Scott Farrar has worked at George Lucas’s special effects company ILM since1981, when he joined as a camera operator on Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, and was promoted to his current title Visual Effects Supervisor in 1987 for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Cocoon and has been nominated for many more Oscars, including The Chronicles of Narnia and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. But his stint as visual effects supervisor on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen could be his most challenging job to date.
What makes this sequel even bigger than the original?
I think the main beat for us were there were 40-plus new characters and part of the film was going to be in IMAX, which means higher resolution, bigger movie, more rendered 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. 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, it’s just like upping the game on every level. So it was a pretty complicated shot. (There was so much information in the Devastator shot the computer exploded). We lost some machinery that night. Little puffs of smoke, just like in a movie.
How many moving parts does the Transformer toys have compared with how many moving parts to these characters? And is there a natural flow from the car to the final robot if we slowed the film down?
The number of parts used is up into 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 up. But every single time that we set up a new camera position the camera swirls around to the back, and we say, ‘Darn it, there’s some pieces that are unfinished, we have to repaint them and get them so they can be animated.’ Optimus Prime was made out of 10,000 pieces, while Devastator is about 8 times that, and they only move if we need them to move. And it’s all up to the animators frankly to lay down the movement first, we try to free it up to be creative.
But if you slowed it down, could you tell that the fender becomes his left cheek?
Yeah, you can. If the camera were on the back side there might be some things that are flying around a little bit, but essentially the movement is correct and all this has to be bought off also by the Hasbro people, because we want to have the essential shape of the transformation fit to what the toy will do.
Can you talk a little about shooting the sequence with the robots under water – was that the most challenging CGI do to?
It was. We were on land, sea and air in this film, every environment is a challenge. Underwater, 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, 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. 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 keep working on it and working on it. We had a lot of deep sea underwater research photos that we looked at and we sort of gleaned from that how clear do we want to be, how much plankton do we want, all these little tricks to try and make you believe you’re really underwater. And it was challenging.