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

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Garlador

Garlador

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Oct 30, 2017
6,199
And we inherently disagree on that. The designs in the Bumblebee movie don’t succeed at being character designs, they’re successful at being nostalgia bait. Like. Bumblebee himself is a great design - his design emphasizes how cute, plucky, and determined he is. The stuff in the opening moments of the film? Hastily thrown together from existing resources to remind people of the 1980s.

And I’m sorry, but the previous movie designs do have thought into them. Where the movie fails is at using these designs as actual characters, but there’s still an exceptional amount of work put into not only having them stand out but also how they could work in the real world. Look at my earlier posts about how Starscream is designed to still be a jet while also having a robot mode whose physical stature allows him to interact more believably with people who transform into smaller things.

There’s also characters like the AOE Autobots who DO have distinct color and distinct silhouettes going for them. You can easily pick Crosshairs out of the group, and his car mode kibble working like a trench coat gives him a John Woo vibe that fits his role as a gunslinger.

Compare this to G1 Crosshairs, who is supposedly the Autobots’ armory guy. You can totally tell this from the absolutely nothing about him.
I'm not questioning that hard work and thought was put into the Bay movie designs. I'm saying they don't work in EXECUTION. My 3D instructor once told me - when I was OVER-designing a character - that I needed to work smarter, not harder. I was losing myself in pointless, eye-blurring detail because I was trying so hard to show off that any concept of a solid design vanished. Simplicity can be an artform, and going nuts in Zbrush to put detail on every single inch is a temptation many artists have. It's why graphics cards always show off some nondescript, over-designed robot.



You brought up Starscream and I'm immediately reminded of a design 101 we were taught - "form over function". Yes, Starscream can work better as a generic gray jet thingie robot, but it's a giant robot fantasy movie that put function over form. It's the question of "why does Batman wear a cape?" when capes are logically impractical in 99% of all combat or movement situations. Why does Neo wear shades during a fight when it would hinder visibility? Why does Darth Vader have his suit control buttons out in the open on his chest? Why does Wolverine wear a mask in the comics when he has no secret identity? Etc.

Crosshairs, however, is actually closest to a good design. As I mentioned, I was only exposed to the first three movies, so I didn't see anything past those abominations. Crosshairs was one of the lesser original Transformers, so they had a lot of leeway to do something new with him. He's got a unique body shape, a striking color scheme, lot of solid surfaces that are not broken up by random junk, and a presence of personality that, yeah, his G1 version didn't have. I'd say he's all the steps in the right direction... but like all the others, veered so hard into "over-designed" that he's still garish to look at (just less so than most of the others). He's one of the most restrained designs in the franchise and could almost fit in with better Transformers aesthetics. A few artistic tweaks make a huge difference, but his foundation is strong.


He'd still look infinitely better if they just scaled it back. His movie incarnation still is painfully overdesigned when there was an obvious point they could have stopped.
 

N. Tyranno

Member
Nov 6, 2017
1,417
I'm not questioning that hard work and thought was put into the Bay movie designs. I'm saying they don't work in EXECUTION. My 3D instructor once told me - when I was OVER-designing a character - that I needed to work smarter, not harder. I was losing myself in pointless, eye-blurring detail because I was trying so hard to show off that any concept of a solid design vanished. Simplicity can be an artform, and going nuts in Zbrush to put detail on every single inch is a temptation many artists have. It's why graphics cards always show off some nondescript, over-designed robot.



You brought up Starscream and I'm immediately reminded of a design 101 we were taught - "form over function". Yes, Starscream can work better as a generic gray jet thingie robot, but it's a giant robot fantasy movie that put function over form. It's the question of "why does Batman wear a cape?" when capes are logically impractical in 99% of all combat or movement situations. Why does Neo wear shades during a fight when it would hinder visibility? Why does Darth Vader have his suit control buttons out in the open on his chest? Why does Wolverine wear a mask in the comics when he has no secret identity? Etc.

Crosshairs, however, is actually closest to a good design. As I mentioned, I was only exposed to the first three movies, so I didn't see anything past those abominations. Crosshairs was one of the lesser original Transformers, so they had a lot of leeway to do something new with him. He's got a unique body shape, a striking color scheme, lot of solid surfaces that are not broken up by random junk, and a presence of personality that, yeah, his G1 version didn't have. I'd say he's all the steps in the right direction... but like all the others, veered so hard into "over-designed" that he's still garish to look at (just less so than most of the others). He's one of the most restrained designs in the franchise and could almost fit in with better Transformers aesthetics. A few artistic tweaks make a huge difference, but his foundation is strong.


He'd still look infinitely better if they just scaled it back. His movie incarnation still is painfully overdesigned when there was an obvious point they could have stopped.
You have to balance function and form. I feel like Blitzwing feels incredibly silly when he’s zooming around, propelled by absolutely nothing. The way his robot mode shrinks from his jet mode takes me out of the story and makes them all feel less real. Likewise, Starscream’s hunched, bird-like profile and long vicious claws convey the image of a kraven, insidious schemer than the generically handsome, inexplicably red white and blue robot whose character has to double as an incompetent thug, a flying egotist, a cowardly tactician, a dunderhead who likes to hit things, and an over dramatic funeral choir with wings - the G1 Seeker design has no inherent character to it.

And honestly, the G1 style, detail less faces that basically amount to everyone having liquid metal like in the cartoons look creepy and weird when applied to the Bee movie designs - Arcee looks like a creepy mannequin, while the skull faced and segmented and “busy” Shatter never once took me out of the story.

All in all, I think the best solution lies somewhere in the middle. And that middle is basically the Transformers Prime aesthetic, which remains my favorite series as far as how they depict Cybertronians.
 
Nov 2, 2017
916
Birmingham, AL
I always thought the Transformers looked just fine. I am not, and have never been a Transformers fan so I don’t hold any original designs on some mighty pedestal, but I thought they looked like great and faithful realistic adaptations.
 
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Garlador

Garlador

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Oct 30, 2017
6,199
You have to balance function and form. I feel like Blitzwing feels incredibly silly when he’s zooming around, propelled by absolutely nothing. The way his robot mode shrinks from his jet mode takes me out of the story and makes them all feel less real. Likewise, Starscream’s hunched, bird-like profile and long vicious claws convey the image of a kraven, insidious schemer than the generically handsome, inexplicably red white and blue robot whose character has to double as an incompetent thug, a flying egotist, a cowardly tactician, a dunderhead who likes to hit things, and an over dramatic funeral choir with wings - the G1 Seeker design has no inherent character to it.

And honestly, the G1 style, detail less faces that basically amount to everyone having liquid metal like in the cartoons look creepy and weird when applied to the Bee movie designs - Arcee looks like a creepy mannequin, while the skull faced and segmented and “busy” Shatter never once took me out of the story.

All in all, I think the best solution lies somewhere in the middle. And that middle is basically the Transformers Prime aesthetic, which remains my favorite series as far as how they depict Cybertronians.
To be concise, no. You do not have to balance form and function 100% of the time. There are thousands of impractical yet memorable designs in movies, games, comics, and shows that are 100% utterly impractical, devoid of logical function. "Rule of Cool" is often acceptable.

Some of my FAVORITE designs are utterly ridiculous. You won't hear me defend the practicality of most Final Fantasy characters, nor will I ever defend the logistics of most superhero costuming (any character with a hood is a moron, but that doesn't mean I don't love Moon Knight or Azrael). Sometimes there is no function to a design; sometimes it's just there to be striking and memorable.

I haven't seen Bumblebee. I've only seen the trailer and the designs, but from the trailer it looks like Blitzwing is being propelled by the thrusters on his wing.

That's form and function, unless he literally turns them off or something.

Again, I feel like we're talking a bit about two separate things. I bought up that a bad design is one where elements of shape, form, color, and readability all come into play and an element FAILS. The Bay movies can often get one or two of those elements, but rarely all of them. They fail in execution more often than not. They have a few that succeed in spite of framing, staging, or concepting. They have a few that fail in spite of solid groundwork because of how Bay frames the action or pacing.

Again, you mentioned Starscream. A "craven, insidious schemer". And maybe you'd be right if Starscream had his original personality of being a backstabbing usurper that you can't trust. But he's NOT that in the three movies I watched. He's cowardly, yes, but he's devoted to Megatron, does whatever he's told, never stands up to him or tries to take over as leader, and just gets constantly abused and seems to deal with it like a masochist. If he was a "craven, insidious schemer", I think you'd have a point, but he's not that in the movies. He's a cowardly mook with no higher ambitions and died like one.

Starscream, yeah, wasn't exactly a "villainous" design in the originals (again, all the toys were thrown together for a cartoon without forethought. Megatron was a "hero" in his toyline, and Optimus was a soulless mech piloted by a child). That doesn't mean they didn't work to make him more interesting over time.

Look at his trademark smirk, the pompous and self-absorbed way he carries himself. Of course, when he's leader, he'd wield a garish, oversized golden crown, giant royal purple shoulder pads with an impractical flowing cape, preening and strutting about like the fanciest peacock. The animated series design may have been limited by the toyline, but as a character he worked to make his personality shown - easily readable on his smug face, flamboyant flair, and attachment to bright and attention-grabbing color schemes. So, yeah, they took those limitations and made it work towards his benefit over time.

Which, again, is not to say those original designs are perfect. I'm not arguing that. I'm saying they're far surperior to the generic gray blob that was the Bay movie version. Practical? Sure, why not. But I don't think it has 1/10th of the personality nearly every other version has.



(IMO, this is better)
 

N. Tyranno

Member
Nov 6, 2017
1,417
Slapping generic royal regalia on a character doesn’t improve a character design, and like a lot of stuff, it’s become recurring because people remember the movie. Its like how “Soundwave inferior, x inferior” has become interwoven to his character despite being context specific and not really embodying much aspects of his personality. It’s just because nostalgia is memetic.

What really made Starscream memorable was Chris Latta’s voice work. Art has worked with what they have because so much of this is grandfathered in, not because they’ve been legitimately transformed or elevated into better designs.

And movie Starscream is absolutely a schemer. He abandoned Megatron on Earth instead of trying to save him so he could go off and lead what was left of the Decepticons; “Even in death, there is no other command but mine”, which is Megatron accusing him of abandonment and disobedience. His mantra at the end of ROTF is “sometimes cowards survive.” His character design works, it’s just not pretty looking.

I don’t recall Blitzwing being propelled by his wings. I’ll check my copy of the movie and come back.
 

cj_iwakura

Member
Oct 25, 2017
7,985
Coral Springs, FL
To be concise, no. You do not have to balance form and function 100% of the time. There are thousands of impractical yet memorable designs in movies, games, comics, and shows that are 100% utterly impractical, devoid of logical function. "Rule of Cool" is often acceptable.

Some of my FAVORITE designs are utterly ridiculous. You won't hear me defend the practicality of most Final Fantasy characters, nor will I ever defend the logistics of most superhero costuming (any character with a hood is a moron, but that doesn't mean I don't love Moon Knight or Azrael). Sometimes there is no function to a design; sometimes it's just there to be striking and memorable.

I haven't seen Bumblebee. I've only seen the trailer and the designs, but from the trailer it looks like Blitzwing is being propelled by the thrusters on his wing.
You might want to go watch it for a more informed opinion? It definitely has more heart and soul than the Bayformers movies, but it lacks a certain epicness, it's a very small scale prologue. Which is fine, that's what it was going for, but I did enjoy having grand scale mecha warfare, not just 1v2.

The prologue is about as epic as Bumblebee gets.

Also, the soundtrack is great, and Bee has some great character moments.
 
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Garlador

Garlador

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Oct 30, 2017
6,199
You might want to go watch it for a more informed opinion? It definitely has more heart and soul than the Bayformers movies, but it lacks a certain epicness, it's a very small scale prologue. Which is fine, that's what it was going for, but I did enjoy having grand scale mecha warfare, not just 1v2.

The prologue is about as epic as Bumblebee gets.

Also, the soundtrack is great, and Bee has some great character moments.
I'm aware and have expectations in check.

Transformers: The Last Knight budget - ~$260 million
Bumblebee budget - $135 million

I'm told it's far more "Iron Giant" than "Transformers the 80s movie".