There’s been a lot of criticism levelled at Michael Bay’s Transformers films in the past, with much of it centring around the Transformers designs, which reject the fan-favourite Gen 1 models in favour of a more complicated, updated look. For some fans, this strips them of their individual character, leading to fans derogatorily labeling them ‘Bayformers’. Bumblebee, however, utilises the much-loved Gen 1 Transformers designs. With fans wondering how come, though, Fandom went straight to Bumblebee director Travis Knight who offered his thoughts.
Bold, Simple, Transformable
“Because they’re awesome,” says the Laika animation studios head and self-confessed Transformers fan. “That’s when I fell in love with the Transformers. That’s when I was exposed to the Transformers for the first time. That first wave, when these characters were born, when they were created. They were really unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They made a really big impact on me. I loved the cartoons, I read the comic books, I played with the toys. And because they actually had to physically make those things — and they were beautifully made with these incredible designs, almost like a puzzle — they actually had to function, and because of that it enforced a simplistic design. It had to be bold, it had to be simple, it had to be transformable, it had to be able to shapeshift.”
Knight adds, “That’s a lot of complicated stuff going on when they have to design these things that actually have to work. But even still, with all those limitations they were just super-cool. They were really bold and punchy.”
Paying Homage to the Cartoon
One of the best things about Gen 1 Transformers, though – something that Knight wanted to bring into Bumblebee – was that their designs made them instantly recognisable.
“You knew who every single character was just at a glance,” says Knight. “You knew by the silhouette, you knew by the colour palette – like, ‘Oh, that’s Shockwave, that’s Soundwave, that’s Optimus, that’s Megatron. So I wanted to honour that with this film.”
But did he consider how and why the designs are so different to those in the films set later in the franchise? The answer is yes.
“Because we set [Bumblebee] 20 years prior to the events of the first film that Michael directed, it did give us some license to play around with the design aesthetic,” says Knight. “For me, with Bumblebee and some of the other characters, it was walking a little bit of a fine line between where they ultimately end up going in the live-action films and where they came from in terms of the cartoon, so it was just kind of blending that a little bit. And then for the stuff that we set on Cybertron, for me that was like, ‘This is just going to be full-on Gen 1!’
Knight says the first sequence of the film is a tribute to the animated series: “It starts on Cybertron, we see the final days of the fall of Cybertron, and we see Wheeljack, we see ‘Bee — just like we do in the cartoon. I just think they’re incredibly beautiful, well-done designs and I wanted to pay tribute to that in this movie.”
Bumblebee hits screens in Australia on December 20, the US on December 21 and the UK on December 26.