Hasbro was kind enough to grant us an interview with Senior Designer Eric Siebenaler, one of the main guys in charge of the upcoming Transformers Animated series. Not a lot of questions could be answered regarding upcoming things, of course, but there's still a ton of information in here to chew on! Enjoy! -------------------- ALL ABOUT ERIC - Who is Eric Siebenaler? Where did you go to school? What did you major in? I’m just a guy from Indiana who likes Comic Books, Movies, Video Games and Toys quite a bit. I played sports and did well in school as a youngster, but none of those things really piqued my interest quite like the Arts. As I grew a little older, my taste in art became more sophisticated than Comic books and Toons, finding a vast appreciation for Traditional Art, Tattoos, Ceramics, and Sculpture. As college came into the picture in 1998, I decided to major in Landscape Architecture at Purdue University. This was a decision that only lasted one year. After that year the faculty had noticed that, even though my aptitude for the Curriculum was strong, that maybe that particular major was not the best place for my range of abilities. They took me over to meet the Faculty from the Industrial Design department that very day. After some deliberation, I decided ID was a good fit and promptly changed majors. In 2002 I would graduate tops in my class and be on my way to Rhode Island for a date with Hasbro. - How did you get your job with Hasbro? What was the first day like? I was hired due in equal parts to Luck, Persistence, and Internships. The Luck part pertains to first meeting Brian Chapman at Purdue after a lecture series where he spoke about being a member of the Design team on Transformers Beast Wars. Brian was the catalyst that changed my outlook on design for my last two years at Purdue, and to my eventual job at Hasbro. The Persistence part pertains to my deliberate emails and phone calls to stay in touch with Brian and others at Hasbro who I wanted to work with. Persistence also plays into my work ethic and desire to quickly develop the skill set that I needed to work at Hasbro - Up until that point, I had never drawn a vehicle. Nor had I ever drawn a Character Turn (sculpting input drawing)... Lastly, the internship process is where I met Aaron Archer and several other designers at Hasbro who helped show me what toy design was all about. The internship is basically set up to see what you bring to the table: how you work, how you learn, how you handle pressure, and how you are able to interact with the other members of the Hasbro family. I must have done something right during those few months... The first day was mind blowing. It was basically during a Takara visit, and I was placed directly into a meeting with the Hasbro and Takara teams. Within the first five minutes of listening, I knew that there was going to be a big learning curve. Aside from the meeting, I expected a creative environment within the walls of Hasbro, but I didn’t expect to see how many people’s office looked like a mini toy museum, and most importantly – How friendly people are here. It’s surreal if you have never seen this sort of thing before. - What is your current job title? Senior Designer – Transformers Brand Team - What does Eric Siebenaler do for fun, other than design kick-ass robots? I have a wide variety of interests: Snowboarding, Wakeboarding, Boogie Boarding, the Beach, Power Yoga, Indoor Soccer, Hanging out with friends, Billiards, Night Life, Tattoos, the Music scene, watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship, NFL and NCAA football. I’m also into other kinds of art aside from toy design. I’m fascinated by Painters and Furniture designers. There’s a rich community of Talented Artists here in Providence whose work I really enjoy seeing. - In various BotCon photos, you're wearing a military-esq hat. People seriously want to know, where did you get that? Newbury Comics. Hats are kind of my thing. I have a huge collection of Hats. - Your favorite book, movie, and television show? Books: Harry Potter Series Movie: The Incredibles TV Show: Heroes, Miami Ink, & LA Ink. TRANSFORMERS AND ERIC - What was the first TRANSFORMERS project you worked on? Any memorable stories to share along with it? Most of the Fan Community knows of this story – Armada Laserbeak was my first TF. It was a fun project because it was the first time that I got to sketch concepts for both Robot mode and Alt mode. The most memorable moment was how much the fan community disliked it. After the New York Toy Fair in 2001 (while I was still a senior at Purdue), I remember reading several comments on various TF boards that I was ill prepared for at that time. - What figure has been your favorite to design? In retrospect, which figure do you wish you could have worked more on, or didn't turn out the way you had originally intended it to? I rarely look back at anything I’ve done in the past as the pinnacle of achievement. As a designer, I’m trained to always look forward and get better. Therefore, most of my favorites will always be the projects that I’m currently working on. My favorite character right now would be Animated Lockdown. He’s such a great new character in the new Cartoon Series, and it’s been a real blast working with Takara-Tomy and Cartoon Network to develop him. Regarding characters I wish that we had more time to work on, or had turned out differently – I’d lean towards Cybertron Override. The character started off as a male hero, but then was changed to a female hero during the import and dubbing process. We never had time to reflect this gender change in the toy. - During the Hasbro tour of BotCon 2007, an Alternators prototype was shown which was considerably smaller than the regular releases. He was modeled after the JAZZ character. Can you shed any light on to what exactly this figure was for (a new subline for Alternators, a new direction that didn't take off, etc?) This item was actually based on the Subaru Impreza (Smokescreen) car model. It had parts from the Rally and Street versions. The simplest way that I can explain that scenario is that it was a smaller scale model that was presented at the same time we were pitching the ‘normal’ scale Alternators. It was just an option to show management that we can do super detailed Transformers at a much smaller scale. As you might have guessed, management saw more opportunity with the larger versions. - When you are put in charge of designing a character, what steps do you follow? If it's a gimmick line (Cybertron), do you work with that first, and develop the character around the gimmick? Or is it straight "develop a cool character, fit the gimmick into it"? Prior to putting pen to paper, the entire team agrees on general vehicle types that will appear during a product line. Once that is determined, we all usually start with vehicle design first. Concept versions of Robots will typically follow. Also, please note that Takara is very integral to our design process, so it is not unusual to exchange ideas back and forth during the entire design process. In most cases, the challenge is to find the best balance of Cool Robot, Cool Vehicle, and Cool Feature. - Did you design any of the CLASSICS figures, and if so, which one(s)? All designs for the initial run of Classics were collaborations between Takara and myself. - Do you prefer creating all-new characters, or do you enjoy creating a new character using homages from previous Transformers mythos? I really like making up brand new characters the best, but I will not deny that my inner geek likes to sprinkle homages into a product line. There’s still some characters that I haven’t had an opportunity to throw in... yet... - What would be your "dream Transformers project"? I’m pretty confident in our ability to put out great toys. But what really piques my interest is the stories we are able to tell. If you couple the right entertainment with the right toy and the right media support, you’re going to have a juggernaut. Personally, I hope that one day, we are able to tell the story of life before the great war on Cybertron. Especially since that story would include the Rise of Megatron... ERIC ETC. - What advice can you give to anyone out there who is seriously making an attempt at becoming a toy designer, not necessarily for Hasbro, but just in general? What words of wisdom, advice, and heroism can you share? As with most jobs in the design industry, having an education is a huge plus. College is the first step in Networking for most people and it can serve you well. I would encourage anyone who wants into toy design to first try out an internship or two to see what a company is all about without any long term commitment. Have a portfolio of your art and any previous relevant projects in the industry. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the industry when at conventions – I promise most of us are pretty laid back people. Don’t be afraid of criticism, it’s a daily part of what we do/deal with as designers. Know the company you are approaching – you don’t want to talk to Mattel about a Hasbro property... Have some personal style in your work – we like originality, as well as strong fundamentals. Being versatile is good – having knowledge of how to draw Vehicles, Characters, Robots, and Playsets will help. Modeling or Kit-bashing experience are also valued skills. - With the new design look of Transformers Animated, as usual, the fan community seems split right down the middle as far as their reactions. Is there anything you'd like to add to what we've discussed already that would either get people even more excited for Animated, or at least lower their expectations of disappointment? I don’t think that’s my place to try and convince anyone of anything. I’m happy that people care enough about this brand to voice their opinions – for better or worse. I can say that I’m really proud of the work that everyone here at Hasbro, Takara, and CN have been cranking out for Transformers Animated. --------------- TFW2005.COM would like to thank Eric Siebenaler, Paula Walsh, and all the members of the TFW2005 staff team that contributed to the questions of this interview. Stay tuned for more TFW2005.COM interviews in the future!