Giant alien robots start life as sketches

June 26, 2009 By SANDY COHEN , AP Entertainment Writer
In this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, twin robots, Skids, left, and Mudflap are shown in a scene from, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

(AP) -- Giant alien robots don't actually exist. So the dozens featured in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" had to be built from the ground up.

That effort took hundreds of artists, thousands of hours and even caused one computer to explode.

"We lost some machinery," visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar said with a smile. "The thing just kind of gave up."

A high-tech , "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is practically two movies in one. There's the live-action element, which took director Michael Bay and his cast to Egypt, Jordan and New Mexico. Then there's the animated aspect, encompassing all the robots, which were built by artists at Industrial Light & Magic and Bay's visual effects company, Digital Domain.

Computers, and the artists operating them, worked countless hours to craft battle scenes between the giant 'bots, bring menacing Megatron to life and show the ancient pyramids being dismantled by the gargantuan Devastator.

It all started with a few sketches. Before any work on the film began, before the script was even written, Bay hired a team of artists to draw the characters he saw in his head.

"The fun thing about Transformers is it's anything your mind can imagine," he said.

Those images were given to the writers as inspiration, and later to the visual effects creators, who used them as blueprints for the film's biggest characters, said Farrar, a 28-year veteran of ILM.

"It's not unlike a building, where you've got to have a good blueprint and you spend a long time on the foundation," he said. "Then all the sudden, boop, the building goes up."

Of course, it's not quite that simple. First, artists transform each of Bay's 2-D drawings into 3-D digital images. They note the size specifics of each character (for example, Megatron's feet are 15 feet long and seven feet wide) and how they might look behind various lenses.

Before shooting begins, though, Bay and his crew choreograph where the cameras will be, where robots will be, where the actors will be and how they'll all interact with each other. Everything is pre-planned, Farrar said.

Because when filming starts, and star Shia LaBeouf runs through a forest to escape a robot fistfight, he's actually alone.

"There's nothing there," the actor said in an interview. "This time we didn't even have dudes reading lines back. There's literally nothing."

All that's there, Farrar said, are window-washing poles stretched up to 30 feet high. The actors talk to the poles and must react as though giant robots are responding.

"The actors do have to sell it," he said. "It would be a hoot to show what the sequence looks like with the actors talking back and forth but with nothing there other than a couple of sticks and poles."

Maybe on the DVD, he joked.

Meanwhile, artists spend about 12 weeks building each digital robot, then another 12 to 15 weeks rigging up the skeletal structures that hold all the parts together. Next comes the paint and texture. Chrome or brushed aluminum? Copper or glass?

"It's just the same as you building things in the garage by hand, only it's in the computer," Farrar said. "It's no different. All the tasks are the same, and the same disciplines apply."

Once the live-action shots are complete, robot animation begins. All those detailed transformations, which dramatize how the toy Transformers really work, are meticulously built by hand. It can take weeks to design a transformation seen for just seconds on screen.

After animation comes lighting, which lends even more realism to the robots. Then comes the compositor, "the finish carpenter of the whole process," who adds dust, debris, missiles and other details, Farrar said.

More than 350 ILM artists worked on the movie, he said, and they developed new technology to add realism to the robots' design and emotions.

The company said it would take a home computer 16,000 years to replicate their work.


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5 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2009
"Giant alien robots don't actually exist."

I love the way the associated press understands the universe in all its majesty, has confirmed the presence or lack of presence of alien species in all of it, with 100% accuracy, and is confident announcing that to the world.

Whatever happened to thedays when we only made sweeping statements backed by facts?
5 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2009
Well remember back in the days of radio when "War of the Worlds" caused small communities to riot. Disclaimers are there for the people with overactive imaginations that believe in Giant alien robots and choose to contend there existance with no proof -- ahh vika Tae
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2009
Disclaimers are there to acknowledge and legitimize stupidity and ignorance. But as far as "overactive imagination" goes, I don't know if takes more or less of it to believe in a "God", as opposed to a "giant alien robot". The latter is obviously a lot easier to conceptualize. We only have to believe an alien race out there is advanced enough to have built them. Not that much of a stretch really... as opposed to some other concepts...
not rated yet Jun 27, 2009
how is a substance that turns inanimate material into self aware warring species easier to conceptualize than the idea that the universe has consciousness?
1 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2009
how is a substance that turns inanimate material into self aware warring species easier to conceptualize than the idea that the universe has consciousness?

I hope you realize the other posters were not claiming that actual "transformers" created by the "all spark" exist.

The energies of the all spark, while certainly fictional, are not really all the different conceptually from any known energy or interaction, whether factual or theoretical.

Quantum entanglement anyone?

Startrek style replicators and transporters? (ok so this is science fiction, at least for now.)

Anyway, assuming that a star trek style replicator or transporter might one day be possible through quantum entanglement and other processes, then the All Spark transforming a cell phone into a minature Scorpionox is not necessarily a hard stretch. What the "All spark energy" did was basicly this:

1) Replicate a CPU and programming for the Transformer.

2) Replicate a specialized microscopic replicator for the transformer itself, facilitating the transformations, as well as the "ammo" for its weapons.

3) Tie these circuitries into the existing circuitry, or else make those circuits out of the existing circuits.

while this is certainly outlandish by any known existing technology, it is not necessarily impossible to humanity or to some artificial intelligence in the future, assuming quantum computing technology. Is it possible now? No. Is it plausible in the future? PROBABLY NOT, but we cannot really say so for sure. But "Giant intelligent alien robots" could certainly exist, that is, if aliens exist at all. One day, such robots may be created by humanity for one reason or another.


As for the second part of your question, about the universe itself.

The universe does not have consciousness. God is not the universe, and the universe is not God. God is a "Being" and an entity bigger and yet more fundamental than the universe.

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