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The original G1 Soundwave changed from a cassette deck (don't know what it is? Ask your parents!) to a robot that was the same size as robots that changed into cars. Similarly, Megatron changed into a gun that could be held by humans.

And other robots, all of similar sizes, changed into objects of different sizes: cassettes, cars, trucks and huge jets. (One Autobot triple changer, Broadside, changed from an aircraft to an aircraft carrier!)

Was this impossible feat ever explained? Or was it hand-wavey magic, like the Hulk?

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Although there wasn't even an acknowledgement of changes in size in the animated shows (i.e. that's just how things were), there have been a few explanations within comics. The ones listed and described by the Teletraan I Transformers Wiki are as follows:

  • Parts compression (from Dreamwave comics): The notion that the Transformers in question, such as Astrotrain and Broadside, had many dense layers of armor in robot mode, which then slid out, expanding to create a much larger, but less-strongly-armored vehicle mode. Fans have referred to this as the "origami Transformers" explanation, and it appeared in the More Than Meets The Eye encyclopedia.

  • Mass conversion (from Dreamwave comics): This method put it that Transformers like Soundwave were intrinsically endowed with the ability to transform not simply their bodies, but their entire molecular structure. This ability, not under their conscious control, only activates when they transform, shifting their atoms according to a pre-determined schematic.

  • Megatron employs a mass-displacement sequence in IDW's Escalation, physically discarding a portion of his bodily mass to allow himself to shrink to a human-scaled pistol of appropriate weight and density. What with E equalling mc², the loss of this amount of mass (shunted to an undisclosed location in space and time) results in a volatile energy discharge, requiring bystanders to step away lest they be injured by the forces released - not that Megatron would care.

    Due to the energy shortage (and seeming near-total depletion of Transformers' primary fuel source, Energon) caused by their war, mass displacement hasn't been commonplace for a very long time. Since it requires a huge amount of energy, the technology had practically vanished until the discovery of Ore-13 on Earth.

One popular fanon explanation is subspace. The idea that Transformers can store equipment or portions of their body in an extradimensional space has been used to explain, among other things, Optimus Prime's magic trailer.

  • 1
    Great answer! I used to collect the Transformers comics but after they started adding more and more types of Transformers, I gave up in mid 2003. It's good to see they tried to address the size, mass and energy issues in a reasonable fashion. – Thaddeus Howze Jan 4 '12 at 21:20
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    @ThaddeusHowze: I got lucky. I just happened to be looking this stuff up a couple of days ago, so I knew exactly where to find the answer. ;) – gnovice Jan 4 '12 at 21:23
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    Working from memory sucks. I have set my daughter's room up as my library, but my comic collect is so damn huge, I simply can't have it and my books in the house. My wife is threatening to go through my books and cull them. Now that I am a full-time writer, I appreciate how much effort it takes to keep stories, their technology, their continuity running smoothly. I admire writers who can do it. So many things to keep up with and you still have to maintain your real life. – Thaddeus Howze Jan 4 '12 at 21:29
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    The whole subspace thing there makes me think of the movie version of Ultraviolet, where she stores weapons and ammo in some sort of dimensional folding technology or something. – eidylon Jan 4 '12 at 21:55
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    The mass-displacement idea just doesn't work. Some people have no idea just how big C squared is. To give a basic idea, an atomic bomb produces megatons of energy-release by converting a few grams or less of mass into energy. A few tons worth of conversion reaction would probably be enough to crack the Earth open like an egg. – Mason Wheeler Jan 5 '12 at 1:03
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Unfortunately, in many comics and cartoons of the 80's and in the case of the Hulk (and Ant-man, Giant Man, Yellow-jacket, Hank Pym, also of Marvel fame) even longer, the relationships between size and mass has always been a bit hand-wavy. Characters are often seen changing size, growing incredibly large (or small) without ever asking (or explaining) where all of that mass is being stored between transformations.

Megatron and Soundwave were two of the most noticeable users of "mass displacement" from the first generation Transformers. Megatron became a handheld weapon that was able to be used by humans, Soundwave would become a cassette that could be played in a standard human tape deck, without adding any of his supposedly considerable mass adding any weight to the device.

So you are forced to assume one of two things:

  1. When they changed size, they moved their mass (in an unexplained fashion) outside of the current universe or transformed it into a mass-less form (perhaps dark matter) while retaining all of their functionality and intelligence
  2. They compressed their atomic structures but were somehow able to render that mass inertial-less, so it would appear to any human interacting with them as if they had no more mass than would be expected from a device of that size.

This does not explain those Transformers who grew considerably larger in their transformed state or the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Optimus Prime's cab section during his transformation from truck to robot...


In the 2003 short run comic release of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, an attempt was made to explain the "mass displacement" technology as one of the many technological advancements of the Cybertronians. They created a substance called Ore-13 that was partially responsible for the transformation. Little other explanation was given and Ore-13 was presumed to be relatively rare, so few of the Autobots/Decepticons possessed the ability.

  • Great answer, and we've discussed Optimus Prime here as well! – Reinstate Monica Jan 4 '12 at 20:57
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    Slight correct, Soundwave was a cassette deck. It was Ravage, Razorbeak, and the like that were the cassettes. – user12183 May 1 '14 at 2:43

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