Originally introduced in the groundbreaking computer-animated TV series “Beast Wars: Transformers” that ran in syndication for three seasons from 1996 to 1999, the Maximals (a.k.a. the Beasts) and their sworn enemies, the Predacons, quickly became two of the most popular Transformers factions. The animated series won a prestigious Daytime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation in 1998 and spawned the Beast Wars franchise.
According to Vahradian, the Maximals presented the filmmakers with a new challenge. “The wonderful thing about Transformers is there’s a deep bench of characters available, but the mythology of the Beasts was something we were a little bit cautious of early on, because they’re a completely different form of robot,” he says. “Unlike the Autobots and Decepticons, the Beasts have fur and skin. They’re not just pieces of metal.”
Eventually, the exciting prospect of bringing the Maximals to the big screen eclipsed any uncertainty the filmmakers may have had, and a decision was made to include them as major protagonists in the new Transformers adventure. Vahradian says the person who gave them the confidence to move forward with the concept was Steven Caple Jr., the acclaimed director of Creed II, whom they tapped to helm the film. “Steven was raised on that part of the franchise and he loved it, so in a way, he gave us the courage to embrace the Beasts!” the producer says.
Caple was 19 years old when Bay’s first Transformers film premiered, and like millions of viewers around the world, he became an instant fan of the series. “Steven basically grew up on Michael’s movies, and we’ve never had somebody like that step into the director role before now,” says Vahradian. “He had a very different view of the Transformers characters and what was special about them, so to hand this movie over to somebody like him, who’s younger and has a fresh perspective, was a way for us to make sure the film felt different from all the others in the series, particularly in terms of the emotional quality of the story.”
Caple had never directed a film of this staggering scale before, but after seeing how he blended intimacy and action in Creed II, di Bonaventura had no doubt he was up to the challenge.
Caple recalls how much he loved the original “Beast Wars: Transformers” animated series as a child. The show premiered when he was 8 years old, and after watching each episode, he and his friends would meet up after school and try to wrap their heads around how different it was from other cartoons at the time. “I remember thinking how weird it was, because they were trying something new with the animation, and Optimus Prime wasn’t in it,” Caple says. “But as it went on, the storyline got really good. It had a lot of heart, and a bunch of twists and turns, so I stuck around for all three seasons.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts also tips its hat to other iterations of the Transformers franchise as well, including the beloved 1986 animated feature. “There are definitely some homages to The Transformers: The Movie in this,” the director reveals. “We’ve got the OG voice actor Peter Cullen doing the voice of Optimus Prime, of course, but we also have Prime’s original look from the cartoons, and we’ve never really seen Arcee in a live action movie to this extent.”
Bay, who serves as a producer on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (as he did on Bumblebee), joined Caple on set in Peru to offer support and guidance. “Michael’s biggest piece of advice was to not overdo it with the number of robots, because if you have too many, you can get really caught up with them,” the director says. “So his advice was to focus on the ones that will make a real impact on the audience.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts introduces some dazzling new robots to the big screen, and award-winning production designer Sean Haworth is responsible for creating each of their astonishing designs. A veteran member of the Transformers film family, Haworth initially served as art director on Bay’s Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and then stepped up to production designer on Bumblebee. “Being new to the series, Steven really valued Sean’s experience, imagination, and knowledge of Transformers,” di Bonaventura says.
Designing the robots was an enormous undertaking that involved extensive meetings with Caple. “Steven looked at so many different options that Sean presented, and everything had to be taken into account, from the shape of the back of their head, to the side of their nose,” says supervising art director Michèle Laliberté. “And because the film is set in 1994, even the Autobots we all know and love had to be slightly redesigned, with little tweaks here and there. Thankfully, Sean is an expert at the process.”
One aspect of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts that distinguishes it from the other films in the series is that it includes three major female robot characters for the first time. On the side of the Autobots is Arcee, a female motorcycle who appeared briefly in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Bumblebee, but steps up as an important member of the team in the latest film. “Arcee has a lot of attitude and she’s an integral part of this story,” di Bonaventura says. “She’s almost like the intelligence officer of the group.”
No Transformers movie would be complete without a fleet of fantastic cars changing shape and performing gravity-defying stunts. The vehicles in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts include familiar favorites as well as a convoy of amazing new cars. “You’ll see Bumblebee as a Camaro and Optimus Prime as a Freightliner truck, of course, but we had a long debate about Mirage, our new Autobot character,” says Vahradian. “He probably has the most screen time of any robot in the movie, and I think he’ll be very popular with fans.”
Although the filmmakers originally envisioned Mirage as a Ferrari, and later considered making him a Lamborghini, in the end they decided that a Porsche 911 was the perfect choice. “We’ve had almost every other car imaginable, but never a Porsche,” notes Vahradian. “And when you see this particular Porsche convert to its robot form, it’s going to be very special. With its rounded curves and beautiful design, it’s going to make Mirage really stand out.”
Caple reveals another reason why a Porsche was chosen for Mirage. “It’s actually an homage to Michael Bay’s Bad Boys,” he says. “That movie was my first real introduction to Porsche, and when I saw it, I was like, ‘Damn, Will Smith is driving a really cool car!’ So I thought it would be fun to pay homage in that way.”
Many of the cars provide a sense of nostalgia for the ’90s, including an ultra-rare Nissan Skyline. “That car was very hard to find,” says Caple. “There are very few still out there on the road, so we rented a few and used them for Nightbird’s character. We really pushed all of the cars to the max on this movie, literally until the wheels fell off! And I think people will appreciate that.”
Oscar®-nominated VFX supervisor Gary Brozenich (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) was in charge of the visual effects on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and like Caple, he was also a newcomer to the series. Brozenich says one of the things that differentiates Transformers: Rise of the Beasts from the previous films is that Caple treated the robots more like actors than CG figures. “Steven is definitely an actor’s director, so when we talked about the robots, we always talked about them as if they were human, with a whole gamut of emotion. There are a lot more dialogue scenes with the robots in this movie than there have been in any of the other films.”
related feature: Bumblebee review
related feature: A London audience at a ‘Transformers:The Last Knight’ sneak peek