I think we've all at one time or another asked why ILM's Transformers look the way they do. Some of us have come to accept them, others still feel they're utter and complete blasphemy. I've got some theories I'd like to share regarding their appearance, and it all comes down to visual communication. Unless you're talking about functional design (physical items we interact with), design is all about communicating a message to our fellow humans. A good design conveys information in an easily understandable manner, and can also convey mood, a vibe, cost, and countless other things. Good design is never about just "making something cool", unless "cool" is the vibe you want the reader/viewer to feel. Every good design starts with a concept, and it's important to understand the message you're trying to convey before the pencil ever hits the paper. So let's talk about Transformers. I've seen countless people claim the film's Transformers are poorly designed, either because they don't capture previous incarnations correctly or because they don't feel the machines look fit for war. But they're not really going to war - they're being built specifically for audience viewing on a film screen. And with regards to previous incarnations, Transformers began with a series of man-made, human piloted Mechs that Hasbro repackaged, so that may not be the best place to start for good design cues. In fact, I can't imagine anything worse than designing something to visually communicate one concept, and then having it resold as a completely unrelated concept. So where do you start? Well, from the bottom. If you had to explain what a Transformer is using only five words to a fellow human who had never seen them before, what would those words be? I would personally go with: Giant, Advanced, Alien, Sentient, Robotic. So, in regards to visual communication, that is what a Transformers design should effectively convey. If it doesn't, then the designer really isn't doing their job. Those are the words I feel best describes what makes a Transformer, and what follows is why I picked those words, and how I think ILM communicates them: Giant The vast majority of Transformers are big, some even huge. It's important for someone to know they're not Robocop/Terminator like things - they're big robots. So how do you visually communicate bigness? Well, you can use low camera angles pointing upward, and you can place the robots alongside objects we're familiar with, but a good design shouldn't require such restrictions and dependence on other objects. Slow-movement is another element that can convey large size, but we don't want Transformers lumbering around now do we. So, we know that in the mechanical world, larger machines have more parts. A toy race car has maybe 100 parts, counting all the screws, where-as an actual automobile has thousands upon thousands of parts. This, I believe is why ILM's designs have so many intricate parts; it puts them on par with larger machinery. To pass on including thousands of parts in the designs could result in your live-action world just looking like a miniature set, and not every shot can have objects we're familiar with in it, either. So all those tiny parts make you think "automobile" instead of "toy car". Advanced It's important that Transformers be perceived as more advanced than humans. Not only is it part of their mythos, but it's a huge part of what makes them so fascinating in the first place. So how do you communicate more advanced than humans? Well, you give them something they can do that we can't. Since they are robots, you make them go beyond what humans are familiar with in terms of our own machinery, and they definitely shouldn't be something we can replicate in a $99 toy. This is why I believe ILM's Transformers have über-complex transformation schemes. Something that we can only produce in CG is something that is more advanced than what man can build. Additionally, it provides that necessary jaw-drop factor; after all, the film is called Transformers - the transformations better live up to the name, no? A cab that sprouts limbs isn't exactly going to shout "more advanced that humans" at you. Alien It's obvious that no one can define what an alien looks like - we haven't really seen any. That's a given. But it's very important that viewers understand Transformers are not made by man, either today or from the future. They have to appear to be not from around here. To communicate that, they need to lack the human traits we always incorporate into our robots. Now, being bipedal creatures is integral to Transformers, so they can't walk around on seven legs and whip tongues. So what left can you use to communicate "not from here"? Well, faces, hands, feet, and the smoothness of the design. This is why I believe ILM chose not to use the metal man faces Transformers have had ever since Hasbro repackaged and resold Diaclone. It's one of the only points on the robot open to change, and it's the one point that would convey "human" if left the traditional style. Their sharp, non-childsafe edges and intricate parts also communicate foreign, because we as a human society work to simplify designs to perfection, and make them lawsuit-free. By being the opposite, ILM's Transformers contrast our designs. The faces make extra sure no one will think these robots are from Earth, be it present or future. Sentient This is perhaps one of the biggest points that set Transformers apart from other fictitious robots. They are self-aware, and have feelings and emotions just like us. At first, I thought this was something that could not be communicated in design, and instead must be left up to facial expression, talking, and body language. But for that body language to take place, they've got to be able to move like a self-aware creature. They've got to have the mobile freedom to do all the things sentient creatures do. Move aggressively. Run in fear. Fight like their life depends on it. Sit around being bored. For any of that to happen, they've got to have full range of motion and even weight distribution, like a human body. This is why I feel ILM broke up the alt mode parts to the extent that they did. A robot who moves like a night in armor is going to look more like a droid than a sentient being. As a kid, I always thought Storm Troopers were mindless droids because of how stiff and emotionless their body language was. Truth is, they were just dudes having a hard time moving in costume. The way Bonecrusher charges that bus in the trailer like a enraged Decepticon on a mission is a great example of what a "robot wearing car parts" couldn't do because of the physical limitations associated with large, uneven alt kibble. You have to essentially break the vehicle down and build a human shape out of it, not take a human shape and dress it in vehicle body parts. Robotic Ok, now it gets complicated. These characters need to move like self-aware beings in order to communicate being alive, but at the same time they have to communicate that they are robots. Often times, displaying robotic cancels sentience out by using stiff, slow movement. Avoiding the robotic aspect altogether will leave your characters looking like men in suits, what with their acting like humans and all. This is where I believe ILM's use of exposed mechanics comes in. They leave the gears & pistons showing so that you can see the robotics at work. They leave areas hollowed out to prove, without a doubt, that you're not seeing a man in a suit. By covering everything up, you would lose the robotic aspect to the communication of sentience. The shot of Blackout turning toward the camera in the teaser is a great example of this; being able to see the components that make up his arm makes it obvious that's no man in a suit. Take that away, and it could just as well be an armored flesh-alien. So, those are my theories. Five critical points that an effective design must visually communicate - on it's own - to capture the essence of a Transformer. At this point, I feel that including any of the more traditional aesthetics of Transformers past would have severe consequences on the effective visual communication of what a Transformer is. Because of Transformers origins (Diaclone), which all Transformers toy incarnations henceforth have sampled to some degree, it's unfortunate that Transformers' mythos and the visual communication put forth by it's designs doesn't match up. While they may not be the aesthetically pleasing designs we've come to expect from Transformers over the years, what ILM has created may be the right designs to best communicate Transformers, as their mythos tells them. Thanks for reading.