There have been numerous iterations of the Transformers franchise in animation over the past few decades, but the upcoming Nickelodeon Transformers: EarthSpark is definitely aiming to shake things up for the iconic robots in disguise. Not only will the series debut the first Transformers born on Earth, known as Terrans, but apparently perennial villain Megatron is now on the side of the angels and working with the Autobots. And that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
During New York Comic Con last month, we had the fortune to chat with some of the voice actors for Transformers: EarthSpark including Diedrich Bader (Mandroid), Sydney Mikayla (Robby Malto), Zion Broadnax (Mo Malto), Cissy Jones (Elita-1), as well as executive producer Ant Ward to discuss how this animated is more than meets the eye!
Dar: Transformers is a huge franchise—
Cissy Jones: What!?
Dar: Whether or not you watched the cartoons or played with the toys, pretty much everybody knows what a Transformer is. I’m curious about your past familiarity with Transformers. Diedrich, I know from past conventions that your son was a big Batman fan.
Diedrich Bader: Thank you for remembering that!
Dar: Was Transformers also among his interests growing up?
Bader: He loved the comic books. I got into it by the comic books. I had never seen Transformers. I hadn’t even seen the movies or the shows. But I had [read] the comic books so I was aware of the lore. That’s an interesting question.
Sydney Mikayla: Watching the 2007 movie with my dad was so incredible growing up. And just having those memories with him I’ll always keep in my heart and carry with me.
Zion Broadnax: Me and my cousin were at his house and we were watching the Transformers movie. I can’t remember which year. We were watching the movie and saying who we wanted to be like, “I want to be Bumblebee! I want to be Optimus Prime!” We would try to act out all the cool tricks and flip around on his beanbag.
Dar: From the SDCC press junket I learned that Kristi Reed is the voice director. I’ve admired her work on various Cartoon Network projects so I wouldn’t have pegged her for Transformers: EarthSpark. I know some of you have worked with her before so what’s been the experience having Kristi Reed as a voice director especially during this era of the pandemic and Zoom?
Bader: The relationship with a voiceover director is a very intimate one. They listen to you and can completely change your performance really easily. She is a very intuitive and very direct director so she doesn’t mince words. She’s a little like Andrea Romano, a legend in her time, in that she doesn’t hold back which is really great because you get right to it. And she doesn’t move on until she feels like she really has it which is also really nice. One of the most unsatisfying feelings you can have as an actor is driving home and realizing that you didn’t nail it. She never moves on until she feels like she has it.
Mikayla: To build off that, I started working with Kristi when I was Zion’s age. I did a very small part on We Bare Bears on Cartoon Network. She remembered me from that and then I was on Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. And she remembered me from that and now I’m on the amazing Transformers: EarthSpark. So much of my career I can definitely attribute to her. She’s a powerhouse of a director and just seeing a woman come in and take ownership of her work I’m always in awe. To grow with her has been really incredible.
Jones: She’s a legend in the business so getting to work with her on Transformers has been super rad!
Dar: This Transformers: EarthSpark cartoon is CG animated. Ant, you’re no stranger to working with CG. I’m sure coming off of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was 2D, the experience is much different. I know that Jordan Rosato, whose animation work I’ve really admired in the last few years, is a director for the series. I’d love to hear how you assembled your production crew.
Ant Ward: It was really important we brought as many unique, diverse voices to the show. Jordan was an excellent comedy director and really wanted to start playing in the action space. We reached out to her and had a chat and she thought this would be a great project for her. So she jumped aboard for the first season and it was an absolute blast working with her.
Bader: That’s why the comedic bits work so well. A lot of action directors try to get into comedy but it’s harder. I didn’t know that.
Ward: It’s a balance.
Dar: Obviously you recorded this remotely but I wanted to know if, Sydney and Zion, you were able to record together through Zoom but also since your characters are siblings if that relationship mirrored your own as actors?
Mikayla: Well, Zion and I just met in person for the first time today! [Laughs]. But we realized we had so [much] interconnected. We trained at the same conservatory at different times and we’ve worked with some of the same people. So it’s interesting that we missed each other and nice to finally connect.
Broadnax: We’ve met over Zoom but this our first time meeting in person. When we met it wasn’t an awkward connection. We warmed up pretty easily.
Mikayla: Very true!
Jones: When I got the audition it was under a fake name. I kind of gleaned it was Transformers when there was mention of, “she can change into a truck or something.”
Bader: Hmm, what could it be?
Jones: I know, right? I knew a little of Elita-1 coming into it. There are not a lot of female Transformers in the Transformers Universe. I knew of her and I was super excited to take what had been done with her and add my own spin to it. She was described as “super confident, cool, calm and collected.” But also a bit of a “smart aleck.” And also “overconfident but with merit.” Being able to play that and have fun and goofy and a dork is my jam.
Dar: You’re no slouch when it comes to villains, Diedrich. As a kid, I think the first time I heard your voice in animation was as Adonis in the Disney Hercules cartoon. How does Mandroid compare to the baddies you’ve played in the past?
Bader: Adonis was a villain. He motivated a lot of the plots. I spoke to this earlier but Mandroid doesn’t think he’s the villain of the piece. He thinks he’s saving the world and he’s the only one who knows that Transformers are not on the side of human beings and that they want to take over the planet. He had this revelation but has not been able to convince anybody else. From his standpoint he is saving the world. When you can have a motivation like that as an actor it is so easy to play. It’s a gift. It’s not a mustache twirling evil guy. He is the only guy who is awake and it brings an urgency to it that is fun to play.
Ward: Having the war over, we didn’t want to fall into very familiar territory of the Decepticons being the main focus as the villain group. Because in a sense it would feel like many previous iterations and we wanted to stand out a little bit. Mandroid as a very personal story with our characters which is fun to explore.
Bader: It’s a great backstory which I cannot tell you about but it is really good. And it was beautiful to play. It’s a very well-written show. I think it probably could have gotten away not being as well-written and still gotten the audience. It’s a very deep show. I think that all generations will enjoy watching it. When my kids were little I was always looking for shows that I could watch with my kids that I would generally like. To have a backstory that has a motivation so strong in a character like this, I think audiences will really appreciate it.
Dar: It’s always great when animation writers actually take the time to talk with the actors themselves. During the production of Transformers: EarthSpark, did the writers ever reach out to actors for their input?
Ward: Absolutely. Dale [Malinowski] and Nicole [Dubuc] are in a lot of the sessions with the team and are pretty active in there.
Bader: A lot of it is explained to us. It is an episodic show obviously but it has an overall arc. It tells a very large story. If we didn’t know what we were saying it could get really confusing because we’re dropping hints every episode about where we’re going. There are things we literally would not be able to understand if we had to say [them]. They talked us through everything. It was nice that everybody was on the same page. It felt like we were part of something rather than just servicing.
Jones: I think it also helped that the scripts were so incredibly well-written by the time we got them. There wasn’t a lot that need to be worked out. Yes, we got to go into the booth and play and deliver lines in a way that might have been unexpected. But it wasn’t already figured out so beautifully.
Dar: Is there a particular episode or moment in the series that stood out or resonated for you?
Mikayla: I’m not gonna talk about anything past what has been shown! [Laughs]. But I think it’s exciting we start by seeing Robby feeling like he doesn’t belong in his home. After seeing the Earthborn Terran [Transformers], he realizes it might not be so bad and he might not have to rush back to Philly. We can look forward to him finding home wherever his family takes him and whatever family means to him.
Jones: This was the first time we’ve seen the finished episode today. We don’t get to record together or see everybody else’s scenes.
Bader: And as you know, in ADR we only see what we’re going to re-record. This was a surprise and it was really cool.
Jones: I really loved Alan Tudyk’s Optimus.
Mikayla: For the kids, something that really stood out to me was the hair. It was so important to me to every curl on Robby’s head and Mo’s beautiful afro. It just made me feel really happy when I saw that. I’m really glad that they included that and thought they did a really good job.
Ward: Thank you!
Broadnax: The details of not just the hair but everything like the backgrounds and glowing and words on the wall when they touch the rock. That was cool to see because it looked great!
Jones: I saw “Malinowski moving boxes.” Easter Eggs!
Dar: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you all. I can’t wait for Transformers fans of all ages to check this new series out!
Transformers: EarthSpark premieres on Friday, Nov. 11, on Paramount+.