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.
— Michael Bay (@michaelbay) August 6, 2016
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.