How to Revive a Franchise—20 Years of Transformers Evolution!
Article 111, The Deston Basic, 04/07/2018 
Post by @TGW and @Nathanoraptor
So, let’s lay out a hypothetical for you.
Recently, a combination of natural nostalgia for long ago days of happiness and an artificial blast from the past in the form of a very successful movie has triggered a desire to create a new incarnation of a well-known (though not perhaps highly regarded) franchise for a new generation. It’s been ten years, not exactly to the day but near enough, of the last time your franchise had a cartoon on the TV barring commercials for merchandise. And it ended on a pretty conclusive note, on the whole, at the recommendation of the much respected and much reviled Jim Henson. The comics too wrapped up albeit not too long ago, with perhaps a more open ended story than you might have expected but even so. 
And for whatever reason this silly little show struck a big chord in the youth of the eighties. The reason why the gravy train ran out can, in some respects, be placed upon the shoulders of careless executives who did not realize that while they saw toys to be removed from shelves, children saw characters getting slaughtered.  So you have the choice of sticking to the canon (But being beholden, to a certain extent, to the decisions of ten years ago which is creatively limiting) or going off on your own direction (which will piss off said invested fans and in the worsening climate, maybe that’s not a great thing).
You are Disney, and you are about to start work on Transformers.
How do you go about it?
Of course, we know the answers to this. Transformers: Evolution as it will become known will go on to run from late 1998 to 2004 in various forms from a proper animated series to a movie that flipped on a coin between being released theatrically and going straight to TV.  A whole new generation of fans will come to regard the show as ‘their’ Transformers, and while that will pay off dividends in terms of merchandise and in keeping the show running long enough to get to a conclusion, the battle between Geewuns and Geetooz  will not be resolved by the end of it. The staff on it will receive their due credit and the careers of many up-and-coming animators and writers will begin to take shape from the series. But back then, Isenberg was bluntly honest about not having a clue what to do.
So we’ve decided to create a guide to show the process of perhaps the most important first step. While never officially given a name, the first season of the show was a thirteen-episode arc that fans have come to refer to as ‘War in Heaven’. It is this first season we will focus on, as it is here that many of the decisions that will affect the series will be decided, where its strengths are discovered and tested.
So we’ll not be talking about the introduction of the Dinobots/Combaticons, or the arc where Rapticon dies and Packrat must grieve his death or even the infamous "Enemy Within" episode. We’ll not mention the Children of the Makers or the acclaimed “Heart of Energoa” finale. Perhaps another day, or perhaps not. No instead we will focus upon the twelve-episode, and what it has to say about how the series became so well loved.
With the, admittedly somewhat vague, remit of a new Transformers show, the first step was to begin building the writers room. The aim was to build a mix of old and new, with veteran Transformers writers mixed in with “new blood”.
Some of these guys (Image Source: TFWiki)
The most notable of the “new blood” was Marty Isenberg, one of the earliest to be contacted, who had, by this point in his career, done several freelance scripts for all sides of the animation nation. From working with Greg Weisman on that show with the gargoyles to a brief stint on The Spirit to even dabbling a little in Y’allywood for a time.  Nonetheless, his body of work impressed the Disney execs enough to ask him to be co-showrunner – which was still at a nebulous stage as the Board had decided that while a revival of the series would go ahead, no one was quite how to handle it. He met with Jim Henson and the two had a frank conversation about the issues that were going to be faced. Following the discussion, Isenberg began gathering a ‘crack commando’ squad to work with him on developing the new series.
Three of the initial recruits were Transformers veterans. David Wise may have been busy working on the TMNT franchise but he had been equally as hard working on the Transformers during it’s peak. Despite his somewhat infamous reputation from cribbing off his own plots for various shows, he was well-regarded and seen as a good force to be reckoned with. The comic book writer Marv Wolfman had also wrote several episodes of the show, but this was a happy coincidence as Isenberg picked him due to his excellent runs on stuff like the Teen Titans. Despite some grumbles in the early 90’s, he had remained at Marvel following the conclusion of his work at DC and with his contract coming to a close, Isenberg was able to convince him to bring his genius back to the animated screen. 
However, for co-showrunner and lead writer, both Isenberg and Disney only had one name in mind – long-running Transformers scribe Simon Furman, “We picked Simon—” said Isenberg in an interview in 2008, “—because A: He was responsible for taking a lot of the stuff that the cartoon had created and running with it, and B: We knew early on we were going to be competing with stuff like Gundam and those Brave shows, the Transformers rip-offs….shit, is that going to get quoted? But anyway, if we needed an epic feel, he’d be the one to go to for that.”
Perhaps surprisingly, he initially turned them down. Recalling, Furman said, “The people at Toon Town called me and asked me to be the showrunner. I turned them down because I had no experience in showrunning or television writing. However, they said ‘You’re working with some of the best writers in the business and you know this material better than anybody else. You’ll do fine’. So I thought it over… and I changed my mind.”
In addition, one other would join who were quite fresh to the franchise but was no stranger to Hasbro. Christy Marx had worked on a lot of series over the years but had been responsible for the introduction of Jem and the Holograms into the world.  Her choice was deliberate as one of the things that Henson and Isenberg had agreed on was that the Transformers would be a little less boy-centric this time around. This caused some early friction amongst the team, one of the only acknowledged arguments that has been released.
The woman herself (Image Source: TFWiki)
“Simon is a great guy, I like him a lot. And he’s got some really interesting ideas about how the Cybertronians should be different to the humans. I want to stress that once we had the female Transformers, he never wrote them any less competently than the men, or never tanked them, or was never spiteful towards them. But he has this thing where he believes that you should always write the Transformers as….well, robots. Sometimes that works, he was the one who pushed for romances between Transformers of all genders because, of course, robots would have no moral hang-ups or consider such relationships taboo. We pushed that a little further than we might have done thanks to him. 
But that had its downsides, because he believed that there was zero point in having a robot have gender because why on earth would a robot have one? We did stymie him a little by asking why, in that case, they had to be all men but the argument continued. It was never anything unprofessional or mean-spirited but it was getting to a point where it might be.  In the end, we finally got him to calm down by putting forward two points. One, while in a technical sense it was true that there was no reason that a robot should have a gender, the kids are really, REALLY not going to be caring about that when they’re smacking the toys against each other and making “Pew pew” sounds. And two, we had the compromise that all Transformers were technically genderless, but, as they came into contact with alien races that did have genders, began identifying as whatever gender they thought fit them best. Having your cake and eating it too, it rarely works but it seemed to satisfy that very, very odd itch of his.” 
“The important thing I remember in my meeting with Jim—” Marty remembers “—was that I came away with a real understanding of how he had come to terms with the Transformers in his first few years. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get why he was so against them at first, but the explanation he gave was one that sat in my head for a good while afterwards. I didn’t really get it until we started planning things out and it all just clicked into place, y’know?”
The meetings, made before the pitch was required, were useful in hashing out several details. Firstly, the story would not be a continuation of the original cartoon or indeed the comic. While Wise and to a lesser extent Wolfman made the argument for continuation, both Isenberg and Furman were in agreement that there had been too much introduced and established for their liking, or for the new audience to follow. In particular, the culling of the original 86 movie was something that was going to be hard to undo, especially given that many killed were the more famous Transformers that people actually liked.  However, references to the original would be littered throughout the show proper which we will get into in a moment. 
With a post-Rebirth series out of the equation, Isenberg found that the writers, Hasbro and Disney didn’t need to think for very long on the direction they wanted to take, “Hasbro, Disney and the writers room each wrote down our first idea for a new series on a piece of paper. Our unanimous selection was ‘Beasts’.”
Next was the matter of their preferred animation. On this, all were in agreement. If Transformers was to fit in the new world created by the influx of imported mecha anime, it would need to be animated in a style similar to it, preferably by a Japanese studio. In the end, Hasbro executives recommended that Ashi Productions and Trans Arts Co be used to animate the show proper.  The result was a very smooth and distinctive style that fit right in with the current market, but with designs unique enough to set them apart. And it was of those designs that the next decision was made.
The story took shape from each writer’s ideas. Marx proposed that while a downsizing of the cast was going to be necessary, it would be of some worth to have a good amount of characters to work with even in the first season.  Hence the unofficial ‘ten-a-side’ decision enforced across the series.
When it came to the setting of the series, the writers were conflicted – should it be set on Earth or on an alien world? Wolfman and Wise both raised points about how Transformers fans enjoyed different styles of episodes, Wolfman arguing for science fiction and Wise defending the traditional earth-esque setting. Furman suggested a compromise – an Earth-like “jungle planet” (later called Energoa), which would provide them with a degree of leeway on what animals the characters would be turning into. 
An increasingly rare meddle from Henson himself made a request for something to be included, as Furman recalls, “Jim [Henson] has always been interested in environmental issues – and he wanted to keep things grey in the series… principally because he’d been initially uncomfortable with the Sunbow stuff and wanted to avoid some of the notions he’d found uncomfortable… So he suggested this third faction of Transformers who want to preserve the natural harmony of Energoa… and who view both the Maximals and Predacons as negative influences. So we came up with the idea of the Makers and this third faction that came about from their tinkering stasis pods.”
The writers came up with a common theme in the series – putting individual differences aside in the name of a common good. Isenberg, Furman and others have repeatedly stated over the years that there was nothing metafictional about this at all (not many believe them, but still) With the players all decided, it was now time to cast them. Taken by Henson’s reading of the original Autobots, Isenberg put forward what he would later refer to as the ‘Commandments of Cybertron’ in tongue in cheek fashion. They were, more or less, the following:
1: Maximals carry weapons, but they are not weapons. Predacons have weapons built into them, always ready for battle. This carries over from their Autobot/Decepticon ancestors
2: Due to the extremes of the planet, the Maximals and Predacons must take on beast modes.
3: Maximals have much more respect for the nautral harmony of Energoa than the Predacons do - the Predacons seek to conquer and stripmine the place, whilst the Maximals try to stop them and preserve the planet's natural harmony (where they can, of course).
4: The Children of the Makers prefer more traditional melee weapons - almost no blasters/cannons/whatever.
5: A recurrent theme of the destructive consequences of war on the harmonious world of Energoa should be pushed.
He half expected to get laughed out of the room. But to his surprise, Furman loved the idea and noted that he had a few things he’d yet to work into his comics if they needed them. The presentation went better than expected and, after some consideration and haggling, the project was a-go. But there would be one final thing to work out, one last argument to be had and it's one that arguably changed the direction of the franchise forever.
About ten months ago at the time of this article, a book entitled ‘The Free Lunches’ was published which detailed the often frantic and harried discussions between animators, story editors, higher ups and the like during the ‘lunch’ break. Others not tangentially involved in the process itself would arrive and get to tuck in and get an additional show, hence the title of the book. One of the more infamous is a battle between David Wise and Simon Furman regarding the Transformers and K-I-S-S-I-N-G though whether or not they were sitting at the tree at the time is not known. Isenberg regards the whole thing with a laugh and an embarrassed shake in the head, but he gave us an explanation of what went on.
“We were talking, I think we were, about the Transformers and romance. I remember we’d had plans for the first season proper to introduce Elita-One who had been in the original cartoon, we thought it a good chance to bring her in and have someone for Prime to bounce off. It was Marv who’d come up with the idea to pair Pounce and Ursodiol up too. And that brought Simon out in one of his ‘creative’ moods. I say that like it’s a bad thing, it really wasn’t, but every so often he’d stick on a problem he had and never let it go. That problem being romance. Once again, why would a robot-based civilization have romance. But unlike the last time when we were all pretty adamant about having female Transformers, it was David who did the lion’s share of defending.
See, Simon never watched the original cartoon when he was writing the comic books and he thought them a little childish at the time. I’ve since learnt that the day after our argument he went out and bought a VHS of it and came back a convert. He shook David’s hand and everything, told him he loved Season 2. Fair play to the man, he got back on the good side soon enough. But anyway, he hadn’t done it back then because he'd written what he considered the more ‘adult’ version of the Transformers.  And I think someone must have mentioned that to David and something about it, the tone, the words, the implication that he’d done better work than David, something triggered this burst of anger. Particularly seeing that Wise had written two episodes that featured romance heavily, one with a human-transformer relationship and one where he’d done a sort of ‘Hero’s Journey’ thing with Optimus Prime and his girl back home Ariel, who later turns into Elita One. So I think Dave waged the war on that front.
Anyway, they start arguing with me stuck mediating. They gave very good points to both sides. Simon argued that whether they were factory drones like in the cartoon or created by a god like in the comics, there was no feasible point for the Transformers to have relationships of a romantic nature. He in particular indicated that the reason they could not was because there was no such relationship to be had without sex, and what the hell were they implying? David fired back that in that case there was no point to having the Energoans be a big part of the story since the fact they have kids clearly indicated that sex had occurred. He further pointed out that no one, except maybe the perverts and that was a smaller market than Simon thought, gave a damn about the Transformers having sex and if anyone thought that an innocent kiss on the cheek or holding hands equalled erotic and passionate love-making they were off their damn heads. “Every other show has something like what we’re offering and what, just because they’re robots we have to come up with all these weird justifications for it?!”
Then Christy slid a piece of paper across with both her and Marv’s handwriting upon it. “Will this do?” she asked casually, as though she had just finished dusting down the table or something. And that was where the ‘Sparks’ came into the story. Both of them were….well, mollified is a strong word but they both seemed to cool down a little bit. I added a little touch of my own, suggested we take a break and then went to find the nearest bottle of strong stuff that I could.” The Spark Document is, to the writer’s knowledge, the first time that a detailed description of the Transformers life-cycle was established. Previous writers had come up with little ideas here or there, the brain module from the Marvel comics or the corpse of a dead Transformer turning grey from the cartoons. But this was the first time that a step-by-step explanation was offered and while future incarnations would ignore it or reimagine it, all were now aware of it’s existence. For those wondering or needing a refresher on what the document contains, let’s break it down simply:
1: The Spark is the centrepiece of all Transformers life. Like our species, Transformers often attempt to work out whether their existence is the result of science or a higher power, so too is the spark regarded as potentially a highly sophisticated piece of machinery or clear proof of a ‘soul’. Sparks are typically found in a Transformer’s chest, buried deep inside, hard to reach and easy to destroy. They can be transplanted but the operation is not an easy one.
2: Sparks are a naturally occurring phenomena on the planet Cybertron. Depending on whom you believe, either the great god Primus planted an infinite multitude of sparks into the planet or they are a naturally occurring resource independent of anyone’s desire. In any event, sparks are harvested from the planet and taken to Vector Sigma. Again, depending on you ask, Vector Sigma is either a mystical being and the legacy of Primus made manifest or it is a very advanced computer that is merely doing it’s job. In any event, Vector Sigma manufactures a body for the spark and then places it inside. The activation of the spark causes the subconscious elements of the personality therein to alter the body for it’s own purpose. But soon a Transformer emerges. This explains why Starscream had the Seekers and Bumblebee had his many mini-bot clones, and so on and so forth.
3: The difference between the two sides and their approaches to Sparks cannot be more different. The Maximals believe in the ability of a single being to alter the course of their destiny, that there is no fixed role in society for a single Transformer and that said Transformer can experiment and learn what their own path is. Predacons have a semi-functionalist approach (ironically enough, given the most common origins for their Decepticon precursors), if you transform into a drill you are a construction robot, if you are a tank you are a warrior, a communications terminal takes you to news reporting etc, etc. (Obviously, the Preds we see, being a bunch of renagades, have since adapted out of this).
4: The Transformers have attachments but not as we know them. Transformers do not need to have sex to procreate, for the supply of sparks makes that a moot possibility. A Transformer lives for millions of years at the very least, so it is not a matter of keeping the population high. Sex does not enter into any conversation. Attachments are therefore based around connection, joy, a platonic love and desire to spend time with those important to you. Sometimes this takes the form of long term friends and colleagues, but in terms of what we humans call ‘romance’, two Transformers may decide to become colleagues because they feel that they make them a better person or because it brings them happiness that is not achievable with friends.
“Well, if we read all that out on the air, it would be damn boring wouldn’t it?” chuckles Isenberg, “No, we decided to make a joke out of it, I wrote the joke incidentally. The old ‘Pounce and Ursodiol learn about sex’ bit is one of those that I thought would get cut somehow. I suspect that Jim might have pulled a few strings, he laughed quite a bit when we showed it to him.” 
And what of Packrat and Rapticon? Two months after the Free Lunches was published, Wall Street Journal had their newscasters talking about an alleged plot to indoctrinate the children of the late nineties with gay propaganda thanks to confirmation by Furman and Wolfman that they’d come to write the two characters’ arc as a romantic one. Marty considers this for a moment and then shrugs, “Sure we did! It wasn’t intentional at first, they were just the whole Odd Couple thing – these two characters who bickered, but eventually became friends. But then someone, I forget whom, showed Rob and Maurice a piece of fanfiction of the two and we walked in on them acting it out. It was very funny, to be frank, and the person watching had clearly picked up on the characterisation very well! But as they read it, your mind starts to consider the possibility even just to mock it. And I can’t remember which one of us suggested that we…slyly indicate to the outside world that this was the case, but we were all giggling like kids when we did it.”
While the five of them wanted to drop the pretence by the end of their arc in Season Two (with Packrat telling Rapticon he loves him as the latter lies dying), in the end Disney went above them. But Chairman Henson was quick, in the nineties at least, to quell attempts to shut down the light amusement. “We were not as careful as we thought we were,” admitted Marty, “Myself, I blame Rob and Maurice. We’d give them two-takes each time – one time they’d do the banter as belingerently flirtatious… the other time, normal. But every so often the editor would get mixed up and put the other read in. It was never swearing or cursing or anything like that, it was all within the realm of innocence. But that bastard Falwell threatened to raise a stink, we insisted that it was all just two mismatched friends giving each other hell. Certainly it was nothing worse than, say, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Or some of those Tom Cruise movies. It was such a storm over nothing that even Jim defending us and insisting that Falwell was making something out of nothing didn’t make the headlines of the paper. He was all for them being a couple, but he gently and firmly insisted that we cool down a little bit. So we did….didn’t stop the animators finding a way to sneak occasional semi-romantic glances, or Packrat leaning against Rapticon. I’m amazed it took this long to be worked out!” 
Before we continue to the cast, we may as well discuss the plot of the mini-series. We will be condensing the plot down considerably, there is as per always More than Meets the Eye (Yes, yes, I know!) with these episodes and we recommend you get your hands on a copy! So, let’s provide a quick synopsis as easily as we can so that we do not spoil anything for any newcomers.
In this continuity, the war between Autobots and Decepticons has been over for many, many years. The Autobots and Decepticons have ‘evolved’ into Maximals and Predacons – and an oft-uneasy peace has come between the two factions. Over the centuries, Cybertron has become isolationist, with the exception of scientific exploration. The series’ setting is the world of Energoa  – a mostly untouched, pristine world, home to dangerous wildlife and a race of multi-coloured beings known as Energoans who are at a roughly tribal level of development, who worship a race of mysterious aliens called the “Makers”. 
Over the course of the thirteen-episode first season, a group of Maximals led by Maximus Prime (at least initially) track a Predacon stealth vessel that lands on the planet and prepares to make it their new base of operations. With the planet’s energon fields necessitating them to take on new beast modes and mysterious structures indicating a mysterious presence on the planet, it seems that even when the battle is over, the war has just begun.
The focus here is primarily on two aspects, spectacle and character dynamics. In the former, every episode of the first season tackles a different kind of massive emergency from the first battle to the fifth episode’s long-since copied reunion of Primal and Megatron on the top of a waterfall in homage of the original G1 series to a tragic loss midway through the first season. Perhaps the most well remembered of all of these is the long fight that starts at episode ten’s end, continues throughout eleven and then finally concludes three quarters of the way through episode twelve. Beginning at the rim of an active volcano which (In a reversal of fortune from the original cartoon) the Predacon ship crashed into, the Transformers battle each other both in and outside, before it is discovered that the volcano is some sort of weapon – constructed for an unknown purpose. As the Maxies and Preds throw it down, Megatron and Optimus truly come to blows for the first time and the end of the world seems to be inevitable. Ending with the Predacons forced into retreat, Primal left with big shoes to fill and the Makers deciding that the Maxies and Preds have brought too much destruction to Energoa for them to not interfere, it made for a hell of an impact with the kids of the 90’s.
Character-wise however, a lot of focus was put on getting interesting relationships between the characters. Pounce and Prowl bicker over the direction to take the Maximals, while Pounce serves as constructive criticism and friend to Optimus. Optimus struggles with the chains of command, after (SPOILER) Maximus Prime’s death near the two-thirds-mark of the first season. The Energoa-bound Maximals argue with each other (Jawbreaker and Bumblebee in a brother and sister nature, the Maximals’ mistrust of the recently-defected Rapticon) but ultimately all love each other very much. Even the Preds get decent development. Megatron hates Lazerbeak but finds him amusing and useful in small doses, contrasted with his respect for Leatherwing, who in turn is loyal to his leader, whilst Scorponok schemes in the background, plotting his own agenda.
A short summary, simple and to the point. Have to watch the rest of the series to get the best stuff.
Elements of these two shows bleed through despite their elimination from the timeline (Source: TFWiki)
The merchandising sales, as Isenberg recalls, were particularly important. “All that shit with the Shepherds happened just as we were breaking Season One and one of their attack points was that Disney was ‘wasting time’ on IP that hadn’t been relevant in years – the Muppets were a specific target in this regard, but Transformers was thrown in there too.”
Fortunately, the toys sold like gangbusters, with Isenberg fondly recalling, "Oh I loved them! Yeah, we actually got to test some of the toys with the kids which, I mean, thank gods we weren't all in the same room. Some of them were pretty easy, I seem to recall – I seem to recall Optimus Primal’s toy reused some of the transformation scheme from G1 Razorclaw. A few had this 'Gold Plastic Syndrome' which I'm told was a real nuisance from back in the day. And I remember that Darksteel was a big seller, people couldn't get enough of him!”
Hasbro, however, found some of them harder than others, “I remember we got a very polite letter from Hasbro half-jokingly asking if we could refrain from doing snake Transformers – because Coiler had been such a nightmare to manufacture! I thought they all looked great, they looked cool in both modes. Never saw all the problems people had with them but then I'm not a kid....well, in body anyway. I don't want to think about all the effort that got put into them, I hope whoever it was got compensated for it."
You’d think the decision to make a clean break with the show’s past would make things easier when it came to casting. On the contrary, it did not – whilst some roles were easy to cast, others were not. Whilst many of the Disney animation talent pool (including original TF voice actors Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche – and others like Jeff Bennett and Jim Cummings) were available, many American TV studios had begun working with Canadian studio the Ocean Group, to strengthen ties between the voice acting unions of LA and Vancouver – many of their talent pool (including future Evolutions cast members David Kaye, Scott McNeill, Venus Terzo and Blu Mankuma) had worked on the Disney-distributed dub of the Russian animated film Adventures of Mowgli
In the end, while several actors who had performed in the eighties cartoon would return, none would appear as their original characters (or the equivalent of their original characters). Overall, and including the occasional comment by Isenberg and the alternate modes, the cast included the following:
Rather than the veteran leader of the Autobots, this Optimus is new to the chains of command – having gained the role after the death of his superior, Maximus Prime, midway through the first season. Furman and the writers didn’t have to look far for inspiration, “We based him off Jim Henson, this constant battle to try and do the right thing even when the world is screaming at you. And Garry [Chalk] rose to the occasion beautifully.”  His beast mode was a lion.
The cocky, snarky second-in-command (and literal “cool cat”), Pounce often acted as a foil to Optimus. Beau Bllingslea ultimately voiced the character, with Isenberg recalling, “Beau portrayed the character as a mix between Tupac Shakur and Little Richard”. His beast mode was a leopard.
Deforest Kelley was the guest star for the first season, a role that would begin with Episode 1 and end with Episode 10, as essentially ‘Bones’ in metallic form. Chuckling, Isenberg remarked, “God bless him. He told me, wryly, that Leonard had suggested he ignore the whole thing but he needed the money.  Turns out he wasn’t too great in terms of health, but he gave it his all. It might have been how positive he was about the show, he did not have to do that by the by, that got Leonard back for the series. A dear, dear man.”  Maximus’ beast mode was a mammoth.
: Voiced by Jerry Nelson , this Hound (a relic of the time when the G1 names were all being used) returning the character to his original significance albeit as a far more in-tune with the planet kind of person, described as the ‘cool but Kooky old uncle’ of the makeshift family. According to Furman, “We got Jerry entirely by accident, we were asked what the characters would be like and I think it was Christy who said that Hound was like Jerry. I’m really happy he was so willing to play ball, Hound could have been far more annoying if we hadn’t have had him.” Hound’s beast mode was a coyote.
Voiced by Cree Summer, Jawbreaker was conceived as a mix of the warmth and kindness of the original Arcee with the bloodthirstiness of a Whoopass Girl, of whom the character was conceived as a tribute to. Her beast mode was a spotted hyena.
Rob Paulsen, portraying a snarky, Brooklyn-accented demolitions expert who provided much of the comic relief with his relationship with Rapticon. His beast mode was a pack rat.
Maurice LeMarche, using his Doctor Strange voice to portray the aloof ex-Predacon, who was more at home in his beast mode than expected. According to Isenberg, “Pairing up Rob and Maurice was an accident, but we thought we’d roll with it. Of course, it worked out great, as it always does.” His beast mode was a Utahraptor.
Voiced by Ian James Corlett, a kid-appeal character in the Bumblebee vein, initially a somewhat impetuous rookie with a chip on his shoulder who had to develop into a better bot over the course of the series. As Isenberg chuckles, “Yeah, we struggled with names for him for a while, before someone came up with Hot Spot as a pun - because cheetahs have spots. I never said it had to be a good pun!” His beast mode was a cheetah.
Steve Blum, marking one of his first big roles since his correspondence with actors Bob Bergen and Jack Angel , played the flustered and by the book strategist of the Autobots, with a darker role in the coming seasons. Furman gushed, “For his first big job, I think Steve did great! We were pretty sure he was going to be on to bigger and better things as the years went on.” Prowl’s beast mode was a wolf.
Tress MacNeille, a pill-popping, energon-drinking, foul mouthed doctor who is perpetually on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Chuckling, Isenberg recalls “Learning that our equivalent of Ratchet was going to be a woman early on in the original treatment was, apart from a finishing blow to Simon, a good starting point. We wanted as chaotic a character as we could think of, and Tress delivered!” Her beast mode was a bear.
Voiced by John DiMaggio, this surly, snarky warrior, noted for his tenacity and hot-blooded nature made for an entertaining addition to the series. His beast mode was a warthog.
Digger, based on G1 Cosmos, quickly became a breakout character, partly due to April Winchell picked to play a character who, if brought to series, would be recurring as opposed to a main. According to Isenberg, “We needed a comedy relief character, Digger was that way. We didn’t realize the little geek would be so popular, and that’s on us, again.” Her beast mode was a mole.
An honourable, chivalrous and somewhat aloof warrior, Grimwing slips into the role of Packrat’s straight man after the death of Rapticon (no romantic subtext here, though). Scott McNeill (who also voiced Stinger) was ultimately cast in the part, playing it with a combination of aloof dignity and humour. His beast mode was a gryphon.
Voiced by Clancy Brown, this Grimlock, unlike the Hulk-speaking primitive of the cartoon, was a powerful, aggressive and brutal warrior (but with an ultimately noble heart) – his take-no-orders attitude caused him to chafe with Optimus Primal, whilst his destructive, hot-headed nature led to clashes with Tigatron.
The Dinobot second-in-command - voiced by John diMaggio (doing a Scottish accent) - Slug was just as hot-tempered and aggressive (if not more so) than Grimlock. His beast mode was a Triceratops.
Voiced by Jeff Bennett, Snarl was sarcastic, aggressive, rude and ill-tempered - despite this, he was good at spark. His beast mode was a Stegosaurus.
Voiced by Bill Faggerbake, Sludge was the bruiser of the Dinobots, but with a sensitive, friendly side. His beast mode was an Apatosaurus
Voiced by Rob Paulsen (doing a Groucho Marx-style voice), Swoop acted as the Dinobots’ scout/demolitions officer – and developed an odd friendship with Packrat.
Optimus Prime, but not as you know him (Source: TFWiki)
Basically this guy, yeeess… (Image source: TFWiki)
This Megatron was cast in the vibe of Colonel Kurtz – a charismatic, ruthless, power-craving, would-be tyrant with vague pretensions towards godhood, who commands a small army of renegades on an isolated jungle world. Whilst many actors auditioned for the role, David Kaye was ultimately cast. Elaborating, Isenberg said, “We’d sent out a message looking for the guy who’d played ‘Grand Boss’ in one of the Braves and Shere Khan in Adventures of Mowgli - and David was pretty happy to test. I’m so glad he did..” His beast mode was a dragon.
An ambitious second-in-command in the Starscream mould, Lazerbeak was a capable aerial warrior (deftly explaining why Megatron kept him around), with an arrogant, cowardly and buffoonish side. The character was ultimately voiced by Hank Azaria (although Charlie Adler was a close second choice). Laughing, Isenberg says, “I tell you, the arguments we had over whether we cast Hank as Lazerbeak (back when he was Starscream), was just…it was a really tough choice. I’m glad we did, but even so, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if we’d have picked Charlie instead…”  His beast mode was a Cearadactylus – the pterosaur made newly popular thanks to Jurassic Park.
The Soundwave of the group, Leatherwing was the quiet communications officer/spymaster who had a fierce loyalty to Megatron. Paul Dobson ultimately voiced the character. His beast mode was a vampire bat, with Isenberg saying, “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what beast mode best fit him – and then we came on a vampire bat, hanging upside down in the bowels of the Predacon base. I think it’s as good a job as we could have done.”
The Predacon mad scientist (who was secretly serving his own agenda and would eventually go rogue), an against-type Rob Paulsen was ultimately cast, giving a surprisingly terrifying performance as a twitchy, deranged evil genius whose twisted demeanour and maniacal cackling caused even his nominal comrades to be wary of him (and gave a whole generation of children quite a lot of nightmares). His beast mode was (you guessed it) a scorpion.
The comic-relief “butt monkey” of the Preds, Stinger’s buzzing, rambling speech, whining at his lot and constant bad luck would lead to him being a well-loved character. He would eventually quit, angered at his treatment, and join the Children of the Makers. His beast mode was a wasp.
Portraying the fan favourite from the comics was one of the harder tasks, despite Furman pushing for it heavily. In the end, the decision to focus upon his own twisted honour was what finally triggered what they wanted to do with the character. His skeletal form, raspy, terrifying voice (courtesy of Jim Cummings), crocodile beast mode and his contribution to the body count of the series cannot be understated.
The snarky, abrasive Manterror quickly became a fan favourite with his malicious quips. Most of this can be attributed to the performance of his voice actor Kevin Schon (doing an impersonation of Nathan Lane), as voice director Susan Blu recalls, “Most of Manterror’s quips were ad-libs from Kevin.”
Voiced by Richard Kind, this disgusting Predacon toady (literally) acted as one of the comic relief characters of the series. His beast mode was a toad.
The Preds’ “bad girl”, Coiler was a smart, deadly and resourceful femme fatale – however, as the series went on, she became more sympathetic, eventually joining the Maximals. According to Isenberg, this was not planned from the beginning, but was changed due to her voice actor, Kath Soucie’s performance, “Kath brought a wonderful vulnerability and nuance to the part, which led to us rewriting her role somewhat”. Her beast mode was a cobra.
Voiced by Carlos Alzaraqui, Darksteel was a Latino-accented “street punk” with a motor mouth and a fondness for quips. “Concerns were raised of having a Latino-coded character who was this aggressive punk type”, Isenberg recalls, “These concerns were allayed when it turned out that Hispanic kids loved the character”. His beast mode was an amphithere (a feathered, winged serpent from European heraldry).
A Cockney-accented short-tempered bruiser who was often annoyed by Darksteel’s constant quipping. Fred Tatasciore was ultimately cast, with Isenberg saying “Fred and Carlos just had a wonderful energy together”. His beast mode was an amarok (a hulking, wolf-bear creature).
Corey Burton, doing his best Christopher Lee as the savvy tactician with his own private ideals and plans for his Combaticons. His beast mode was an Asian elephant.
Voiced by Brad Garrett, Brawl was a dumb bruiser with a deep desire for battle and war, and a surprisingly philosophical side that he tries to hide as best as he can. His beast mode was a water buffalo.
Voiced by BJ Ward, Vortex was one of the most terrifying Combaticons – a rather unhinged aerial warrior with the demeanour of an incredibly twisted little girl. Her beast mode was an eagle.
Voiced by Chuck McCann, Blast Off was portrayed as a snobbish cyber-ninja with a surprisingly deadly move-set. His beast mode was a shark.
Neil Dickson, doing his slick and savvy salesman schtick once again, this time with an additional hint of menace that bleeds through despite his efforts to remain affable, ”We tried to get Eric Idle, and let’s be real he did so many of the other shows at the time, but I think the movie might have scared him off. Or maybe they paid him more, that’s probably it.”  His beast mode was a rat.
The Makers and Their Children
Sheena Easton provided the voice for the most prominent of the Makers, who was friend and foe in equal measure to the Maximals. Isenberg recalls, "Sheena brought this wonderful enigmatic energy to Tikaani."
Blu Mankuma voiced the leader of the Children of the Makers, who, after their first encounter, developed respect for Optimus Primal's ferocity and fighting skills. Whilst somewhat aloof and holier-than-thou at times, he was ultimately noble. Beast mode was a tiger.
Voiced by Venus Terzo, second-in-command of the Children, she was often aggrieved by having to deal with the other members. Her beast mode was a falcon.
Voiced by Dan Castallaneta, Sabreback served as the muscle of the "Children" - powerful, but not terribly bright. Despite his aggressive, dim-witted demeanour, he was strangely one of the nicer members. His beast mode was a Kentrosaurus.
Voiced by Jeff Bennett, this kind of creepy member of the Children viewed the Makers as his "Queens" – despite this, he was somehow one of the nicer members of the team (after Sabreback). His beast mode was a fire ant.
: Voiced by Rob Paulsen (doing a Scottish accent), this aggressive, somewhat quick-tempered member of the Children often ended up butting heads with the Maximals. His beast mode was a snapping turtle.
The Makers are pretty much these guys… only a bit more sympathetic in intention (Source: TFWiki)
Voiced by Dante Basco, Edo is a young Energoan warrior, who can be somewhat hot-headed at times. Despite initially mistrusting the Maximals, he soon develops a bond with Pounce, who is more than happy to take the young Energoan under his wing.
Voiced by Deedee Magno Hall, Penni is Edo’s twin sister and his opposite in personality – bubbly, friendly and optimistic, she is the first of the native Energoans to really start to trust the Maximals
Ken Sansom, Penni and Edo's father, a former warrior, who lost his leg in a previous battle. The choice of actor was a deliberate reference, given his interactions with Hound (a character originally played by Samsom).
Brigitte Bako, The daughter of Chief Bergon, who appeared cold and above it all despite her best efforts to be friendly due to her restricted childhood. A gradual thawing in the relationship with the Maximals sees her develop into a warmer character.
Voiced by John Stephenson, the chief of the Energoans initially mistrusts the Maximals, but eventually comes to respect Optimus for his leadership skills and bravery, “Very much inspired by Muska from Castle in the Sky.”
High Priest Jero:
Voiced by Leonard Nimoy, the Energoan shaman/high priest initially mistrusts the Transformers for disrupting Energoa’s natural harmony… however, he warms as the series goes on, forming an odd friendship with Hound (due to their mutual admiration of nature on Energoa).
Twenty years on, it’s rather remarkable how much of the series holds up. The animation is stunning, the story does a good job of reinventing the continuity, the voice cast is incredible and it’s ending (An all-out war the like of which the G1 cartoon could only scratch the surface of) is breath-taking to watch even with all the advances in technology. Multiple franchise-defining tearjerkers, not quite up to snuff with Prime’s death, but certainly close , it has plenty of laugh out loud moments, action, excitement and intrigue. All thanks to five people who nearly killed each other getting the show made. Let’s quote Marty Isenberg before we wrap up.
“People often ask me, are you proud of the series you made? I say, yes, of course I am, very much so. And then they ask me what I’d do differently. And I tell them it’s simple. I’d leave it the fuck alone.”
 In OTL we have Seibertron.com, but with the butterflies it’s possible that this takes it’s place, or it could be just a similar website.
 Given the somewhat open-ended nature of the previous post on Transformers The Movie, we've filled in the blanks a little. "The Rebirth’s" seven episodes end with Galvatron, Scorponok and all remaining Decepticon forces trapped within a pocket of time created by the Plasma Energy Chamber, to be watched over until the end of time by the Autobots. The comic series ran for 100 issues in the US (Of a four-issue mini-series, please note) and resulted in Furman getting to do his post Issue 80 plans properly with a hopeful ending of a new alliance between Cybertron and Earth.
 That this happens to be my own opinion does not mean that there is no truth to it, as attested by a good many sources over the years.
[4[ I think that the series would be popular enough to get a big screen movie but I can also imagine that being burnt so bad might prevent it so. I’ll leave that up to interpretation.
 Yeah, Geewun is a OTL fan term, Geetooz is my own creation. I am rather proud of it, in point of fact! It goes without saying that the OTL Generation 2 gets butterflied away, along with some truly excellently awful colour schemes for the new toys.
 OTL Isenberg did work on Gargoyles and Batman the Animated Series, and despite all the butterflies, it's not hard to imagine him still working on IITL counterparts/replacements/whatever easily.
[7[ In OTL, Wolfman had moved to Marvel by the time the nineties had rolled around but would later leave following a dispute over his ownership of the characters. He’d also started the decade working at Disney Magazine, so in IITL he’s given a better shake for his troubles and gets to return to a job he actually held in OTL.
 One of the authors was very tempted to bring Gail Simone into the mix, or someone of that ilk - but, from an intent to keep the butterflies relatively considerate with my butterflies, so Marx had to do!
 A combination of the slow and often halting acknowledgement of queer characters and the sense that you can do more with cartoon robots than with people means the conservative news apparatus doesn’t really target the show. At least, not until it’s too late.
 Unfortunately, there wasn't really any way to get around this - we're well aware that Simon Furman has some WEIRD views about fembots in his stories. Whilst, to his credit, he has never made a big deal about it (especially when he wrote stories with pre-established characters like Beast Wars and the like), the man is doggedly determined to stick to the idea that Transformers have no sex but if they did, they would all be male. We’re not even going to get into the mess that is IDW’s Arcee here, but a similar conversation came up in this and got shot down very quickly. It seems to be more of a bugbear than a particular animus against women….but then we're not the best people to tackle that. Now one of the authors (Nathanoraptor) would argue that a compromise about this would be to make gender in Transformers more a matter of identity than biology - "biologically" genderless, but male/female-presenting.
 Now, this too will go unnoticed for a while... before the internet decides to make Evolution a LGBT trailblazing show and basically confirms that TFs as a species are ‘non-binary’'.
 One of the authors (@TGW
) debated about this a lot - it’s not as if the ideas is completely insane, stuff like Extreme Ghostbusters got made to pander to the nostalgia for the Real Ghostbusters era... but ultimately the leaps I’d have to make to get all the characters back onto a level playing field is just too much in the end.
 These are mostly allusions in the backstory – before the Dinobots and Combaticons show up in S2. Cybertron’s isolationism is mentioned to be due to “historical incidents” on Earth and Nebulos and there’s also a mention for the “Reintegration Act” after “the Nebulan Wars” (the Rebirth).
[14[ In OTL, both these studios will produce the Japanese exclusive Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo to fill time between the release of the original Beast Wars to Japanese shores. Incidentally, the more jokey jokey tone of the BW dub is butterflied away and Transformers remains a relatively strait-laced show in Japan.
 It would take a small miracle to have a bigger regular cast than G1 - the numbers are relatively close to that of Beast Wars during it’s runs.
 The name is used in OTL for Beast Wars II’s setting, but it’s a close enough name that it's hard not to imagine it being used.
 OTL according to an interview with Furman....which at present I am struggling to find but might be on the Beast Wars Season 3 DVD?
 Some of this would enter the franchise via fits and starts in Beast Wars, Animated and the IDW Comics, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that some of these ideas would come up in conversation particularly seeing as Isenberg was a part of Animated at the very least.
 See, this might seem absurd for the nineties but in OTL Beast Wars there's an episode where the ghost of Starscream arrives and possesses one of the characters (Roll with it) who then forms an alliance with the treacherous femme fatale to scheme and do Starscream esque things. As they walk away, if you pay very close attention, Starscream's hand starts going in a downward direction towards....well, you're all adults, you work out where. The point being that if you can get away with the implication that Starscream was about to cop a feel, a little touchy-feely stuff between two male Autobots might (just might) go under the radar. For source, the episode is here and I reccomend focusing on the section from 11:40 to 11:46
 Now, the fact that the BW equivalent is very emphatically NOT set on prehistoric Earth leads to an interesting butterfly in the franchise down the line...
 AKA, having the cake and eating it too. Wacky and serious side by side, as it ought to be with Transformers.
 Chalk’s performance is similar to Optimus Primal’s OTL – however, there’s a bit more insecurity and nuance here, because, obviously, he’s got big shoes to fill.
 Billingslea is one of many voice actors who gets involved in more mainstream productions thanks to the animation boom.
 So why did DeForest take the role? The same as why he took a role in Brave Little Toaster goes to Mars per OTL? I’m not sure, though this does lead to a rumoured Transformers curse due to the deaths of Orson Welles in 1986.
 I’m not entirely sure when Nimoy stopped thinking of Transformers as a low point in his career and became more enthusiastic to return for Michael Bay’s films (I mean, that he’s related to Bay through marriage helped I’m sure) but it gets accelerated by Kelley having a grand old time in his last days.
 Possibly a little bit of a stretch here, but Nelson was clearly good at voice acting given his OTL duties to Sesame Street in the 2000’s and early 2010’s.
 As per OTL! Again, with a massive boom in voice over work, Blum turns pro earlier and gets involved in union-work a good fifteen years earlier than OTL.
 Basically, this is the beginning of quite a bit more collaboration between the voice-acting unions of LA and Vancouver (with quite a bit more cross-pollination than OTL)
 Charlie Adler does, in OTL, voice Starscream in the live action movies for all the good it does him.
 Eric Idle was going to be one of the authors' pick for the longest time before he remembered that he actually played Wreck Gar in the movie, which perhaps shows how little that particular performance had an impact.
 Maximus Prime’s death, a furious battle between himself and several of the Predacons to cover the Maximals’ retreat in a pitched battle before Megatron mortally wounds him whilst he’s distracted. He dies in the next episode, passing command to Optimus Primal and bidding a fond farewell to his friends.