Movies & TV / Columns

Eric Calderon and Jon Bailey Talk w/411 About Transformers: Combiner Wars’ Evolution

August 3, 2016 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

Hasbro and Machinima launched a new digital Transformers animated series today called Transformers: Combiner Wars. The show is available on the go90 app, and the first episode should be available now. The show marks a continuation of the animated G1 saga, 40 years after the great Autobot and Decepticon war on Earth. Decepticons and Autobots have disbanded and returned to Cybertron. Optimus Prime is no longer leader of the Autobots. However, a new threat has risen in the form of the Combiner Wars that threatens to shake Cybertron’s uneasy peace. Recently, 411mania got the chance to catch up with the staff for the new digital animated series.

Interview with Creator Eric Calderon

Eric Calderon is the Executive Producer and creative head for the new Transformers: Combiner Wars animated digital series. Calderon is a veteran of the animation world fore more than 20 years. His previous credits include SpikeTV’s Afro Samurai, starring Samuel L. Jackson. During the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, 411mania got the chance to speak with Calderon in a media scrum. Here are some highlights.

Jeffrey Harris: How did it evolve to take the Transformers: Combiner Wars brand into a digital series from Machinima?

Eric Calderon: So to start with, Machinima and Hasbro kind of have a long relationship. We’ve been talking for a while about how to combine what they have — an incredible IP — and what Machinima has, which is access to create new talent, distribution, we have all these services that we provide. When those two companies decide to meet, the best fit was to do a digital series for Combiner Wars. And luckily, Machinima already has a relationship with the distributor, go90, so it kind of all fit perfectly. So some of these things happen because of perfect timing. I think that’s why we decided to do it especially because Hasbro is allowing us to do, for the first time in history, an adult-focused Transformer series. And since Machinima has access to that older, adult audience, it was again that perfect fit.

Jeffrey Harris: In terms of the timing, not to give you a hard time, but the Transformers brand has already shifted over from Combiner Wars to Titans Return. So was there a timing logistics issue that you weren’t getting these episodes out to coincide with the release of the Combiner Wars figures?

Eric Calderon: Perfect timing is difficult, but I think the reason is that Hasbro really wanted us to make the series we could make well. They gave us real, complete freedom to say, “Hey. This is going to be hard. This is gonna be high quality. This is going to be the best that we can do with the time and money allotted.” So yes, did we slip in timing a little bit? We believe it’s worth it because we’re not going to put out something that’s not ready for a very picky, picky Generation 1 fan to enjoy.

Jeffrey Harris: So this is the first chapter of the Prime Wars trilogy. Chapter 1 is Combiner Wars. Chapter 2 is Titans Return. Chapter 3 will come next. So doesn’t it make sense to make a trilogy of Transformers: Prime Wars animated shows?

Eric Calderon: Wouldn’t that be awesome? It would be awesome. Let me just say that. *Laughs*

Jeffrey Harris: Are you introducing any characters in the digital series who could become a Transformers toy from Hasbro?

Eric Calderon: That’s probably not answerable. *Laughs* As a creator, we always dreams about our characters becoming toys. … If fans really respond to a character, Hasbro listens. … We introduce a new character called Maxima in Episode One. Then we just cross our fingers and pray.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you ever read any of the IDW Transformers: Robots in Disguise or More Than Meets the Eye comics, and did any of those stories inform or inspire you for the digital series at all? In those comics, you also see Starscream become a leader on Cybertron.

Eric Calderon: I did. Yeah. What’s good about the whole Combine Wars effort is that everyone is one the same mission. When I read Starscream’s monologues or his conversations [in the comics], it kind of helped inform me. Our Starscream is going to be very similar to that.

Interview with Jon Bailey, the voice of Optimus Prime

Fans of the Screen Junkies channel might better know Jon Bailey as the “EpicVoiceGuy” for “Honest Trailers.” A longtime dedicated Transformers fan, Bailey has even produced videos where he reviews action figures for the franchise and even produced his own animated fan films. Now, Bailey gets to voice Optimus Prime as part of an official Hasbro Studios animated Transformers production in Transformers: Combiner Wars. Here is what Jon Bailey had to say about voicing a pop-culture icon.

Jeffrey Harris: So do you still have the Ravage puppet, based on Ravage the Decepticon that you would take to conventions and make videos with?

Jon Bailey: TSA destroyed that thing in transport coming back from a convention. Unfortunately, he’s in pieces. I do still have it. … I did have a friend I commissioned to fix an updated version, but I never got around to it.

Jeffrey Harris: Was it a big emotional blow that you didn’t get to make the panel at Comic-Con for Combiner Wars? Here you are finally playing Optimus Prime in a Transformers animated series. You’re scheduled for the panel. And you get bumped due to flight logistics. It must’ve been rough?

Jon Bailey: Yeah, it was heartbreaking. I was honored enough to be able to audition for a couple of other Transformers cartoons before, and I thought that was awesome. But to actually, finally book [this show] — I mean the fact that it’s first animated series and my favorite franchise, and one of my favorite characters of all time, and a voice that I’ve been doing for 32 years, that was just a huge thing for me. So yeah, it was disappointing not being able to be at the panel and announce it there live. But I got to announce it over Twitter, which was really cool. The fact that I’m in it, I’m overjoyed. It was just really, little minor hiccup among all the good news.

Jeffrey Harris: So when the story picks up for this show, where do find Optimus Prime in his life?

Jon Bailey: So far from what we’ve seen from the preludes and the trailer, Optimus is no longer the leader of the Autobots. He’s trying to be a peace-keeper at this point. He doesn’t want there to be another war. Windblade has gone a little rogue. She’s angry about what the Combiners have done to her planet. So she’s taking them on from what you’ve seen in the trailer. Optimus is trying to prevent another war from starting because they’ve finally created an unstable peace, and it’s taken them millions of years to get to this point. So he doesn’t want them to go back to the way they used to be. The wars on Earth are over. Back on Cybertron, they’re trying to consolidate the Cybertronians together. So he’s more of a guide in a future and trying to get Windblade to calm down and say, “Let’s think about this. Let’s not start another war here.”

Jeffrey Harris: Since this is the first part of the Prime Wars trilogy, and part two is Titans Return. So don’t you think the logical thing is to do more animation for Titans Return, and have you back in there again?

Jon Bailey: I love to work, so I’d be more than happy if that happens. But I can’t tell if you that happens or not. You’d have to ask Machinima or Hasbro.

Jeffrey Harris: What’s your inspiration for your current version of Optimus Prime

Jon Bailey: The original character is based on Peter Cullen’s brother and a little bit of John Wayne. So he’s a very military and cowboy type character. He kind of evolved from that and became a more serious character in the 1986 movie. Then he became a darker character when he sacrificed himself to save the Autobots from the Quintessons’ plan to destroy everybody, right toward the ends of the G1 cartoon. He took a very serious turn right there towards the end. So when he came back for the movies, he was a very serious character, other than a few jokes that they threw in the first movie. He was that epic speech giver. This version, it’s a little bit of a — it’s a bit of a hook to the past, so it feels familiar. But it’s a bit of a new take on the character. It brings a little bit of the nostalgia for the G1 characters, which is what this is based on, but it’s a sequel. It’s way off later on in the story. I kind of went from: *In an Optimus Prime voice* “The cowboy version of G1” to “the movie version of Michael Bay” to “this version here. This is my version here.” It’s got a little bit of the past mixed with something different here. If you can’t bring something new to the table, then why come to the table to play at all?

Jeffrey Harris: Any new Transformers products coming up that you are really excited about?

Jon Bailey: Everything Titans Return coming out. Are you kidding me? Have you seen this stuff? For some reason, Headmasters was always one of my favorite gimmicks that they used. It turned from a head into a guy in a suit and became another robot. I don’t know why or what was so attractive about that feature. Maybe it was because I was very poor at at that time in my life, my parents didn’t have a lot of money at the time, and I don’t think I got any Headmasters. I had a couple Targetmasters, and I had Nightbeat, which my brother Craig bought for me. But now that they are coming back and I can get them all, I’m going to get them all.

Jeffrey Harris: So for Jon Bailey, gun to the head, Megatron or Starscream?

Jon Bailey: Well Megatron is the gun to the head, so I’ll pick Megatron.

Thank you to Eric Calderon and Jon Bailey for taking the time to speak with us. Transformers: Combiner Wars hits go90 today in the United States. The show is also launching internationally on Sohu in China and on Vimeo and YouTube in the rest of the world.