Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Our Collections: More than Meets the Eye

July 16, 2012 Archive Insight

Introduced in the United States in 1984, the Transformers have been among the most popular toy lines ever since. They were robots who could change into sportscars, jets, spaceships, and dinosaurs.  The appeal was obvious.  Cartoons and comic books established a storyline about the heroic Autobots protecting Earth from the evil Decepticons. The above sales brochure was included with boxed Transformers toys in 1984.

The Henry Ford has a small collection of some of the early Transformers. Most of the toys in our collection have a single image as part of their catalog records, but we wanted to be able to show these “robots in disguise” in all of their configurations.

Powermaster Optimus Prime (1988) changes from a truck into a robot, and he combines with his trailer to form a larger robot. (THF152304-152306)

Each configuration needed to be lit differently, because the shadows and reflections would change as the toy’s parts were moved. As many as eight different light sources were used for each shot.

Dinobot Sludge (1985-1986) changes into a mechanical “brontosaurus.” His reflective chrome surfaces were especially tricky to light. (THF152316-152317)

We also found that some of the robots’ joints had become extremely tight from age, making them difficult to transform. Other joints had become loose, making the robots difficult to stand.

Decepticon Triple Changer Blitzwing (1985-1986) changes into a tank and a fighter jet. In robot mode, he topples over easily. (THF152313-152315)

This is just one example of how having a little insider knowledge (in this case, of the geekier kind) can help better document and display a collection item.

The rest of the Transformers can be viewed on our collections website.

Jim Orr did not offer to help photograph the Transformers as a way to spend an afternoon playing with some of his favorite toys.


20th century, 1980s, toys and games, popular culture, photography, digitization, by Jim Orr

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