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I was recently exposed to Michael Bay's Transformers and I have a newfound appreciation for Good Character Designs

Garlador

Member
Oct 30, 2017
6,301
So consider me someone who dodged a bullet all these years and never really watched any Transformers movies. Somehow. I was more than familiar with the movies, of course. I saw commercials, toys, and video essays about them. I knew they were considered pretty much garbage. A friend came over and I got exposed to the first three and, yeah, they are insanely bad to a degree I didn't know was possible.

But that's not about the story or editing or acting or racism or sexism or any of that in the films, but rather the thing that immediately stood out to me.

Just how BAD the Transformers look.

Like, clearly, millions of dollars went into animating them and making them transform, but I'm an artist and designer by trade - I come up with designs and characters every week - and these designs are so historically bad that I'm legitimately gobsmacked.

There are certain principles to good design that every artist and designer worth his salt knows. That includes memorable silhouettes, body variety, color balance, etc.

I could show you the following and you could likely identify most of them from a distance just by their shape.


And it's incredible how effective color can be when identify characters. One of my favorite things is the "rectangle test", where you can identify an entire character based entirely on cube form and color. If you're a Street Fighter fan, you can identify every single character here by color alone.


So to see a multi-million dollar movie based on colorful, memorable children's toys - toys that were sold based on their unique colors, shapes, and cartoon aesthetic - and to see what Michael Bay went with over the course of multiple movies... I don't even know how it's POSSIBLE.

Like, there were actual scenes where it was 100% impossible to follow because the decision was made to take all these colorful, uniquely shaped characters and make them the same color, the same shape, and then have them interact. How do you lose 100% of the traits that make them identifiable? Who can tell these piles of trash apart?


So, yeah, I'm venting, because my actual job is to make good-looking characters for a living. I go through draft after draft to make them unique, colorful, and capable of standing out and being able to provide visual variety and interest in every page or shot. How THIS happened... and KEPT happening... is blowing my mind, and I honestly don't know how it ever got a pass. Countless people had to sign off on that - including Hasbro themselves, I imagine.

Now, I'm sorry to join everyone in realizing how bad the Bayformers are (I had dodged so many bullets...), but I am taking solace in the fact that apparently the new Bumblebee movie is a massive course correction. I haven't seen it, but I did see trailers and promo images.



Color! Diverse-yet-easily identifiable shapes! Forms that feel solid and readable from a distance! You can easily tell that whoever did this movie had very strong design sensibilities (considering it's Travis Knight and he comes from a stop-motion background, that's understandable). I will need to check it out, if only as a palate cleanser.

All this ranting and raving does have a point and silver-lining - it has made me appreciate GOOD design much more. And to end this on a positive, what are character designs that you appreciate? Either a single character, a team, or a whole franchise that you feel just NAILS good character design?

As another example, I have not touched Overwatch, but I'm familiar with its characters, if only because it's so widely regarded as some of the very best in the gaming industry, full of variety, color, and shapes that are iconic, easy to remember, and easy to follow in motion.


Let me know which designs have left the biggest impression on you and, if you want, which ones are so bad you feel deserve being called out.
 

i-Lo

Avenger
Oct 31, 2017
11,045
Not America
I have always wondered why, for all the things shape shifting would allow for, do the Transformers as a race look so humanoid esp. in the facial region.
 

Zutrax

Member
Oct 31, 2017
1,124
Fuck it, I'll make enemies today.

I think the Transformer movie designs are really fucking cool looking, maybe not "Transformers", but they are pretty badass looking sci-fi mechs and watching them mess things up was really fun. The movies are bad though, don't get me wrong, but the action scenes were still fun to watch as much as people like to complain about them.
 

Z-Beat

Member
Oct 25, 2017
14,033
My biggest problem with the Transformer movie designs is that a lot of the decepticons have the same paintjob. As cluttered as all the designs are, at least the Autobots look unique.

I think the clutter comes from trying to justify where everything would go if a truck turned into a robot
 

The Adder

Member
Oct 25, 2017
6,579
I could always spot Starscream because his design made him look hefty compared to everyone else despite being intended as a sleek jet. The terrible decisions that went into him were ironically the thing that made him stand out.
 
OP
OP
Garlador

Garlador

Member
Oct 30, 2017
6,301
Fuck it, I'll make enemies today.

I think the Transformer movie designs are really fucking cool looking, maybe not "Transformers", but they are pretty badass looking sci-fi mechs and watching them mess things up was really fun. The movies are bad though, don't get me wrong, but the action scenes were still fun to watch as much as people like to complain about them.
Not saying your opinion is invalid or wrong, but part of my frustrating was my inability to follow the action. There were legit scenes of Megatron and Starscream interacting and I couldn't tell which one was which.

It took me several seconds to figure out who was who in this scene, for instance. It has zero framing shots to establish who is talking, where the characters are, and the camera keeps breaking the shot so characters moving from left to right of camera so your eye is constantly trying to track them.
 

Siggy-P

Avenger
Mar 18, 2018
5,653
You are right that they are ugly, they really are.

But honestly, I could tell each and everyone of them apart in every scene. And I watched these films as a kid before I got glasses. And I appreciate the attempt to make something strange and alien looking.
 

Zutrax

Member
Oct 31, 2017
1,124
Not saying your opinion is invalid or wrong, but part of my frustrating was my inability to follow the action. There were legit scenes of Megatron and Starscream interacting and I couldn't tell which one was which.
Which is perfectly valid honestly, I won't say I didn't have the same problem sometimes. But since I cared so little about the story and characters I kinda stopped giving a shit about who was who and who was winning and just enjoyed the dumb spectacle. I realize not everyone can approach it that way though.

I still think the forest fight scene with Optimus messing up the Decpitons by himself is one of the cooler action sequences in film, it just happens to be placed in the definitively worst film in the franchise, and an overall garbage movie. It's a singular shining moment for the franchise.

Also I have a real softspot for how awesome they made Grimlock look, though he can very distinctly look different from everyone because he's a damn dinosaur.
 

TheMan

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,021
I agree. The designs were way overdone and strayed too far from the originals. They just looked really dumb and I hope we dont' regress after bumblebee.
 

Veelk

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,548
Not saying your opinion is invalid or wrong, but part of my frustrating was my inability to follow the action. There were legit scenes of Megatron and Starscream interacting and I couldn't tell which one was which.

It took me several seconds to figure out who was who in this scene, for instance. It has zero framing shots to establish who is talking, where the characters are, and the camera keeps breaking the shot so characters moving from left to right of camera so your eye is constantly trying to track them.
I remember getting an actual headache watching RotF when I first watched it, and even that just gave me a bitsized portion of that. Bay really couldn't figure out a way to emphasize the grandiosity of the decepticons without spinning the camera around the entire scene? And if he couldn't do that, couldn't he atleast do it with no cuts, so the positions of the robots would stay consistent?

I trynot to complain too much about cinematography and such because that stuff just isn't my forte, but Bay is one of the few directors who made a movie that was physically painful to watch, and that's no even a cheap internet exaggeration.
 

Edgar

Member
Oct 29, 2017
3,990
I still like first Bayformers , the score and action sequences were awesome in 07
 
OP
OP
Garlador

Garlador

Member
Oct 30, 2017
6,301
You are right that they are ugly, they really are.

But honestly, I could tell each and everyone of them apart in every scene. And I watched these films as a kid before I got glasses. And I appreciate the attempt to make something strange and alien looking.
The thing is I can tell that stuff is happening and I can follow things like "okay, that one robot shot the other robot", but it's all so overdesigned and poorly framed that my brain can't register WHO is firing, who got shot, who are the other Decepticons in the background, etc.



I can't tell them all apart. One or two of them, sure. Bumblebee is easy to remember because he's the ONLY yellow Transformer. But there's too many of them, all the same color, same bulging gray shapes of twisted metal and wires, and the camera moves too fast for me to ever let a design linger for too long.

Like, this shot... it's very cool, and it has Optimus front and center. They used it in the trailers.


Now... tell me every Transformer in that shot who ISN'T Optimus. Who is he fighting? Which one is he attacking at any given time? Which one did he stab? Which one did he grab? Which one is firing at him? I can "follow" Optimus, but everything else - including the OTHER Transformers - disappear in the chaos.

Compare that to this:

Look at how much is going on in this 1 second... and in that one second I can easily identify Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Prowl, Bumblebee, and Arcee running around. It's INSANELY good how easily I can follow the action.
 

Servbot24

The Fallen
Oct 25, 2017
19,028
Some incredible artists worked on these movies. They were sadly directed to make terrible things.
 

CopperPuppy

Member
Oct 25, 2017
6,988
Bayformers look fucking awful and, as OP suggests, are about as close as you get to objectively bad design since they are nearly indistinguishable in motion.
 

Genesius

Member
Nov 2, 2018
1,341
I finally saw the big G1 scene from Bumblebee and it made my heart hurt for what could have been. It was beautiful.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,213
Completely agree OP. The films are complete dogshit in many areas, but especially in the design of the Transformers. They genuinely blend into one great big shimmering pile of metal, I lost track very easily of which was which and what was going on. Fights desolve into a blurry frantic mess of CGI bits and bobs. As you say, the iconic colours and silhouettes were completely lost in the process.
 

night814

Member
Oct 29, 2017
6,616
Pennsylvania
The thing is I can tell that stuff is happening and I can follow things like "okay, that one robot shot the other robot", but it's all so overdesigned and poorly framed that my brain can't register WHO is firing, who got shot, who are the other Decepticons in the background, etc.



I can't tell them all apart. One or two of them, sure. Bumblebee is easy to remember because he's the ONLY yellow Transformer. But there's too many of them, all the same color, same bulging gray shapes of twisted metal and wires, and the camera moves too fast for me to ever let a design linger for too long.

Like, this shot... it's very cool, and it has Optimus front and center. They used it in the trailers.


Now... tell me every Transformer in that shot who ISN'T Optimus. Who is he fighting? Which one is he attacking at any given time? Which one did he stab? Which one did he grab? Which one is firing at him? I can "follow" Optimus, but everything else - including the OTHER Transformers - disappear in the chaos.

Compare that to this:

Look at how much is going on in this 1 second... and in that one second I can easily identify Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Prowl, Bumblebee, and Arcee running around. It's INSANELY good how easily I can follow the action.
Yeah let's really hope they continue what they started with Bumblebee.
 

Lothars

The Fallen
Oct 25, 2017
4,807
I don't agree actually I mean the g1 designs are iconic but i've never agreed with the complaints about the transformers designs especially for the main transformers, I really like prime's look for instance but even in that clip you posted, it was easy enough to tell which was starscream and which one was megatron. I think the movie's for the most part get a bad rap other than revenge of the fallen which is the worst by far.
 

Illusion

Member
Oct 27, 2017
5,743
My problem with Bayformers is they are overdesigned in some ways they don't need to be. While too much is happening on the screen at once in order to get ahold of what's happening. Scenes are horribly directed and timed whenever the bots are on the screen, but it's done intentionally because the movie knows it's bad, and it's trying to keep you stimulated watching it.

I hope Bumblebee is a start of better stories moving forward.
 

Loxley

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,844


The Bayformers Optimus is like design vomit, but the Bumblebee version is so damn good.
 

Gaia Lanzer

Member
Oct 25, 2017
2,739
Bayformers are walking scrap-pieces. In particular, the Decepticon look like if the art director(s) were enamored with crinkled up aluminum foil, that they wanted to use THAT as the base style of their look:

 

jett

Community Resettler
Member
Oct 25, 2017
18,462
If you're an artist by trade, how did you not already have an appreciation for good character design?
 

DragonSJG

Member
Mar 4, 2019
2,408
Those were transformers? Thought they were just piles of metal scrapped together?
And I'm not a big transformers fan but damn, I appreciate how amazing they look in BumbleBee
 

Pop-O-Matic

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
4,100
Bayformers: "God, it's so embarrassing that we're based off of a toy franchise. We want to be a serious movie for grown-ups, so let's turn all these iconic characters into indistinguishable CGI blobs because that's what they'd look like in a serious movie."

Also Bayformers: "That robot just peed on John Turturro lol"
 
Jul 26, 2018
659
I definitely agree with you 100% OP. I've actually had the guts to watch ALL movies in theaters since I was a kid.. including the last one (The Last Knight). The last movie is the only movie ever where I literally almost walked out if the theater completely due to a very 'cringey supposed to be funny' scene. Haven't seen Bumblebee yet.

I only enjoyed the movie movies simply due to huge amount of action battles. Its basically what carried these movies imo.

But during the battles, I did had a hard time recognizing some of the transformers. I usually can tell by their shapes/physiques mostly.

I see these transformers more as "alien looking" than the actual transformers themselves. I think that's what the designers were aiming for.
 

Mengy

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,025
I agree with the OP, I can't stand the Bayformers movies and the lack of character design is a large reason why. I can't tell the characters apart from each other on screen either, they are all just piles of messy metal stuff and trying to watch them gives me headaches.
 

KamenSenshi

Member
Nov 27, 2017
147
I agree that the "designs" are pretty horrible and barely pass as designs to me. People seem to like them because they're different but they are no longer transformers at that point at least not in the way they're supposed to be.
 

Nepenthe

When the music hits, you feel no pain.
Moderator
Oct 25, 2017
5,932
It was relatively common back in the day to see people compare the Bay designs and subsequent fight scenes tometallic blenders or the visual representation of dubstep.
 

caliph95

Member
Oct 25, 2017
21,253
I get that Bay is trying to make "realistic" versions of the transformers design which is why the look like that

Bay however also had a coke bot in the first movie and did the hip hop robot with no irony

Like it's transformers it doesn't have to be G1 designs but it's transformers a series about aliens that happen to turn into cars and helicopters no point in doing "realistic designs"
 

JCHandsom

Avenger
Nov 3, 2017
4,065
Fuck it, I'll make enemies today.

I think the Transformer movie designs are really fucking cool looking, maybe not "Transformers", but they are pretty badass looking sci-fi mechs and watching them mess things up was really fun. The movies are bad though, don't get me wrong, but the action scenes were still fun to watch as much as people like to complain about them.
My problem with the designs is that they’re super incomprehensible, almost every fight between two of them feels like one of those huge junkyard magnets picking up a ton of scrap and throwing in down a hill, or a freeway, a forest, a city, etc. It’s so hard to make out who is who unless they’re Optimus (Red) or Bumblebee (Yellow)
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,213
Tell you what also bothered me, they didn't look like they actually transformed into trucks and cars and stuff, there seemed to be way to much metallic gubbins flying around.
 

El Bombastico

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
9,486
Fuck it, I'll make enemies today.

I think the Transformer movie designs are really fucking cool looking, maybe not "Transformers", but they are pretty badass looking sci-fi mechs and watching them mess things up was really fun. The movies are bad though, don't get me wrong, but the action scenes were still fun to watch as much as people like to complain about them.
I agree that on their own, the Bayformer designs are great...when they are simply supposed to be generic sci-fi creatures with no personalities and are just there to blow shit up/get blown up. The problem is that the entire point of Transformers is that these robots all have UNIQUE CHARACTERS AND PERSONALITIES. Bay turned what was supposed to be a tragic war about sentient robots mudering each other into fucking video game enemies.