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ILM Gives Their Take on Transformers!

Published June 21, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Paramount.
Transformers Poster Transformers
We've seen national monuments blow up, animals speak and every unfathomable superhero come to life with the help of computer generated imagery. Nowadays, hack filmmakers try to turn in sloppy work and it doesn't pass muster. But when ILM brought all our favorite Transformers toys to life, it still wowed us. The film's visual effects supervisor, Scott Farrar, shared how he made the Autobots and Decepticons the real deal.

Transformers Effects with Scott Farrar


"I come from a photographic background," said Farrar. "I started as a DP, visual effects photographer. It's been a tough crossover going from photochemical days where you photograph either shots on set or you shot miniatures or you shot real elements and you composited them. Okay, now we enter the world of computer graphics. What is that? Well, it's a compositing tool, put the thing together, but it's also a method of creating all kinds of things, simulations, dirt, debris, objects, what have you. But a lot of the stuff has not quite looked as good as what you could just go out and photograph. So the attempt in this movie was to ratchet up a little bit higher, hit a little bit higher watermark of making, in this case, hard body surfaces look real. I was kind of surprised it really hadn't been done before, especially like a giant robot movie kind of lends itself to that kind of a thing."

Luckily, Michael Bay still shoots a lot of practical footage, so Farrar had that to work with. But making a car turn into a robot was a purely digital assignment. "It's actually physical pieces moving. This all is very complex. This toy [the original Optimus Prime action figure] has 51 pieces. Our Optimus Prime in the movie has 10,108. So what you're talking about, and all that has to be chained. Chained means it's all got to be hooked together so it all travels along together as it moves, whether it's an arm move or a body movement or a transformation. That means it's complex, yes, of course. There's a lot of firepower that has to be in the computers to have all that information travel on, not only the pieces but all the information. The paint, the detail, the colors, the dirt, all the things that are textured onto it."



Yet Transformers isn't pure animation. There are a few moments where practical models were able to achieve the illusion. "I'll tell you the times when it was a puppet. Soundbite in Air Force One when he's close up, a couple of little head turns and things like that. When he's walking and prancing and all that sort of thing, that's us. A couple shots where they had a Soundbite puppet attached to Shia when he was struggling in the parking lot, but that's like quick stuff. Bumblebee when he's tied down to the train car with the net over him, that's a 16 foot model built by John Frasier's group. KNB built the Soundbite model by the way. The Scorpinoc tail rising up when the guys are examining him, that was a puppet piece. The Bumblebee model then was used for a couple of shots when the helicopters are trying to hogtie him and he's next to the river. What was that, 12 shots out of 600?"

Transformers opens to theatres on July 2nd.

For the trailers, clips, posters, more pics and movie info, go to the Transformers Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Paramount.
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