Do you recognize this man?
If you consider yourself a true Transformers fan, you should. The man is Filipino artist Floro Dery, responsible for finalizing the character models for all Transformers in the Generation 1 cartoon, as well as original character (and environment) designs for it and the 1986 animated movie. According to TFWiki, he takes credit for other things as well, and seems to have a had a few run-ins with the fandom of an arguably embarrassing character, but for this post, let´s focus on Dery´s legacy as an artist. I will in fact argue that his original character designs are so distinct, that they deserve to be viewed as their own “genre” within TF design. So, which are his original character designs?
Evolution, from left to right: Courtesy of Kojin Ono, Shohei Kohara, Floro Dery.
Some might argue that all Transformers characters, as they appeared in the cartoon counts, since Floro Dery after all finalized their character models after Shohei Koharas templates, in turn based on the toy designs of the likes of Hideaki Yoke, etc. But as stated above, these are his adaptations of existing designs rather than original ones. So which are his original designs? The first, obvious answer is of course the whole Transformers cast of the animated movie, containing some of the most recognizable and iconic characters including Hot Rod, Kup, Springer, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge. So which are the other characters, and how do they demonstrate the overall features of “Floro-ness”? In fact, it seems that his designs preceding the movie anticipates its aesthetics, in a step-wise fashion:
1.Nightbird – Curvy, organic design
Some might argue that this character is not a proper Transformer, given that she is human-built, has no apparent alternate mode and possibly not even a consciousness (although it is hinted at at the end of her episode in the cartoon). She is however, stylistically a precursor of things to come, with her curvy, almost organic appearance.
Am I the only one being as happy about this as for Arcee herself?
Further, she just a got a toy which is labelled as a Decepticon Transformer, with an alt-mode to boot, since she is a clever repurposing of Generations Arcee (another of Dery´s designs, a move which echoes Impossible Toys doing the same thing for their version of Arcee a few years back…). I hope to see more of Nightbird in the future!
The Sage and his gals. Note the varying degrees of curviness to them!
2.Alpha Trion, the Female Autobots – Kibble-free, colorful and (sometimes) bearded!
Alpha Trion, the old Cybertronian sage, has become one of the central characters of the franchise. He is undoubtedly a Transformer, possibly the eldest still alive, but he has no apparent alt-mode and a kibble-free, rounded appearance, much like Nightbird. Also, he displays two features that are quite novel; a quite gaudy color scheme, and a beard! Overall, he looks more like a human than a robot, and the same could be said about the Female Autobots he mentors on Cybertron – they look more like women in armor, sporting similarly striking color schemes! In the case of Firestar and Moonracer their boxy vehicle modes are shown in the cartoon, yet, they are seemingly kibble-free, rounded and curvy as robots.
Trademarked head cannon (not “canon”), as previously seen on Firestar and later on Scourge…
Devcon – Sci-fi alt modes
The above things goes for Devcon, the Autobot bounty hunter, as well. A common feature for him and the Female Autobots is also that their vehicle modes are decidedly “Cybertronian”, as we don´t encounter any one of them on planet Earth, but while the ladies have car modes somewhat reminiscent of futuristic cars, Devcon´s is a futuristic jet which bears no resemblance at all to any vehicle found on Earth; this “alien-ness” would re-manifest itself in many of the designs he did for the movie…
The Japanese video release poster is the better one, albeit containing a few spoliers…
The Movie – The full realization of Floro-ness!
To test the above points on the movie crew, let´s compare two group pictures, one of the Ark Crew Autobots.and one of the Movie Autobots:
Stark contrast, yes?
All the above-mentioned differences are there: The Ark crew have decidedly boxy appearances with a few rounded features here and there, while the movie Autobots are overall rounded, with pointy features here and there. While the early Autobots all sport what could be called basic colors; red, blue, orange, green and so forth, the Movie crew sports pinkish red (Rodimus), cyan (Blurr), turquoise (Kup), lime-green (Springer), tangerine (Wheelie) and pink (Arcee). Further, rather than transforming into realistic Earth vehicles, they all have futuristic alt-modes, and at least Blurr does not really resemble any existing Earth vehicle (this is even more true for Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge´s alt-modes). Finally, Wreck-Gar sports a mustache and a beard! As do Scourge, and Unicron himself… Overall, the aesthetic departure from the original, toy-based Transformers characters is enormous, part of which can of course be attributed to the then futuristic setting of the movie, but with Floro Dery at the helm of the designs, the Movie cast turned into something truly unique, spreading its influence to this day…
The back row – inspired by the front row?
So what is the legacy of Dery´s designs? To see if his style continued after the movie and the end of Season 3 of the cartoon, let´s take a look at what came after! The 1987 lineup was the first to not use any pre-existing molds for its new toys, but rather design all toys from scratch. While a generally boxy design ethos marks its return, Cybertronian alt modes are now a dominant presence, as is striking color schemes. Further, it can be argued that except for the occasional backpack and wing pair, the new toys are extremely kibble-free, exemplified by the Autobot Headmasters, the Clones and by Sixshot, who pulls this off despite having six (or seven) modes!!! It should be noted, however, that while the color schemes became increasingly gaudy all the way through Generation 2, Earth vehicle modes made a strong comeback already in 1988, and boxiness continued to be the norm until Beast Wars. Verdict of long-term impact of style: debatable. Maybe Dery´s style was a passing fad after all?
Kibblier than they used to be, and I dig it. Can you find the one bot not designed by Dery here? Tip: he is hiding in the back…
Nevertheless, his Movie cast forever made their mark on the Transformers universe. While the movie script, with the events and themes it conveyed was arguably a huge part of its impact, it was Dery who defined it visually through his designs, both for the environments and the characters that inhabited them. Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, Kup, Springer, Arcee, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, not to mention Unicron, are all Transformers icons today, and they have appeared in countless sub-franchises since. As the movie marks its 30th anniversary next year, more Masterpiece homages might follow MP-28 Hot Rodimus which is set for Japanese release at the end of February 2016…
God knows I want it…
Finally, a word of honesty: I personally never fancied Floro Dery´s designs too much, even as a child! Then, I simply found it too different from the look of the 1985 cast. Today, I feel that his design style made the at least the future TF Universe look more like fantasy than sci-fi.
As evidenced by this discarded dragon combiner design…
I never liked kibbleless-ness, as I thought things like Prowl´s car chest and door wings was what made TF´s special among hordes of other robots, showing off that they do transform into stuff rather than attempting to hide it (still do). Today, as something of a Takara purist, I have even had a bit of a hard time accepting the Movie cast as “true” Transformers! (Although conversely, an argument could be made that they are among the first TF characters who are not repurposed Diaclone/Micro Change bots and thus most “true” in that regard). But at the end of the day the impact and presence of the movie lot to this day cannot be denied; they are an integral part of TF history and evolution, and as a active member on TFW2005 I sometimes feel Floro Dery does not get enough credit for his enormous contribution to the franchise. What if we could recognize his designs by giving them a name that evokes that their creator? How about… “Floroformers”? 😉