Did you know that I am an animator? I don't shout from the rooftops about it nearly enough.
Ian and I been watching some seriously badass cartoons lately and it's really got me thinking about all the series and projects I have contributed to, as well as daydreaming about the future programs that I'd kill to work on.
We've been working our way through Transformers Prime (2011) which especially appeals to me as it is a CG animated version of the popular toy franchise. The characters are so well known worldwide that redesigns are often abhorred or applauded passionately. I truly enjoy the Transformers Prime (TFP) character designs, most especially Starscream and Bumblebee. I like Transformers, it's alright like. I am unclouded by nostalgia however, as I missed the original cartoon series, movie and toy lines in my infancy. I have since caught up (it would be hard not too being the missus of Ian Matthews) but I don't feel as attached to the series as many. The movies did nothing for me, however, the Transformers Animated (2007) charmed me greatly and TFP has supremely caught my attention.
Each episode is a great example of tight storytelling, action sequences, drama and character building. Ratchet in particular matures throughout series one, from a comedy bit-part mechanic (“Bulkhead, I needed that!”) to genius mainstay. I love his evolution. He even gets a little starring role storyline in Episode 22 'Stronger, Faster' in which he tests Synthetic Energon on himself, becomes addicted to the boosts in his performance and subsequently suffers 'roid rage! He becomes the respected surgeon, operations master, comms expert and champion engineer of the series, literally holding the team together. The majority of the episodes revolve around the 3 main bots (Bumblebee, Bulkhead and Arcee) and their learning to protect their new human partners. The series gently builds drama between the Autobots and Decepticons, culminating in a surprising final battle with a cliff hanging, game changing finale.
Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, suffers through internal uprisings, failing health and thwarted plans in his quest for Dark Energon and the eventual defeat of the Autobots, but it is Starscream that steals the show for me. Now, Megatron is shit scary, but Starscream is so wonderfully, theatrically devious and conniving that I can't help rooting for the little bastard. His design is spindly and pokey, shark-like, full of points and spikes, heels, sharp edges and subtle curves combined. His voice acting is spot on, I adore it, high pitched, nasal, melodramatic and ceremonious. Megatron's animation is predictably powerful, heavy and bold (although, oftentimes I really feel he misses the stress of the situation, especially in dialogue shots) but Starscream is unmistakably camp, informed by his design. There are lots of hip movements, shifting weights, nimble anticipations and uncurling of fingers. He is very comic in his delivery, there is much 'spoiled child' about him. He's quick, pose to pose and has great timing. He also has some of the most exciting transformations, he's as exciting and operatic in vehicle mode as he is robot.
The CGI world that stages the series is massively sparse and almost completely unpopulated. It really stood out at first, the lack of props and scene decorations (Jacks completely empty garage for example) no crowds in town or school sequences and sparse repetitive landscapes and locations make the series seems a tiny bit.. cheap. But as I watched more and more episodes I began to appreciate the densely complex spectacle that is the show as a whole. Many dynamic effects such as sparks, smoke, sand, dust, flames occupy huge fight sequences and action shots, often including multiple fighting giant robots too! There are huge battles involving the landscape too. Tornadoes, exploding rocks and cliffs and humongous spaceships are a few that spring to mind. It forced me to think about all the processes involved in putting out an animated series. And they've nailed it. It's totally slick.
I'd love to know how strong the animation team was or how long a contract they had for the 26 episodes for the series. In my series experiences, we usually get around 14 months to complete 52 x 11 minute episodes over two teams of about 6 animators. This is for pre-school animation however, whereas each episode of TFP clocks in at around 22 mins and is hugely complex. I can totally forgive unpopulated backgrounds in favour of awesome action scenes paired with complex weather and lighting processes, among others.