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Credit: Paramount Pictures

Watch: Meet Bumblebee director Travis Knight, who kicks off the post-Michael Bay era

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Jun 13, 2018, 11:16 AM EDT

After five previous films, the Transformers franchise has a new director at the helm.

His name is Travis Knight, and he was best known before this as the lead animator and president/CEO of Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation company behind the features Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which Knight also directed.

Now he's moving into live-action filmmaking for the first time as the director of Bumblebee, the first spinoff from the Transformers series that has until now seen all its entries directed by Michael Bay.

The films that Knight has produced at Laika, while sometimes scary and often sophisticated, are still family films at their core, and in a new featurette posted below, Knight explains how he wants to bring the Laika touch to Bumblebee's story:

"At Laika, we try to find an artful balance of darkness and light, and intensity and warmth, and humor and heart. The idea of being able to bring that kind of philosophy to Bumblebee was really exciting."

He also describes the movie as a "Spielbergian coming-of-age" story, which is quite a different tone from the pulverizing destruction porn of Bay's five productions.

The movie — which takes place 20 years before Bay's first Transformers film, in 1987 — finds the title Autobot hiding in a small California beach town, where he is befriended by a teenage girl named Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). But "Bee" and Charlie are soon hunted by a government agency led by Agent Burns (John Cena), as they also learn that there may be other Transformers on Earth.

Bumblebee's recently released first official trailer is definitely shooting for that Spielberg magic, while aspects of the plot seem to directly channel E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Knight, for his part, has certainly overseen and/or directed some beautiful, imaginative, and emotional work at Laika. We'll find out if he can accomplish the same thing in the live-action space when Bumblebee opens December 21.