There's more to the War for Cybertron: Siege line than the amazing figures. There's also the three-dimensional characters these figures represent, each with their own backstories and roles to play. One way we tell these stories is through a character's military ranking, represented by a military insignia unique to the character. Have you figured out the ranking system yet? 

Yeah. We see you. We keep up on the comments sections of this and other fan sites. We know a lot of you didn't necessarily need this key, but as we were developing this system, we sure did. It was an important tool for organizing the system and giving all of us working on the project the guidelines needed to build an insignia for any character. It was actually all a bit of a process, and we thought it would be fun to tell you a bit about that process.

 

Where Did We Start ?

It started with a thought: In times of war, armies establish a clear chain of command, and the Autobots and Decepticons would be no different. Despite the chaos of brutal battles, some sort of organization would be established. They would need a way to indicate who's in charge. Sure, as such a key figure, everyone would know Optimus Prime is the General of the Autobot army, but where does Ironhide rank? Does he outrank Prowl? Would Starscream be Megatron's second-in-command during the war? Or would that come later? And what kind of role would they all play within their armies?

STARSCREAM: Still working his way up the ranks until he ultimately ascends to leader of the Decepticons…or tries to, anyway.

And then a bunch of us got in a room and geeked-out together about how this all would work. What could we create to deepen the story for fans? And how could we convey key pieces of a character's story through a single graphic? The answer was a military insignia that represented 3 things: Division, Unit, and Rank. But when determining these classifications for each character there were a few things we had to consider.

 

Assigning rankings to soldiers in the war for Cybertron: 3 key things we had to consider

First, these aren’t the Autobots and Decepticons we know. Their insignias needed to represent these characters during the War for Cybertron, long before becoming the larger-than-life heroes and villains we know them to be today. We had to think about where these characters are at the beginning of this chapter. War changes people robots. The Division, Unit, and Rank for some of these characters would be drastically different and not necessarily reflect who they will eventually become. There are characters that haven’t quite yet established themselves or haven’t yet moved into a field they will enter later. And so, all of that needed to be seeded in their insignias.

Believe it or not his overly cautious nature and dedication to safety makes him an effective medic in the War for Cybertron, though he does tend to over-diagnose patients. Just to be safe.

Second, what are the divisions and units that would naturally form during a raging civil war on an alien planet populated by giant converting robots? We had to take into account the nature of this particular war and the means with which our characters are fighting it. And at the same time we needed to think about who these characters are, their various alt modes, what their strengths and expertise are at this moment in time.

Third, how might the Autobots and Decepticons name these classifications differently? Would the Decepticons classifications sound a bit more sinister? Would they call a unit Black Ops where the Autobots would call it Special Ops? And, what would be the same regardless of faction?

When considering Engineering as an army unit, it worked well for the Autobots, but it didn't quite fit for the Decepticons. We pictured Shockwave in his lab, his one eye glowing with menacing genius, creating brutal, highly potent, and twisted weapons for the Decepticon army. Then thought, nope, that's not Engineering, that's Applied Sciences, a much more ambiguously ominous name you’d find within a military industrial complex like the one operated by the Decepticons.

Engineering  Insignia
Applied Sciences Insignia

Engineering VS. Applied Sciences

 

Designing Cybertronian Military Insignias: Considerations and Challenges 

Naming conventions alone were not enough to show how the Autobots and Decepticons would approach military rankings differently, we needed to do so graphically, as well. Not only did we want the Decepticon graphics to look a little more threatening, we also wanted them to look more militarized. Most of the Decepticons originate from the military and defense forces of Cybertron, while the Autobots originate from the labor forces and civilian population. We knew we wanted the iconography to be reflective of that history.

You can see how the negative space within the Decepticon graphics is tighter and the angles are sharper, creating more intricate designs and a sense that you don't want to mess with these guys. The Autobot graphics are blockier with softer edges and angles. This, along with a more open use of the negative space evokes a greater sense of approachability and a certain gritty scrappiness when compared to the Decepticon graphics.

Fun fact: We didn’t initially design the insignias to be specifically Autobot or Decepticon. We started with a bunch of sketches of what Cybertronian military insignias could look like. Then we chose our top 2. From there we decided which felt more Autobot and which felt more Decepticon. Once we determined that, we were able to evolve the designs to emphasize the differences between the two factions.

Early sketches. Here are concept options 7 and 9 that would then become the basis for the Autobot and Decepticon insignias

One of the biggest challenges when designing these was how to symbolically convey through iconography to our human fans what the pieces of these Cybertronian military insignias represent without them looking at all human. Our first tries looked very human. It took some time, but eventually we were able to identify symbols that suggest meaning humans can understand, but look and feel like they were developed on the planet Cybertron by warring alien robot armies. We tried to focus on universal (in the most literal sense of the word) symbols, so things like weaponry and spaceship icons were fair game.


Here are some earlier insignia concepts before they were finalized. Not our human-looking outtakes, but you can see how certain elements changed and evolved before we landed on final designs.

Another challenge was how do we make this system infinite? We needed to establish these pieces of the puzzle in a way that could be built on and expanded as the world expands. A modular system where every piece needed to be interchangeable and our representations of those pieces needed to be easily built upon and adapted.

Look at Rank, for example. The lowest rank is represented by the simplest design, then becomes more complex for higher ranks. Initially, we didn’t have the Specialist rank, it was added after we had already established the system. Because of the modular nature of the system, it was easier to adapt and repurpose graphic elements used in other ranks in a way that would represent the new Specialist rank according to the rules we established.

What it all came down to

Ultimately, every decision we made came down to what felt right. If it felt true to the story, true to the character, true to the tone, true to everything we know about Transformers -- then that's what it had to be. And we loved every minute of it. It was so fun to go in and really geek-out. We hope you enjoyed it, too.