Travis Knight Interview: Bumblebee

Bumblebee’s director Travis Knight is the man responsible for rejuvenating the Transformers film franchise. The new spinoff movie has a 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Knight began in animation, working on such films as Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. He made his directorial debut with Kubo and the Two Strings.

Screen Rant: So, this movie is incredible. It's always what I wanted from a Transformers movie. And it's crazy how much just the aesthetic change brings me back to my childhood. Just seeing Optimus Prime and Bumblebee from the G1 stuff. It's crazy. So, it also takes place in 1987. And had this movie actually came out in 1987, Agent Burns would be the hero of the story.

Travis Knight: [Laughs]

Screen Rant: So, talk to me about how that's obviously different in this era.

Travis Knight: Yeah. We're telling a very different kind of a story. While I want to make it feel like it was kind of woven from the same fabric of the eighties, and we approached it, like we wanted to shoot it like it was 1987. And we brought a lot of tools to play there. It's a classic story but it's a more modern telling of it. And so, part of that was what was at the center of it, which is this incredible girl, played by Hailee Steinfeld, and this beautiful relationship she has with this robot.

Screen Rant: The opening scene, you kick it right off in Cybertron. It blew my mind. It looked amazing and it just brought me right back. There’s a rumor that the sequel could possibly all take place on Cybertron. I don't know if that's true or not, but do you think that it's possible to do a live action, I guess it would be still live action, Transformers movie in Cybertron?

Travis Knight: Well actually would, it would be wholly animated because the beginning of the movie is completely animated. So, it has live action lighting and textures and everything else. So, it has that feeling. But, yeah, I would love to see that movie. I got to tell you, that was one of the biggest thrills for me, in this process, was bringing Cybertron to life. And seeing the fall of Cybertron, just a glimpse of it. Because that's where the animated series began. And we wanted to begin this film in the same manner, to pay tribute to that. And it was so much fun. I tried to stuff as much as I possibly could into those opening moments. Just because that's the movie I've always wanted to see. I would love to see a movie like that. Yeah.

Screen Rant: I have a fan theory and you can either confirm or deny this.

Travis Knight: All right. All right.

Hailee Steinfeld in Bumblebee

Screen Rant: So, this is a soft reboot of the Transformers franchise because we do see Optimus Prime before he hits in the 2000 era. So, he's already on Earth. But it also feels like a reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise, with possibly John Cena playing Duke. Can you confirm or deny this? My I crazy fan theory.

Travis Knight: I don't think it's that crazy, but I can neither confirm nor deny. I'm sorry. I wish I could.

Screen Rant: But that's good. This it's amazing. And John did an amazing job too. Because he plays the role so straight. But he also has that comedic timing.

Travis Knight: He does.

Screen Rant: That just knocks it out of the park.

Travis Knight: Yeah, he's the human antagonist, but he's also a guy who's got dimension. I mean, you can kind of-- you get where he's coming from. He's actually right, when you look at his point of view, and that kind of makes him more terrifying. You understand where he's coming from, but you don't want him to succeed, because that means the end of our heroes. But yeah, John is just a naturally charismatic guy. He's got great comedic timing, he just oozes charm, and bringing that element to what's essentially a bad guy, was something that gave him additional dimension.

Screen Rant: There's a lot of E.T. influence, I was able to pick up from this. And also, I love how Bumblebee emotes through his eyes. Can you talk to me about the challenge of creating Bumblebee to actually do that? And just hitting it in the perfect spots where you can tell that.

Travis Knight: That's an animator’s trick. I've been working in animation for over 20 years and that's just what we do. We view life, we breathe life into something that doesn't have any. We give character and personality to inanimate objects, whether it's a puppet, or a drawing, or something that comes out of a computer in ones and zeros. And so, the great thing for me was collaborating with the animators on this movie and really trying to match the powerful and subtle and nuanced performance that Hailey gives, and make sure that the robot gives as good a performance. And that’s the trick. She's fantastic, but he had to be just as good. And I think when people see it and they emotionally connect with this hunk of metal, that's actually just generated in a computer, that's how I know that they did their job. I mean, they just did an extraordinary job bringing him to life.

Screen Rant: Brilliant job. Thank you, so much. And I await that G.I. Joe response.

Travis Knight: [Chuckles] Thanks.

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Key Release Dates
  • Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
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