conference rooms is where the design and marketing teams meet with the management to present new toy ideas for the different brands Hasbro own. Many ideas are approved right away, while others are rejected; though there's always the possibility that a rejected idea can be used later in the same brand or another. As an example, Greg showed us this:
You can see there the prototype for the Voice Changer Optimus Prime helmet made for the Transformers movie ... and also a more G1 version of it. As it turns out, the G1 version was proposed several years ago, but it was a marketing decision to not produce it as it was, because they didn't feel it would be a good seller. Then came the movie, and voila! The helmet evolved into what we know now.
Greg also showed us a packaging sample made for the movie about a year ago. This sample was used to show to management an example of what the movie products would look like.
As you can see, that's a Cybertron Repugnus on a Transformers: The Movie card. The final design for the movie line dropped the "The Movie" bit, when word got back to Hasbro that the movie official name would be just "Transformers".
The conference room was decorated with a bunch of different Hasbro brands. I found that amusing.
The next "station" was the Hasbro's Picture Alley. Nothing to do with toy making, but a lot to do with the promotion of the brands. This area at the end of the hallway has several props used to promote Hasbro brands - and also movies for which Hasbro holds the license to produce its toys - in conventions such as Botcon or SDCC, movie theaters, Toy Fair, etc.
Then, we followed our guides to the next station. There, we were shown prototypes of unproduced Transformers, and also photos of the working offices of Hasbro and Takara's designers.
And many prototypes, including a proposed line of real looking military vehicles. Just imagine Alternators, but bigger and military-based.
(That last one is amazing! Too bad it won't be produced)
There were also protos of new 6-inch Titaniums. Sadly those were canceled.
I hope those are produced as part of Universe/Classics 2.0 next year.
And there were also very advanced versions of Transformers that were going to be produced, but then were canceled because the outlet where these pieces were going to be sold through, decided against them, or simply folded.
have the funds to order its production)
Toys r'Us didn't want it in the end)
Other protos in the case included Alternators Jazz with a Porsche alt mode:
And some mini-Alternators in 1:32 scale that were proposed.
... I don't remember what this was. I think it was a base-to-vehicle playset.
At the end of the station, there was a display with almost every Optimus toy in existence!
On the following station we were shown how do the different Hasbro divisions license Hasbro's brands to other companies in order to produce related merchandise such as T-shirts, statues and busts, R/C vehicles, comics, books, etc.
These two sirs told us about how their team develops and approves reference materials that are later sent to different licensees so Hasbro-branded related products are made. They even showed us some of the reference materials for the Transformers movie.
And also from Generation 2, this Roadblock piece was the last design drawn by the man in the left side of the picture, before changing the department he worked for. :)
T-Shirt approved designs:
And licensee-made products:
Also on that station, they had a product catalog from 1986, used over 20 years ago by Hasbro to show toy stores across the U.S. the type of products that were going to be available to order on that year. A very interesting book ... I was able to take several pictures of it.
We were then led to the station manned by Aaron Archer. There he showed us through pictures, the design process for the movie Transformers. Aaron told us that it all started with Dreamworks'designers working on the different designs based on the original script (take a look at Arcee there!)
Then Aaron's team took those designs to take them from their generic robot look, into Transformers. Aaron said that his mission was basically to try to infuse into the movie designs the famed "Transformers Aesthetic", and that he focused on what he considered iconic from each character. He said some of his "battles" were related to Optimus Prime's face, Megatron's face, Jazz's visor, Bumblebee's color, etc.
(Look on the last picture, Bumblebee's original face.)
From there, Hasbro developed reference materials to show how to "evolve" the original movie designs, into the Transformers that appear on the movie.
The next station showed us the evolution of several Cybertron figures, from early design, to final product; while also showing some of the in-between steps such as prototype. You can see in the following picture how are the plastic parts identified on the plastic spruces, and on what color are those spruces molded in.
All of that work wouldn't be possible though, without the work described on the next station. The lady in that station showed us using Movie Voyager Evac as an example (a future repaint of Movie Voyager Blackout with a new head), how her team is tasked with the painting of a prototype to be used as reference material for the factories, and also for catalogs and other ads. That type of prototypes are also used to determine the number of paint applications (paint masks) that would be required by the production piece, and the tampographic details such as faction symbols; those painted prototypes are also used to let the factories in China know the colors of the plastic to be used in the molding of the pieces. All that information is then used to determine the individual cost of producing a single figure.
She also had there the prototype of Movie Voyager Incinerator, a figure based on a V-22 Osprey:
We followed our guides to the next station, which was located further inside Hasbro's HQ. This "station" was actually a cubicle located next to a parts and toys storage room, those parts are used as reference material. Also next to the cubicles, there were several machines such as 3D printers, injection molding machines and other equipment used to produce prototypes. Surprisingly, we were shown that even in this day and age, some protos are made in wood!
That was the last station of the tour. Since we had to wait for the buses to come back, I stayed in Hasbro's HQ halls taking pictures of several displays there.
And then I got out of the building and took a couple of snapshots from the outside.