ILM VFX SUPERVISOR SCOTT FARRAR on
'TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
June 19, 2009
Following up on the huge success of 2007's Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen thrusts audiences into the heart of robot-smashing carnage. In this second installment of the franchise, the heroic Autobots and their valiant leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) answer the call to protect earth from destruction at the hands of the malicious Decepticons and an ancient, evil known ominously as The Fallen. Caught once more in the middle of this alien war is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), despite his best efforts to lead a normal life as a newly enrolled college freshman and build his relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).
In this interview, Scott Farrar, visual effects supervisor from movie magic house ILM, talks about some of the technical eye candy that went into the making of this blockbuster sequel.
MEDIA: What were some of the special effects challenges that made Revenge of the Fallen more complicated than the first live-action Transformers film?
SCOTT: I think the main beats for us were there were about 40-odd-plus new characters, and part of the film was going to be in IMAX, which means higher resolution, bigger movie, more render space on our farm to do the shots, higher complexity on every level. I've been telling folks that the simulation of Devastator on top of the pyramid with all the blocks being thrown down is the largest simulation we've ever done at our company. And we're trying to hit new levels of realism in every single thing we do, whether it's the render of the robot or the physical environment that they're reacting with. And so it's just like upping the game on every level. So it was a pretty complicated show.
How many moving parts are there on a typical Transformer?
It's up in the thousands. And what I want you to know is every shot is dressed to camera. So we have a lot of moving parts and a lot of pieces that are all finished off. But every single time that we set up a new camera position and the camera swirls around to the back [and] there are some pieces that are unfinished, we have to re-paint them and get them so they can be animated. But Optimus Prime was made out of 10,000 pieces, while Devastator is about eight times that. And they only move if we need them to move. So it's a logarithmic jump to try and get all those pieces to move. And it's all up the animators, frankly, to lay down the movement first. We tried to free it up to be creative.
Do all those moving parts remain intact when a character transforms, or do they just quickly "morph" into whatever shape is required?
If the camera were on the back side, there might be some things that are flying around a little bit--a little bit more free form. But essentially, the movement is correct. And all this has to be sort of bought off by the Hasbro people, because we want to have the essential shape of the transformation fit to what the toy will do.
Is it particularly challenging to place the characters in an underwater environment?
It is. You know, we were on land and sea and air in this film. Every environment is a challenge. Underwater...Well, it gets a little bit into the software stuff. We had a person come up with an underwater look. It's an underwater plug-in. [laughs] And what that means is it's all about light. Everything that we do in our world is all about the light. It's not just building the robot, but it's how it co-mingles with all the light sources. It might be ambient...If they're really deep in the water, how much light do we give them? How much internal lighting should they have? It's all those questions that are very artsy. And then you just keeping working on it and working on it. We had a lot of deep sea, underwater research photos that we looked it, and we sort of gleaned from that. How clear do we want to be? How much plankton and "spinachi" we called it floating in front of the camera do we want? All these little tricks to try and make you believe you're really underwater we have to employ. And it was challenging, yeah.