COUNTDOWN: Transformers 2007 – how the 13 robots evolved from concept art (part 2)

This month is the anniversary of the Transformers franchise’s very first big-screen live-action adventure, so in celebration we’re taking a look at some of the early concept artwork from the film, and how the main robot characters all evolved to their final forms. Part 1 saw us having a gander at the majority of the Autobot roster (with some notable big-name absences still to come, mind) but today we’re all about the bad guys. Let’s check out those Decepticons!

 

#9: Starscream

Image credit: Ben Procter

Of all the classic Transformers characters to receive severely overhauled looks for the 2007 film, Starscream was almost certainly one of the more controversial among fans. Bearing no real resemblance to his G1 self was one thing, but the hulking bird-like design that we received was clearly too much for some. It’s interesting to see then that the first concept art looked arguably much closer to what some might have expected (although still a considerable departure from his classic look, all the same!). To my eye though, there’s something a little generic about the image above, in a way that the final movie design is entirely memorable, whether you love it or hate it!

Image credit: Feng Zhu

Starscream’s design then took a *major* new direction after it was reimagined by well-known concept artist, Feng Zhu, who brought in the extreme proportions and crooked legs that we now associate with the big-screen appearance. Really, the initial sketch above remained very consistent through to the final design, with the obvious exception of the head, which evidently took a bit longer to finalise.

Image credit: Feng Zhu

Here’s another look at Starscream drawn by Feng Zhu, this time in an action scene. It’s hard to tell but it looks like the design here could be earlier than the one seen above, with various areas of the robot looking a little less defined and rougher around the edges.

Image credit: The Spacebridge

As mentioned, the head design was a point of discussion as it was originally going to look very different indeed, but was ultimately swapped out in favour of another idea that had already been rejected for Megatron. Its final appearance was inspired by a samurai kabuto helmet mixed with the oxygen mask of a fighter pilot, making for a very distinct look altogether!

Image credit: Feng Zhu

With the head now redesigned, the sketch above shows Starscream looking exactly as we saw him in the final film. Again, it’s not a design that everyone loves, but on a personal note, I can’t help but admire how they pushed the envelope with this one!

 

#8: Brawl

Image credit: Ben Procter

Probably the most notable element of Brawl’s development journey to the screen is his name! It seems as though several of the Decepticons had their names swapped around a bit to begin with, with ‘Brawl’ itself having been in consideration for the character ultimately known as Barricade at one point, whilst our tankformer would have been called ‘Demolisher’ (perhaps in reference to Transformers Armada). Similarly, Blackout was first conceived as ‘Devastator’ during the concept stage, only for that name to then become associated with Brawl as well. Even in the final film, you can see subtitles referring to him as Devastator at one point, so it’s all a bit confusing!

Image credit: The Spacebridge

Anyway, it appears as though a tank Decepticon was a shoo-in from the beginning, with the first concept artwork above showing a ‘Howitzerbot’ concept that looks very different to what we ultimately saw (and appears to be from the same phase as the first Starscream design, before the movie’s aesthetic was really defined). Then there was the ‘armoured personal carrier’ robot above, although this design was also scrapped (only for it to become the inspiration for a separate toy later down the line).

Image credit: Ben Procter

At this point, we have concept art for Brawl (here simply listed as “Tankbot”, which might have been simpler!) looking much closer to the final thing, with only a few of the finer details streamlined for his appearance on the screen, as seen below.

 

#7: Blackout

Image credit: Ben Procter

Of the new characters devised for the film, Blackout is one that I think has stood out in a lot of people’s minds. There’s something innately cool about the giant Decepticon helicopter, cemented by his memorable first appearance (in both the movie itself and the original trailer for it). He clearly went through a bit of development though, as evidenced by the early concept artwork above (where the character was still known as ‘Devastator’). How ridiculously metal is that?

Image credit: Ben Procter

He was then streamlined quite a bit and given a more upright appearance along with the familiar rotor blades on his back. Note the original name remains at this point.

Image credit: Ben Procter

Now seemingly known as ‘Incinerator’, this is much closer to Blackout’s final appearance and looks instantly recognisable as the character we all know from the screen!

Image credit: Tim Flattery

Here’s some other early concept art though, which is fascinating to see as it shows how the head design evolved a bit along the way.

Image credit: Tim Flattery

This is still a bit of a departure from what we eventually received but shows that at one stage, Blackout was conceived as having a bit more of a snout. It reminds me a lot of Jetstorm from Beast Machines.

Image credit: Ben Procter

The head was quite obviously redesigned many times over, finally reaching the more intricate and creepy aesthetic of his screen appearance.

Image credit: Ben Procter

Also of note is Blackout’s arachnoid partner, Scorponok, who was largely built as an actual physical prop for shooing. Here you can see a design sketch that appears to be very close to what we saw in the film.

Image credit: James Clyne

And here is a concept of the dessert battle scene which ultimately became one of the more iconic moments from the film, along with Blackout’s final appearance below.

 

#6: Bonecrusher

Bonecrusher transforms into of the more unusual vehicles featured in the 2007 film, with many viewers perhaps being unaware of what it was even meant to be. It’s actually a mine-sweeping vehicle known as a Buffalo, made by a company named Force Protection, although even the vehicle’s appearance in the film was altered a little. It all started with the image above, which was found on Force Protection’s own website and showed a hugely oversized version of the mine-sweeping arm along with a Photoshopped Decepticon logo. That was enough to capture the filmmakers’ interest, and so Bonecrusher was conceived.

Image credit: Tony Kieme

Here you can see an early design for the character, not yet fully formed for his final appearance, though clearly a lot of the basics are present. Ultimately this would become one of the more idiosyncratic robot designs found in the film, but there’s little doubt it looked awesome ripping through the side of a bus!

 

#5: Barricade

Image credit: The Spacebridge

Of the many ideas presented in the film, I think most Transformers fans can agree that the concept of a Decepticon police car is very cool indeed! The character that would eventually become Barricade did go through a bit of revision, mind, especially as the colour scheme of the car itself originally looked very different. Back when he was still known as Brawl, there would have been a lot more white present along the doors, giving it a bit more of a traditional appearance in many ways.

Image credit: The Spacebridge

Quite clearly that would have translated to a different-looking robot mode too, and you can see how a lot of that white colouring would have ended up on his arms and as panels on his legs. This idea clearly carried through at least a few stages, as the above sketch was then refined to look like the below.

Image credit: Tony Kieme

At this point, we’re not a million miles away from Barricade’s final form, although the colour scheme is still very different and of course, the head was then revised quite a bit too, but it’s fascinating to see what could have been!

 

#4: Frenzy

Image credit: Ben Procter

Along with a number of his fellow Decepticons, Frenzy went through several names in development and was originally known simply as ‘Boombot’. The inital design was a lot simpler than what we eventually saw, with a slightly more streamlined, less spiky aesthetic, though still with the same overall shape.

Image credit: Ben Procter

‘Boombot’ was developed further, coming a lot closer to the character we know from the film, although not without some twists along the way! At one point the script conceived both him and the Decepticon that would eventually become Barricade as being one and the same character, which would have been called Soundwave instead.

Image credit: Ben Procter

Ultimately the filmmakers went with Frenzy, and he became the only Decepticon that was built as an actual prop in its entirety. Above you can see one of the model concepts, which looks very close to the final design, below.

 

#3: Megatron

Image credit: Ben Procter

Oh boy, now we come to what must surely be one of the most controversial design choices in all of Transformers history, no? I’m sure anyone who was a fan prior to the 2007 movie might remember seeing some of the Megatron concept art being released before the film came out and wow, did it create a reaction! A lot of fans were very unhappy with how weird and alienesque the character now looked, although it would ultimately be tweaked quite a bit for the final film. Intriguingly though, even this bizarre look began in a place much closer to his Generation 1 self, with the first Megatron concept, above, showing how there was some consideration for a more traditional appearance at one point.

Image credit: The Spacebridge

Here you can see how quickly the filmmakers evolved the idea toward that menacing face we ended up with, although again, the DNA of the classic 1980s character is still in there, somehow.

Image credit: Tony Kieme

The early concept sketch above is not specifically one of Megatron himself, although given it’s by the same artist who did his design, you can certainly see how it might have been part of the journey towards the end product in this case. There are elements of it that look similar to the first image below, for example.

Image credit: Tony Kieme

Speaking honestly, it’s a bit hard to know what they were going for with some of these designs! This was certainly set to be a huge departure from anything we’d previously known as Transformers, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that it created such a massive shockwave when some of these images were first glimpsed on the interwebs back in the day.

Image credit: Tony Kieme

Here you can see how the designs kept evolving, getting ever closer to the final appearance seen in the film. The ‘battle mode approved mod’ sketch looks very familiar indeed!

Image credit: The Spacebridge

And then the images above are mostly repeated but it’s worth seeing for the one in the middle, primarily, as that is one of the most terrifying concepts of all!

Image credit: Tony Kieme

Now, a lot of this would change come the film’s eventual release and you could argue that it’s one of those designs that looks much more impressive in motion, but it’s not hard to understand why the design above was met with such a strong reaction to begin with. More than any, this one image was a lot of fans’ first glimpse at how the Decepticon leader was going to be handled on the big screen and needless to say, it did not go down well. I’m tempted to say that perhaps the outrage might have been at least a little muted if the image in question had been a touch more flattering, but needless to say, it all looked very different by the time the film hit screens and the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, that’s part 2 of our list. Join us next time when we’ll be looking at our final couple of characters… you know who they are!

TTFN

 

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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