If you thought all the visual effects magic in Transformers came easy, think twice. "It takes roughly about six months to put a robot together. It's like going into your workshop and making those parts, except it is a computer graphics workshop," shares the visual effects supervisor for the Transformers movies, Scott Farrar, in an interview with Bollywood Hungama.
Scott Farrar joined vfx house Industrial Light & Magic in 1981 as a camera operator on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and went on to Oscar nominations for The Chronicles of Narnia in 2006, Backdraft in 1991 and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence in 2001. The original Transformers was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2008. Excerpts...
What exactly are you doing on the pyramids for Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen?
The foundation of visual effects today really starts with match moving. What does that mean? It means that if we want anything that we create in computer graphics to look like it is on the ground or climbing or moving on surfaces, we do have to measure very carefully all the surrounding terrain because that has to be recreated in the computer. If it doesn't match, the feet will float or what has been created won't touch. So it is ultra specific. It is pretty high end.
Your colleagues are working on the Pyramids, taking exact measurements. What is that for?
Well there are a couple of different things that are happening. For instance we have a little character that walks up the doorstep - that is pretty simple. You can see how high the steps are, all that has to be measured. It is nice and flat, so that is easy. This (on the Pyramid) is more difficult. The stones are uneven and of different sizes because they are worn with weather and time. So we have to photograph from different angles and we have calculations where we can take the photographs and use those to create measurements. For instance...that stone is higher, this stone is lower, that sort of thing. So it is pretty cool because it is very sophisticated at this point. Therefore the shots (created by computer) do not look fake. It really looks like the guys are there.
So at this point there is supposed to be something big climbing the Pyramid?
There is and we do all these measurements - some of them super accurate, based on what the camera sees. The other thing is that we might recreate some of this situation later; we do a lot of photography where we recreate the model of the Pyramid in the computer. So we might cheat a little bit, we might change the shape of some of the blocks. We have to be ready for anything because we have a rough shot design. We know we have down views, helicopter views, views from below; but we don't know what the cut is. And we don't want to start shots with Michael Bay if we don't know what the cut is. Why? If you start a shot that is not going to be in the movie it is very expensive - and we don't want to do that.
What would you use as the stand-in for a Transformer like Optimus Prime?
It is very sophisticated! It is a window washer pole! I believe in low tech for high effect. How it works is like this...if you have robot and I want the actor to look at the robot then you could have a big head (to represent the robot) but those are really heavy. So we just have the pole and the actor uses that to get an eye line. Shia has become very good at this. The actor has to sell the shot, otherwise you don't believe it. So we work very carefully with it. We just use that to help them react. That's what it is all about. We also use them to represent height of the robot so the camera operator can aim at it and judge composition.
Do you ever have faces for the robots?
We do have faces. They are cut-outs that we have blown up from the art work until they are actual size. Some of them are so large that when Michael says he wants so and so, like Megatron, and the wind pulls the face it's terrible; so he'll say, forget the face. So the pole works just fine.