Jeff Kline and Steve Blum Talk Transformers: Prime and Transformers: Rescue Bots
Executive producer Jeff Kline and voice actor Steve Blum discuss Transformers: Prime and Transformers: Rescue Bots premiering on The Hub network
The Hub is premiering Season 2 of the animated series Transformers: Prime Saturday, February 18 at 11:30 AM ET with Orion Pax, Part 1. This will be directly followed by the series premiere of Transformers: Rescue Bots at 12 PM ET.
Executive producer Jeff Kline and voice actor Steve Blum (Starscream in Transformers: Prime and Heatwave in Transformers: Rescue Bots) are involved in both shows, which are produced by Hasbro Studios, and they recently spoke about what to expect in the upcoming episodes.
Here's what they had to say below.
Jeff Kline: Steve is here because he's actually one of the few people who's involved in both Transformers: Prime & Transformers: Rescue Bots. Talk a little bit about the differences between those two shows.
Steve Blum: From my perspective, it's very different. Obviously, from StarScream, I play one of the "MightyCons" as coined by Frank Welker, and so, I get to be a very bad boy, most of the time. Moving over to Rescue Bots, as an Autobot, I play the unwitting leader of this Autobots Team on Earth. It's a whole completely different perspective for me. A lot of my work tends to be with bad guys, and I actually get to play the clean cut hero type. That's a bit of an adjustment. But at least he's got a deep voice, so that works.
Jeff Kline: So you've never been a hero?
Steve Blum: No, and I'm really invested in that universe and being a part of the other characters around me, just makes it so easy for me to stay on the light side.
Will Starscream spend any of the second season as a member of the Autobots, will he remain independent, or come back to join Megatron?
Jeff Kline: Why do people always want us to give away story lines? What we can say is that allegiances are always shifting on Transformers:Prime. There will be lots of back and forth in the second season.
Steve, you played Barricade in "War for Cybertron". Any chance we'll see this character in Transformers: Prime?
Steve Blum: I have no idea.
Jeff Kline: I think its unlikely for now, but we never know where we are gonna go.
Steve Blum: I haven't tried that...
Jeff Kline: What, you don't want to have a conversation with yourself?
Steve Blum: I don't think that would be a problem. The voices are different enough.
Jeff Kline: What's the most you've had to push yourself? HeatWave is actually the closest to your normal voice. So what's the furthest you've had to push your voice?
Steve Blum: Earlier in my career, I worked on Digimon and my voice had to go way up here, or also as Yakky Doodle, which is also not in my normal wheelhouse. Actually, screaming in a deep voice is harder on the voice, while the high-pitched voices are easier to do.
Jeff Kline: Can you handle 60 or 70 takes as StarScream?
Steve Blum: I live to serve him.
How does Transformers: Rescue Bots compare to Marvel SuperHeroes Squad in terms of style, storyline, messages about teamwork, and the type of audience it caters to?
Jeff Kline: I am going to be honest with you, I am only mildly familiar with Marvel SuperHeroes Squad. I think we are going in the same direction by creating a softer, safer, good versus evil show and that show is also on The Hub, so it seems like it's a good companion show for the network.
Steve Blum: I think Transformers: Rescue Bots is a natural transition to attract a new audience to the Transformers Universe.
Jeff Kline: There wasn't a Transformers that was meant for a younger audience. So, to be able to have a 4, 5, or 6 year old sit in front of a TV, that's really the idea. These kids who have older siblings who have played with the toys in the Transformers Universe and wish they could have something to get involved in it.
Steve Blum: I am getting letters from parents who are excited sitting beside their kids sharing this for the first time. It's a little hard to take the younger ones to the movies to see Transformers.
I spoke with Lacey Chabert recently, and she mentioned that the entire cast of Transformers: Rescue Bots records together. How did you arrange that and what does it add to the final product?
Jeff Kline: We put all the actors in a room together, once a week for a 4 hour session, and that is the way I run every single animated series I've ever worked on. I just think you get a lot more natural acting, a lot more action, a lot better ad-libs, and I think additionally, the cast kind of enjoys spending their time together.
Steve Blum: It's play time. It's family time for us. We've actually become a family as a result of that. So yeah, it works. It definitely helps with the chemistry.
Jeff Kline: It does make it a little harder with schedules. A lot of our people are doing lots of other things simultaneously. So we have to find that one time a week when we can have most everybody. We have to pick somebody after a movie, or they've got a special TV thing or whatever. But because people look forward to that 4 hours together, people try to make it work within their schedule. Unlike a live-action show, where you are waiting around, you have to get your make-up, hair and nails done, etc. When you come in to do animations, it gets pretty casual. You can be in sweatpants and a t-shirt. You're part of a true ensemble. Everyone's working together.
Steve Blum: It's the best part of it for me. I don't like wearing pants to work.
Why doesn't Transformers: Prime have on-screen episode titles?
Jeff Kline: We would spend most of our time trying to come up with something clever for the title, and not the oher parts of the show. Also, it could potentially give away some piece of what the story is going to be, so we'd rather just not do that and push out anything.
When starting a new show based on characters from previous animated series', how important is it to use little reminders to the other series' (i.e. Sparkplug)?
Jeff Kline: I think you always want to honor what came before, you want to give the audience good stories, but what you don't want to do is do things that have already been done. So we try to drop in little things from the comics, movies, videogames, but make it our own, and not do it too often. We don't want the audience to feel like they have to know everything that came before.
Steve Blum: It's going to be action packed. There's going to be so much that you haven't seen yet. You absolutely have to tune in or you're gonna miss out on everything.
Jeff Kline: When it comes to CG, the more you do it, the longer you do it, the better it gets. We will actually be doing some things, visually in Season 2, we just couldn't do in Season 1. You're going to see even better visually, in more detail, more reflection, more texture.
Jeff Kline: Ample opportunity, there may be. But with CG, we're somewhat limited because of our budget, we can't just roll out a new character every week if we wanted to. It actually takes a lot of time and resources to build our new characters. Especially when you are building 3 pieces at a time: Character, Vehicle, and transformations. We also like that our ensemble is relatively small. We like that we have to spend time with these characters, and developing them. Yes, there will be some new faces, good and bad, in Season 2.
How much did the live-action films affect the development of Transformers: Prime?
Jeff Kline: I think quite a bit. (Executive producers) Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's decision was made early on that the most recent and far-reaching version of Transformers, that the audience knew, was the movie version. So, I think visually, we started there. Obviously, we didn't try to duplicate it. We brought in styles, humans, and a few other things. Strictly from the visual perspective, I think we referenced more of the movie than any of the previous cartoon series. From a storytelling perspective, this is the difference between television and features, we actually get to delve into other characters. For 13 hours across a season, we get to spend a lot more time with them than a two-hour movie does. So it was really important to us to have character relationships sort of drive everything.
Steve Blum: Massive possibilities for that.
Jeff Kline: Yes, the way we always try to do it is we will sit around, small groups of us, including myself, in a studio, and think of a wish list of who would be amazing for that voice, and try to check schedules, which is always the biggest issue for us. Almost no one says no to a guest spot in an animation series. I think the most amazing thing to me when I first started, realizing you could get almost anyone because of that idea you come in for four hours, one time or a couple of times, and wear whatever you want. You don't have to memorize the script - it's sitting in front of you - seems to be a sell for a lot of people.
Steve Blum: It may have to do with this show too, in particular, the familiarity with Transformers and the affect it may have had on their lives and their kids lives too.
Is there much more confidence going into Season 2 that you have a better idea of what works for the show and what doesn't?
Jeff Kline: Are you implying that there were things in Season 1 that didn't work? I definitely think that you learn lessons along the way. For us, a lot of the lessons were about the storytelling, and what we're capable of doing, visually. Learning what we can use, what we can re-use, what has to be built. For a while, we thought we were clever re-using locations we had already built, only to learn that it was one wall or one tunnel that we had never really built on. So we weren't really making Polygon's job any easier. A lot of what we wrote in Season 1 will be effective on this screen. From a writing perspective, we'll be writing more toward what we know we have and what we know we can do, versus starting with anything and scrambling to try to make it work.
Jeff Kline: Just so everyone knows, Steve has already recorded all of Season 2. All 26 episodes.
Steve Blum: Nothing particular has changed. Showing up sober is always a good thing. That's a joke. I did my own things between Season 1 and Season 2. It's just a continuation of great work. One season into the next is just a little deeper into the other. Knowing the character a little bit better, knowing the members of the cast a little bit better. The chemistry just gets bigger and better as you go. For me, that's what makes a better show, if everybody really works as a team. In the beginning, it takes a while to really get to know each other, to know how each other works. By Season 2, we had it down.
Steve, to what extent did Chris Latta's portrayal of Starscream in the first generation Transformers series inform your own performance?
Steve Blum: I think he did an incredible job doing that. I tried not to take too much from Chris' performances. He kinda set his own standard. My way of working is to just bring my own things to the table. So, I didn't even listen to his performances prior to my auditions. I just sorta carried what I had from what I had originally heard, and had that in the back of my head. I am honored to it, but not to emulate it. I wouldn't say that if influenced me in any particular way, except on the occasion that StarScream is getting battered so badly that he has to go into the high-pitched scream voice, and then I kinda approach it like the voice in the back of my head.
Jeff Kline: Do you remember what you are doing now compared to your audition? What you are doing now is pretty much the same as the audition.
Steve Blum: I think that's pretty much where it was, yeah. He's (StarScream) got so many different levels to him, and especially in Season 2, you'll see even more levels. But I think that's pretty much where I started.
Jeff Kline: Any ideas why? What we gave you was a pretty brief description. How did you decide to live in that register?
Steve Blum: When I have a model of a character, a picture of a character, or a description of a character, a voice pops into my head, and I've learned through the years to just trust my instinct and go with the very first thing that comes out. Most often, that is what ends up being what lands on the final product.
Jeff Kline: Is that the same for you in HeatWave on Transformers: Rescue Bots?
Steve Blum: I think so, yeah, HeatWave was pretty much my own voice. With HeatWave, it's funny because I tried to go as far away from my natural voice as I can because I've done so many things over the years. I don't want to get pigeonholed into that one voice, but it just seemed to fit him most naturally. I will go against what I believe to be the best choice to direct it toward what is best for the character, ultimately. So, that's what I had in mind when it ended.
Steve, since the recording for Season 2 is in the can, so to speak, would you be contributing in other ways to promote the series? For instance, conventions or personal appearances?
Steve Blum: I am doing a convention this coming weekend in Kansas. Every convention I go to, primarily, they are based towards anime in the earlier part of my career but I always promote Transformers: Prime and I promote Transformers: Rescue Bots. I want to see these shows do well. I love these shows.
Jeff Kline: I think you are somebody who, from the beginning, has embraced the fan community interaction. Obviously, there are some people who are happy for the work, but choose not to work in those circles. Why do you like that? Were you a geek growing up? Is that part of it for you?.
Steve Blum: I wasn't necessarily, no. I started in comic books very early on. I had a love for that. But in anime, my first experiences at a convention were terrifying, because I started when there were no dubs to speak of that were accepted by the community. I had things thrown at me and death threats passed at me when I first started attending conventions.
Jeff Kline: Who threatened you?
Steve Blum: Fans. Rabid fans. Because I wasn't as rabid as they were. I didn't know as much about what I was working on as they did. They found that offensive in the beginning. But, I have been going to conventions all over the world for several years now, and I've found the fans have grown up and I love interacting with them because we're kind of in a bubble, there in the studio, and I love to see what their perception is of what we're doing. I also get some ideas about how to be a better actor and to contribute more to the show in future episodes. I take their opinions very seriously and I do answer all my fan mail, and I love interacting with them. I do it by choice and it's actually fun for me now. I have a great time.
Jeff Kline: And the death threats have subsided?
Steve Blum: Yes, they have. I've learned how to handle them now.
Can you talk about Transformers: Rescue Bots and how it came into being?
Jeff Kline: It came into being because, quite honestly, from both a storytelling perspective, and what we were talking about earlier, Transformers: Prime, and the feature film, and the video game were designed for an older audience and there was this huge group of potential fans who knew of the property through brothers and sisters and media, but couldn't actually take part in it. So Hasbro, the toy company, wanted to do toys that were simple. One-touch Transformers, as compared to the impossible-for-adults transformation that the toys do. I thought that was a fantastic idea. When I first saw the designs they were kicking around for the toys, I really became a fan of the whole idea of creating a Transformers: Rescue Bots show that could be a safe destination for the younger viewer.
Why did you put it on an island?
Jeff Kline: There were a couple of things that had to get figured out because we were going to do Transformers: Rescue Bots side-by-side with Transformers: Prime, even on the same network, so we didn't really want to create two completely different mythologies. We wanted to have the mythologies somehow cross with each other. We didn't want to deal with the ongoing war and destruction of the Earth, and the constant battle of good versus evil, in a younger-skewing Transformers series. So that's where spent a lot of our development time initially; Trying to create a new Transformers that could work side by side, not contradict, but live on its own. One of the ways we did that was with the island. Putting a show on this island, we can say that the war is going on on the mainland Jasper, Nevada is still ground zero. But it doesn't really impact whats going on this island most of the time. We will do some crossover with some classic Transformers characters, but the island really lets us separate the RescueBots from the world of Prime. Once we were on the island, the issue came up how many times can we put out a fire on the island. What could happen on the island? Realistically, to keep going through 3, 4, or 5 seasons, and that's when we got the idea of the island being the testing ground for 20-seconds-in-the-future science. That allowed us to have science go awry, which allowed the Rescue Bots to get involved in things that were more fanciful, than scary or life-threatening. In one episode, we have flying lobsters, instead of killer bots. Trying to keep the stakes high and adventures high, the need for rescue high, but not necessarily scary. The other benefit for Rescue Bots for me, it sorta clicked that we had our own hook when we decided that we had to have our Rescue Bot robots pretend to be robots, and hide their existence, the fact that they are living beings. So then, we had two things that we could really generate a story from. These heroes have to hide who they really are, and sometimes take orders from humans.