There is an inherent thrill built directly into the core of the Transformers franchise. The notion of robots hiding in plain sight (in the world we live in), is a scenario that has captured the imagination of kids and adults since the 1980s and the primary reason the property is as big today as it ever was.
Next year Michael Bay’s Transformers series will hit theaters yet again for its fifth installment of the blockbuster series with Transformers: The Last Knight. The movie has been shooting for months and curiosity over the plot has never been higher, with inquisitive audiences trying to put together the puzzle pieces of the next chapter ahead of its release.
Fortunately, Screen Rant was able to visit the set of The Last Knight, while they were shooting in Michigan this past summer, and nabbed the inside scoop on the next release and potentially the star of the summer of 2017, Autobot Sqweeks.
Man’s Best Friend
During the development of the first Transformers film, executive producer Steven Spielberg zeroed in on how to personalize the large scale story about an intergalactic war between sentient robots. He boiled the story down to its simplest form. Transformers would be about a boy and his first car – a first car that happened to be a robotic alien warrior. It’s a trope that has been used in almost all Transformers’ mediums – whenever humans are included in the intergalactic war. Whether its Sam Witwicky bonding with his Camaro in the 2007 movie, Spike’s friendship with Bumblebee in the original 80’s cartoon, or Daniel’s adventures with Hot Rod in Transformers: The Movie, the very human experience of bonding with your vehicle has been an effective entry point for over thirty years.
By this time next year, Transformers’ fans will be well-acquainted with a new duo for the next generation, Izabella and Sqweeks.
The diminutive robot stands at 3’6″, has huge bulbous headlights for eyes, extensive damage from rust erosion, and a peg leg to bring his whole look together. While Sqweeks is undeniably cute, his story does carry tragedy. He’s a refugee Transformer who was severely damaged in the battle of Chicago, during the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. His resulting injuries have left him with calamity of ailments, none bigger than losing his ability to transform into his original vehicle form, a Vespa.
During our set visit we got the opportunity to speak with Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonventura, who explained exactly how the new Autobot figures into the plot.
“He is sort of a side kick of Izzy, our young girl who has been really fantastic in the movie, and she’s been kind of keeping him going. She’s sort of his mechanic, if you will. And so there’s a real great relationship between him and the young girl in the movie. You’re going to fall in love with him, and then he’s going to rise to heights you didn’t expect.”
While we will have to wait until the May release to see Sqweeks in action, the bond between the two is evidenced through his character design. In order to have an effective friendship with a Transformer, past films have proven that it helps to either be a great driver, scientist, or mechanic. From the sounds of Bonventura’s comments, Isabella has nursed the robot back to life and in return Sqweeks has forged a Chewbacca-style life debt with the human. If you look at his back, you see that Sqweeks doesn’t carry a blaster, but a set of tools, which indicates that he could be an assistant mechanic to Izzy. Or at the very least, he’s always prepared to be repaired.
How Sqweeks is Made
There is an immense amount of visual effects and CGI that’s needed to translate a Transformer from concept art to live-action reality. Typically, Transfomers are huge in scale, so while occasionally animatronics are used for feet, hands, or the head, for the most part actors are forced to use their imagination and pretend the robotic aliens are in their midst.
However, for Sqweeks, they also employed practical effects. Actress Isabella Moner plays the aptly named Izabella and explained the experience of filming with the charismatic robot during the set visit.
“He’s so cute! Originally they weren’t going to have him in person, you know, built. They were just going to have it CGI, like most things in the movie. But we were actually in Michael’s offices, and we were talking about the character. He was telling me the color; he’ll be a Vespa, super cute, small. I was like ‘Well, that’d be really cool if we could have him in person. Could you guys build him in person?’ They were like ‘That’d be really good idea to do that!;, like what they did with the Star Wars BB-8 kind of thing. So yeah, it’s really cool to have it in person.”
It’s clear before seeing a frame of film, that however The Last Knight performs at the box office – and with critics – Sqweeks is destined to be a hot toy come Holiday 2017. The design screams for Hasbro and Hot Toys to make action figures and replicas of the winsome character and after the success of recent film merchandising, such as Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, cute toys from cute on-screen characters mean huge merchandising opportunities. After all, Hollywood has a long history of including adorable robots, or creatures in science fiction films. Whether its BB-8 or Yoda, typically their inclusion is an effort to give younger viewers a relatable character to serve as their own point of entry into the larger story.
My talented young co-star of Transformers, Isabela Moner. And and introducing a new character, Squeeks..#transformers #markwahlberg #isabelamoner A photo posted by Michael Bay (@michaelbay) on Jun 22, 2016 at 1:47pm PDT
How Sqweeks Works
In recent years, there has been a yearning for more integration of practical effects in tentpole movies. While, the new Transformer was built practically (which is not a first in the series), it still has to deliver a performance, just like any other actor on set. Moner went on to give a little more insight into what it took to bring Sqweeks to life.
“It’s manually controlled. Someone stands behind him. It’s not remote controlled, which would be really cool. But he is there, and I think it gives me a great opportunity to work with it, hug the little thing, you know.”
A large part of acting is reacting to other performers and the environment, so hopefully Moner’s request to have Sqweeks physically on set will bring a little extra magic to the movie – especially when it comes to her character’s relationship with Sqweeks. And there is rarely a downside to making things feel more tactile and real during filmmaking for the actors.
What’s Sqweek’s Function?
Moner clearly wasn’t the only one excited about Sqweeks’ performance, both on set and in the overall story. While there is a history of crowd-pleasing characters like Sqweeks from the past, there is also a precedent for adding cute characters who don’t add to story, beyond comic relief. It seems that the creative team behind the movie is aware of this and has given Sqweeks’ a definite function in the overall narrative. Bonventura shared his enthusiasm for how the new Transformer is fitting into The Last Knight narrative.
“It’s actually kind of amazing how well it works already. Sqweeks is going to be–it’s an Autobot that you can’t figure out how to transform at the beginning of the movie, and/or has a physical limitation that they can’t figure out how to get around, and during the process, we have some real fun with the sort of malaprop attempts to form.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that a Transformer has had to overcome a perceived disability. In the first movie it was established that Bumblebee was mute, after his vocal processor was destroyed in a past battle. Much of the first movie’s charm stemmed from the the first act, when the Transformer’s world was slowly introduced through a car that only communicated through his radio.
In Transformers: The Movie (1986), a similar challenge was presented to Spike’s son Daniel. He was given an exo-suit that appeared to be merely a life-preserving pressure suit built for outer space survival. However, unknown to Daniel, it actually possessed the power to transform which provided a memorable character moment. Bonventura hints at what’s to come, as there is an equally, if not more thrilling scene awaiting Sqweeks in next year’s adventure.
“A pretty seemingly inconsequential Autobot is going to rise a really great fucking moment where it does this–first of all, it’s incredibly great, from a sort of story plot point of view, but you’ll laugh so fucking hard, because it’s such a great way for him to finally show his mettle. So it’s one of those sort of cheer laughs when he does it. That’s what I think is going to happen.
It seems that there will be great opportunities for comedy, as well as an emotional payoff for the most unlikely of Autobots in the upcoming movie. Judging from Bonventura’s quotes, Sqweeks has a purpose beyond melting hearts and selling toys, as he will fit into a crucial story beat in the movie. Ultimately, that will be the character’s biggest measure of success. The Transfomers franchise will release its fifth installment in the multi-billion dollar franchise next summer and it looks as if there are a lot of surprises in store. However, one of them is now out of the bag, as Sqweeks will be introduced as the newest face of the Autobots in theaters in 2017.
Transformers: The Last Knight opens in U.S. theaters on June 23, 2017, followed by the Bumblebee spin-off on June 8, 2018, and Transformers 6 on June 28, 2019.