Transformers: Dark of the Moon Blu-ray Preview - How Visual Effects Were Created

Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar explains how he takes the ideas from the comics and the imagination of director Michael Bay and brings them to life on the screen.

To celebrate the release of Transformers 3 on DVD and Blu-ray Triple Play on Monday, November 28, Scott Farrar ASC Visual Effects Supervisor, talks about how he takes the ideas from the comics and the imagination of director Michael Bay and brings them to life on the screen. Having been the Visual Effects Supervisor on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Minority Report and Jurassic Park, he is the foremost Visual Effects guy in the business, and the perfect man to bring Optimus and the rest of the Autobots to life. 4 years after the release of the original Transformers movie, 6 years after production started on the project, the Transformers films are rounded off with bigger battles and more destruction, but how do they take the physical issues of not having a 30ft talking robot to film and put them on the screen? Bigger projects, means more work for the Visual Effects team and boy do they mean bigger in this film. As Scott explains, he has been working on the third instalment almost from the moment that the second film hit our screens. €œWe are almost first in and last out when it comes to the movie€ as they get involved almost from the first draft of the script, helping with the breakdown of the script, discussing how many visual effects shots involved in the film, which then affects the budget, due to the cost of doing these visual effects. But this time means that all these characters new and old can be brought to life on the screen. It€™s only when Scott goes into greater depth of how you create a transformer do you realise the effort taken to bring these ideas to life. €œEach €˜Character€™ takes 15 weeks to create€ which you don€™t take in, until he explains the scale of the effort. That creation time is just to create the character, not to create the movement or interaction; it€™s just to design the character. Each individual piece of every transformer has 15 layers of data, to help give the piece depth, texture, colour, rust, dirt etc. Again that doesn€™t sound too bad until he hits us with the facts. After the skeletal structure of the transformer is created, the numbers become unbelievable, Optimus Prime has 10,108 pieces attached to his skeleton, that€™s over 150,000 levels of data just for Optimus. The second instalment of this franchise brought forth the Devastator transformer, made up from the 6 constructicons if you are an old comic book fan (which I am); if you aren€™t then it€™s the massive transformer that started to eat a pyramid. If the numbers of Optimus blew you away then these numbers are phenomenal. As it contains 6 component assets (the six vehicles used to create the giant transformer) then it makes Optimus€™s 10,000 parts seem small as it contains 52,632 parts, each with 15 levels of data, which then translates into nearly 800,000 pieces of data for this transformer. Obviously each version of the film has demanded bigger and better transformers, Transformers in 2007 had 12 robots, with 460 shots requiring visual effects, Transformers 2 had 34 new robots, had 550 shots requiring visual effects and had the added bonus of being filmed for IMAX which has a film frame 8 times larger than normal films. So when it comes to the third, Michael Bay wanted to create the ultimate €œsummertime popcorn movie for the audience€ and so 24 new robots were created, but with the added challenge of filming in 3D. So new robots come to the fore, the biggest of those is Colossus. The building eating Decepticon was discussed in pre production and became the intimidating centre piece of the final Decepticon/Autobot/Human battle, But what work is involved with creating this beast of a transformer. As Scott nonchalantly states, it is €œthe largest asset that CGI has EVER built, so large in fact it was close to shutting our computer system down€. This transformer is two and a half times bigger than the Devastator transformer from Transformers 2 and its 16 assets (Head, Body, Tail, Legs x3, Arms x5, Grabber, Arm extensions, and Guts) are formed from 86,823 pieces of geometry and is 68 miles from head to tail. Those mind blowing numbers mean that the CGI artists need to create 1.3 million pieces of data to create this monster, which then needed to be animated into movement. But all this effort on the computer isn€™t the only contribution to filming that Scott takes part in. Six weeks before principle filming starts, Scott films every inch of the area€™s being used for the filming of the destruction of Chicago, as well as hundreds, maybe even thousands of still images, to help with the animation of Chicago, including getting Chicago to open all their bridges (not done for over ten years prior to the filming) and then flying a helicopter down the route that the Tomahawk Cruise Missiles fly in the movie. A feat that even impresses him €œit€™s cool some of the things that you do in the movies€. He also advises on set, as he said €œMichael likes to film organically, not really explaining the shots to a lot of people, so I go along and explain the shot that is being filmed so that the cameraman understands what I need€. This will also include cheat sheets explaining how high each transformer is so that the prop people can get the prop head at the right height so that the actors look in the right place. It is these little facts, like the creation of the face of Sentinel Prime, which makes the film so unique, as Scott states €œIt€™s not about the whole musculature area of the face, it€™s the little nuanced gliding parts....there are 100€™s of pieces of metal moving€ and so, as in Scott€™s words, €œMichael is notoriously slow in selecting his actors for voices€ they pitched idea€™s for principle character€™s and so they pitched Sentinel Prime as Sean Connery, as the picture below highlights. Unfortunately Michael went for the talents of Leonard Nimoy for the role, but as they have similar facial structure there wasn€™t much of a change involved. With the hundreds of dedicated hours of work, from a work force that totalled over 350 towards the end of the project, the people of Industrial Light and Magic have created a whole new world of images which, in some cases, have expanded the world of film making. He is very appreciative of the film makers on Michael Bay€™s team, who filmed all the live action stuff, which is why he filmed a lot of the behind the scenes footage to show the effort, and the equipment involved with making the film come to life, as all the building, and car explosions are real, they just replaced some items for robots. Ultimately this is a story of the artists, without them and the millions of man hours, dedicated to the telling of this story, and then the time and effort of the others is wasted. As he said on this release event, the dirt on the transformers is because it would look fake if it was all shiny metal, which is why Bumblebee looks rusty and dirty as a robot, but all shiny as a car, but that dirt needs to be programmed into a computer, layer by layer and so it€™s that effort that creates the realism. He finished by quoting a couple heard talking near the set in Chicago, where the man turns to his wife and asks where the robots where €œnot one single robot, where are they?€, the wife listened intently as the man prophesied €œoh well...maybe they€™ll be there tomorrow€. We couldn€™t leave without asking him which was his favourite transformer, and there€™s no surprises really as he features the most in all three films, it€™s Bumblebee, and why......because €œhe€™s the guy who taught us how to do this movie.........to try and show emotion on the face of a character who does not speak, it€™s just like silent hero comedy, or tragedy. So the window of the soul is through the eyes and that€™s absolutely true even in a robot€. The DVD and Blu-ray are released on Monday November 28th with no special features, which is a shame, as this talk alone would be worth the cost of the product alone. But go out and enjoy.
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