INTERVIEWS
Aaron Archer
@ Hasbro's Collectors Event

Stormrider: How did you get started as a toy designer?

Archer: I started in college doing comic books and made some contacts that way. I worked for American Greetings in college. So when some of the guys I met got jobs with Kenner in Cincinnati, I decided to apply. I got an interview and got in. That was about 8 years ago.

Stormrider: Do you like what you do?

Archer: Yes! Absolutely. Who wouldn't? It's not bad, there are worse jobs.

Stormrider: How do you go from concept to production on the shelves?

Archer: For Transformers it can go any way. We can start with models and we can design around them.

Stormrider: Clay models or plastic?

Archer: Mostly plastic… handmade, fabricated, doesn't-even-look-like-a-model models, just for car features. Then (we) design a look on style around that, or sometimes we will find a cool car in a magazine, or someone will draw a cool truck, or whatever to compliment a story line or what not. Takara is a big part of that. It goes back and forth between both places.

Stormrider: How many people do you have in your design team?

Archer: Just 2. I had been doing it by myself until recently, the last 6 months. Takara has about 4 or 5 guys. But Hasbro has only 2.

Stormrider: Why did you choose to go with a new model for Unicron instead of using the Neo Mold?

Archer: Mostly cost. That toy was too expensive for our market. It didn't contain a lot of the things we were looking for in a toy or the kind of features. The Minicon layout obviously wasn't there with the other figure, which is the key thing for Armada. And size.... we wanted it to be taller, since this was Unicron after all. That's really all.

Stormrider: Do you have any plans for the older mold?

Archer: Probably not, that thing has been around for, what... 5 years now in some form or another? If we haven't done it by now, I doubt we ever will. Especially now that we have this figure. That pretty much shuts the lid on the old mold.

Stormrider: Did you find designing the Beast Era toys more or less challenging then the vehicle forms?

Archer: I did work on Transmetal II's and some random BW figures, but I didn't work on BM. I think the vehicle forms are easier to do because they lend themselves to robots. Something on an airplane can easily be a forearm. Conversely, a cat’s shoulder blade doesn't lend itself to a robot. The organic forms are more difficult to hide the robot inside. I think the Beast Era toys are always going to be rougher to design.

Stormrider: On the 20th Anniversary figure, how many of your decisions were influenced by the fan poll you ran on Transfandom?

Archer: We had a lot of ideas originally gin before we had the poll. I kinda felt it was a good idea to make sure we were on the right course. I think the poll proved that we were. It helped buttress what we were thinking. This is whom we were making the 20th Anniversary figure for. So it was important to make sure the fans were where we wanted to be.

Stormrider: Do you intend to have more fan interaction of this kind, aka polls, in the future?

Archer: Yes I would like to, depending on timing and not wanting to tip our hand you know?

Stormrider: Is that hard to do, not tip your hand, with you having your own forum @ ?

Archer: Yeah, at times. Yes, because there is always an explanation as to why something does or doesn't happen. You can't please everyone. But my role there is to try to clarify specific points that are going on. (To provide) Quick answers that aren't secrets or hidden information. It's just to help everyone see where we are with the product. Where we are heading or not heading, so there's not needless discussion and people don't get disappointed when these things don't happen.

Stormrider: Do you ever get discouraged when fans don't get excited about your work or become overly critical of your creations?

Archer: No, this is my job. I get paid to do it. I do it as well as I can. I have managers and VP's to please more then the fans. But I hope the fans like everything we do. I take stuff into consideration, for several different items, they shape up how I think about it. But I can't take it personally. They are just expressing their thoughts on their hobby and they just want it to be as cool as they want it to be.

Stormrider: The Transtech sketches, are they an example of how a toy starts in the production process.

Archer: Those sketches were made more for animation character development. If you are familiar with the sketches, translating them into 3D physical toys, while keeping their elegance, could not be done. That is partially how we would design a toy. Those particular ones were made for animation.

Stormrider: Is it hard to design Transformers to be show accurate?

Archer: The way we are doing it now the toys are always made first. BM in particular is an example where it was show first, toy 2nd. You can see what happened with the Movie product back in the 80's. The Movie came first & the toys don't reflect all the features of the Movies characters. So with Armada, it’s always toy first then the characters are programmed for animation.

Stormrider: With the car lines, do you ever feel you will run out of material? There are only so many plane, cars, and jets out there before you have made them all. Do ever fear there won't be inspiration to continue?

Archer: That is always a concern. That's why we are really focused on features. That way we can make a similar car form interesting again, because we have done something different. I think as time goes on we will drift back to different types for forms. That is a natural process. Right now we are kind of in a 2nd phase of vehicles as far as Transformers go.

Stormrider: Have you considered doing furistic cars for new character development? Or do you intend to stick to realistic cars?

Archer: We want it to be recognizable as a car, a truck or a fire engine (etc). That's easy for the kids to just look at and say, "Oh that's a sports car." It doesn't have to be highly PC or a prefect representation of the vehicle. For us it is actually better that they are not perfect representations. But we don't want to do anything ambiguous, you know? We have a few items that are a little questionable but the instant recognition is key for the most part.

Armada Megatron

Stormrider: Out of all the figures you have designed, which one do you take the most pride in?

Archer: That's a good question. For Transformers I think it's still the Armada Megatron figure. I worked with Takara designers on that to work a little bit of the transformation, but I did all the details on it. I sketched it, colored it.....even designed the head. That was the most involved of any of them. Megatron always has to be cool.

Armada Hot Shot

Stormrider: Which figures hold the greatest disappointment? Where you say, "I wish I would have… "?

Archer: I think that with every toy you give up a little. I wish Hot Shot had better articulation. But for various reasons we had to give that up. So that's a disappointment, because he is such a key character and that he can't be as articulated as an important character should be. So he is more playable. That is a little bit of a disappointment.

Stormrider: Fans find Tech Specs to be something they are really into. Is that why you chose to make them into stickers? So they fans wouldn't loose these Spec's?

Archer: The Trilingual (packaging) is obviously why we took it off. That's not going away. We didn't want to do trilingual Bios so we took them off. We are looking into card game partners so it didn't make sense for us to have trading cards. So we went with the stickers in our package, mostly for illustrating the robots to the kids.

Stormrider: Will there be stickers for all the figures?

Archer: Yes, I believe this will be something we keep.

Stormrider: How much thought is put into the tech specs?

Archer: I am actually responsible for the numbers. It's pretty much obvious that a jet is fast and a construction guy is slow. There's no math formula or grand plan. I think I do each character justice based on what I know about the animation and style of the robot. In regards to the actual tech specs, the bios come from hard input from animation and are rewritten here for our format.

Stormrider: Sounds like the creation of a toy is a group effort between you, Takara and the animation company. Do you ever get an idea or wish that you could run with something without so much input into it from other sources?

Archer: Yes & no. We, as a group, internally come up with bios, character descriptions, and rough story line. Then that is handed off to the animation company, or our common partners Dreamwave. Then they interpret it how they need to, to make it work best for the stories and character development, which I don't have to worry about. I just have to know which character is the cool guy or the leader in training. They have to make that happen. So it changes along the way, you know. That's their job. My job is upfront and to worry about the toys. So I haven't been too disappointed. So I can't say passing it on is a bad thing.

Stormrider: What are the chances of G1 Megatron being remade?

Archer: Because of the child safety standards and the world we live in, the likelihood that Hasbro will make a gun that looks like a real gun, like Megatron, will be very unlikely. We looked into it, into changing colors to meet safety guidelines and the changes were so considerable that it really wouldn't be him. The whole thing would have to be orange with no labels applied. It wouldn't be authentic Megatron. It would've looked like a thrift store knock-off by the time we were done with it, and that's not really what our G1 line is about. It's unfortunate that he's the leader of the villains that will never be re-released.

Stormrider: How do you feel about seeing knock-offs of your designs?

Archer: I haven't seen any of my designs yet, but as far as Transformers you know that is just the nature of the business. Usually the knock-offs are poor quality, poor plastic, and they don't fit together well. Since Transformers are performance driven toys it is not the best practice in the world. Usually they are not successful. But they are interesting to see at times that's for sure. Hehehe…

Stormrider: Can we look forward to more females in the next line?

Archer: We are looking for a place where adding them makes sense. We will try to get one or two. I think we will do it. It's just a matter of good story reasons for the animation or the forms they might need to have to make good robots.

Stormrider: You mentioned you visit a lot of fan boards/sites. Which ones do you visit?

Archer: 2005 boards, Transfandom.com, Ben Yee's site. I spend most of my time at 2005. But there are a lot of them that I don't remember their names. I “Google” around for what I am looking for, like character descriptions on Unicron or Alpha Trion or whatever pops up. For the searches, I go there.

Stormrider: Are there any characters in the stories that have not been made into a toy what you might be looking back at now for creation?

Archer: Yeah, I think we are looking at ways to do some of the characters in whatever comes after Armada. It's way too early to talk about. They won't be the same character from the old comics, or animation, or whatever, but the same names will be re-introduced to a new generation of kids. But the old fans might appreciate that some of these guys get made. So we are looking at stuff like that.

Stormrider: Someone like Primus?

Archer: That is not one of them, but yeah there have been a handful that, for whatever reason, got over looked. So (that’s) something to look forward to.

Stormrider: You really love this don't you?

Archer: I do. I do. It keeps me busy. I am a writer, an artist, and I like epic storylines. Transformers is definitely the place for me.

Stormrider: How much influence do you have on the comics & video games?

Archer: Well, all the character information starts with us, the colors, the designs. So we determine that for everybody. Then (we) explain to them what characters are more important then others. As far as the comics go, we work closely with Dreamwave, obviously, on our package art for Armada and other things. And we see everything before hand as far as art, story, concept and so on. So we kind of know what they are doing you know. To make sure they are on the target with what we want to focus on. They do a great job, so there isn't any problem. Then the animation companies… we brief them, they kind of follow after what was done in Japan. It’s a little harder to manage but we have competent people working with them making sure it is possible.

Stormrider: Do you enjoy being part of the Hasbro convention scene?

Archer: Yeah, I have been going to conventions for years. I am an old comic book nut. I know the routine and I enjoy it. I think it’s important to get out there and let the fans know what we are up to and get them excited. Get the kid's excited about the shows and the toys.

Stormrider: Are you a Transformer collector?

Archer: I collect art. I don't necessarily collect Transformers. I do like the ones in the Japanese packaging. I do have a lot of those. But, by default of my job, I have multiples of everything. So I am a collector in that sense. But I don't have to pay for my collection.

Stormrider: What Transformer piece is your greatest prize?

Archer: I have some Japanese Convention Exclusives that could be considered great prizes, as far as hard to get items are concerned. I also have figures that Takara put out where they would randomly insert different colored figures in some runs. I have some of those given to me by the Takara designers. So those are pretty cool. I have Fortress Maximus from Car Robots. Stuff like that. Then the prototypes I get are always cool, but those can't leave the building.

Stormrider: How do you feel to see prototypes up for auction on E-bay or photographs online before the toys are released? I know that was mentioned as a problem at the start of Hasbro's presentation here today.

Archer: Yeah, it’s a problem. There's obviously an interest, and with any fan-based thing you are going to have that. We try to manage that, but stuff always gets out. It kinds stinks because you always want the best-colored version out first. I want to be able to explain in a press release, or a magazine, or on the Internet or whatever. To be able to describe this, that or the other. Having someone see the prototype, speculate and be disappointed, or think it does one thing then find out that it doesn't and be mad… Well it never was going to do that. It was all based on a bad image that was stolen form the factory or what not. All the prototypes do is cause confusion, and that's annoying. But it's not going to stop I suppose, unfortunately. Prototypes take all the fun out of the surprise. They destroy all the mystery. Because of the prototype leaks, you know everything that we are going to release for the next 7 months. What do fans have to look forward to now? We, as well as the fans, have lost the element of surprise.

Stormrider: Thank you for a wonderful interview Mr. Archer.

Transtech Scans, returning to Transfandom.com soon
Images of Hot Shot and Megatron from Transformers.com