Michael Bay & James Cameron Talk 3D Over 'Transformers 3' Footage
by Jay West
May 20, 2011
On Wednesday this week, I attended a special preview at Paramount Studios in Hollywood of one of this summer's most anticipated blockbusters: Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (which was moved up to June 29th), where select scenes and sequences were showcased from this third installment in the live action Transformer movie saga -- the first ever 3D movie venture for Hasbro and Paramount's Transformers franchise. Not only that, but director Michael Bay was on hand to talk about the footage and was joined by none other than James Cameron for a discussion on all things 3D and giant effin' robots.
A quick bit about me and Transformer history: I've followed and enjoyed "The Transformers" ever since I was a kid -- starting with the first animated television series debut and morphing toys in 1984 -- and the 1986 theatrical Transformers movie (which birthed the iconic rock theme song for nerds everywhere: "The Touch" by Stan Bush) remains a favorite film of mine. The Transformers have evolved with thousands of toys and a number of different Transformer television series over the years -- with variants in style and content of characters and storylines -- even inspiring a Star Wars line of toys of transformable key characters from that film saga into spaceships and the like -- the Darth Vader Transformer morphing into the Death Star being particularly note worthy.
Action adventure blockbuster film director Michael Bay ultimately delved into the world of the Transformers with his 2007 live-action movie -- which took in $700 million worldwide, proving the appetite for Transformers was indeed as strong as ever. This live action endeavor pleased the majority of fans and filmgoers -- who then anxiously awaited a sequel, which inevitably soon followed in 2009 with Revenge of the Fallen, and had an even greater box office take of $836 million worldwide. While the movie series continued with its fiscal success, many who saw the second film acknowledged that the storyline was hackneyed and ultimately a train-wreck -- with Bay himself going on to say the story had suffered due to an impending writer strike at the time.
Now in 2011, we are about to receive the third Transformers film by Bay, which hits theaters everywhere on June 29th in 3D. Wednesday night's event at Paramount served as a precursor of things to come from it -- showcasing 15 minutes of the movie in 3D, along with a new 3D trailer for the film, which will debut in front of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides this weekend.
While no video or audio recording was allowed at the special preview presentation, I took notes so as to share some of the evening's highlights with you.
At the event, Cameron spoke of encouraging Bay in his endeavor to shoot this third Transformers movie in 3D -- a point which came with some ribbing by Hollywood Reporter's Jay Fernandez, who MC'd their discussion. Fernandez said he had some video footage to show Bay discussing his thoughts about shooting in 3D via a ShoWest 2009 footage reel -- which when shown, showed Bay referring to 3D as a "gimmick" -- there was an outburst of laughter from the audience in the Paramount Theatre with this -- which Bay took in stride with a wide smile.
Cameron, who first met Bay on the set of Titanic when he visited, said that he contacted Bay once he heard that he'd decided to make the leap into 3D with the third Transformers. "All films benefit from 3D in varying degrees" Cameron said, and he thought 3D was ideal for Bay's style of shooting wide, scope shots -- though Bay, citing he likes to shoot fast with many quick set-ups, ideally wanted a 3D camera that was highly portable and handheld as well. While he was able to utilize much of the same type of technology Cameron had used while shooting Avatar -- Bay said that working with the 3D cameras was still a huge challenge due to their size and weight (Cameron followed this saying that highly portable, professional hand held 3D cameras will be made available in September this year). Bay said that some of this difficulty was offset by using the same 3D crew that Cameron had used on Avatar -- which he had high praise for -- though Bay jovially relayed that his director of photography, Amir M. Mokri, often openly cursed about the challenges created by shooting in 3D while on set!
Bay also reflected on shooting 3D on the first day of Transformers 3 -- which he said was "wonderful", and woke up the next morning "loving it" -- only to be told that the entire first day's shoot of Transformers 3 was lost due to a crashed hard drive! Still, Bay said he indeed wound up "loving it" (the 3D) -- and liked the depth it provided, even on more intimate, emotional scenes -- one of which being with the Transformer Bumblebee leaning down and forward into a scene, looking at Shia LeBeouf's Sam Witwicky character (a scene which is featured in the new trailer). Bay mentioned that, while his action sequences are often fast and with quick cuts, he was able to adapt well with 3D in providing longer scenes with scope -- and then "dial back" utilizing the 3D effect less when scenes with rapid cuts occurred.
Cameron said that he's seen the entire Transformers 3 movie a few times now -- and very much likes the depth and "aggressive use" of the 3D in it (some sequences still needed completed 3D).
Bay also spoke about the skydiving team seen in the Transformer 3 trailers skydiving through Chicago's cityscape -- how he'd come across a video of them on the internet cliff jumping with parachutes -- and then immediately wrote a sequence into the film utilizing them, and told his production team to get them into his office at once! Both Bay and Cameron also mentioned that when writing action sequences, they play loud music as a tool to create their writing.
Bay spoke too about the budgetary impact of 3D on a film -- saying that shooting in 3D adds about $30 million to the budget: with the 3D cameras, special 3D techs and their labor, and the visual effects: the VFX artists have about 1/3 more work to create by matching two eye perspectives -- ultimately punctuating this by saying: "It's not easy to shoot in 3D". Bay also shot different 3D set-up tests with the actors for various scenes and tested how quickly he could change the lenses.
Bay said for the 3D in Transformers 3 -- 60% of it was shot native (in camera on set), 15% all digital, with the rest being conversion shots. Bay also referred to his dislike of movies being post converted into 3D, calling them "bullshit 3D", and believes that may be turning the audience off from 3D. Cameron followed this by saying: "It's a danger for the business. We've found a way to get persons back into the theaters, but it's being abused left and right. Studios are trying to wedge it (3D) into post-production as if it was a sound mix -- it's not (the same)." Cameron likened our current status of 3D in movies to that of a 1905 automobile -- saying we're just getting started with its cinematic possibilities: "The most exciting aspect of 3D is to blow persons minds". Bay then added: "3D is a new toy. I had fun on the set (of T3) shooting 3D. A lot of imagining can go on (with it)."
Now regarding the footage shown -- one word: epic.
While I want to keep this as spoiler free as possible -- I'll reference a few scenes to give you an idea of the nature and scope of what was shown:
There's footage of the opening credits of the film set over a space backdrop, then the camera begins to pan to reveal the home planet of the Transformers: Cybertron -- where an intense battle is occurring between the autobots and deceptions, as Optimus Prime -- voiced by the actor who has played him from the very beginning, Peter Cullen -- begins to narrate the story. The 3D here is stunning, multi-dimensional and incredibly effective. There's also a trench battle which ensues, much like that of the end of the original Star Wars movie when Luke is attempting to blow up the Death Star, as well as like in Return of the Jedi when the rebels are flying in and around the surface and construction areas of the second Death Star.
There's also a fantastic sequence of Bumblebee in vehicle form, with Sam (LeBeouf) aboard, engaged in battle with the Decepticons on Earth. Bumblebee is struck at one point and reverts to his robot form -- with both he and Sam reeling forward towards the audience in a fantastic 3D moment. Bumblebee reaches out for Sam just in time and pulls him back to him, and reverts to his vehicle form.
The sequence with the skydivers is also incredibly immersive in 3D -- as we're soaring in and around the Chicago skyline following them. Even the faux lens flares that occur throughout the footage deserve special mention as they looked great in 3D!
I spoke with Bay briefly after the presentation regarding the challenges he faced shooting Transformers 3.
Bay: "It's all big -- it's all complicated" -- and then cited one particularly daunting aspect of the production: "We built this gigantic building (set) off the floor (the interior of the skyscraper being demolished by the huge, snake-like Decepticon seen in the movie's trailer) -- I'd say it's about four times the size of this room (the large reception area/lobby of the Paramount Theatre -- which is roughly 5,000 square feet) -- and we had to put it on a large gimbal. Now, at 25 degrees -- and there's an app on the iPhone (for it!) -- at 25 degrees, it's really hard to walk -- and at 26 degrees, if you slip on something, you've lost it. So we're on set, and it's like at 26 and 27 degrees, trying to work, and it (the floor) would move and lower -- and we had to have actors, furniture, large 3D cameras on -- that was very difficult. It's so funny… we also had an engineer to design it to withstand a California earthquake as well!"
We then spoke about the 3D imagery in the footage shown, which I complemented him on as it truly was striking, with excellent depth and dimension, and almost seemed to have shapes with some items -- Bay said that the best was yet to come: "Some of our best 3D footage was not in there (the footage shown) -- because I don't want to give away the movie… the effects are just now finally coming in… 3D is the last step -- and they've got about two and a half more weeks to get them in!"
And here's some news that's bound to please many die-hard Transformer fans: I've also been told to be on the lookout for some serious Soundwave and Laserbeak action in the film! Soundwave has a much more prominent and active role as opposed to the mere dormant satellite form he appeared as in the second Transformer movie.
Video clips of Bay's and Cameron's 3D discussion should be made available by Paramount within the next few days, with the full discussion being made available online by next Wednesday -- so be on the look out!
Update: A full 1080P 3-minute preview video of the talk has been embedded directly above courtesy of the official website MichaelBay.com. Stay tuned to that blog for the full version of the talk as well.