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July 13
2017

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

TRANSFORMERS’ VFX LEGACY: Q&A WITH VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR SCOTT FARRAR, ASC

By IAN FAILES

Scott Farrar, ASC, a Visual Effects Supervisor from Industrial Light & Magic, has worked on some of the biggest blockbusters ever released. He won an Oscar® for Best Visual Effects for Cocoon, and has been nominated for an Academy Award five more times.

Farrar has also been the VFX Supervisor on all of Michael Bay’s five Transformers outings, including the most recent entry, The Last Knight. With each new film has come increasingly complex robot animation and transformations, and more explosions, action and general chaos synonymous with the director.

“We were stumbling into the whole thing back then, but were we confident we could make metal look as real as photographic? No! We didn’t even have that as a goal… ”

― Scott Farrar, ASC, Visual Effects Supervisor, Industrial Light & Magic

Here, Farrar explores how the five alien robot adventures have been realized and what he thinks has made them possible from a visual effects perspective over the past 10 years.

Ian Failes: You’ve been involved with five of these pictures now – what do you think has been the main factor in ILM and the visual effects teams being able to pull these huge films off?

Scott Farrar, ASC

Scott Farrar: I think, very importantly, we have had a lot of the same artists and key supervisors on just about all the films. In fact, Dave Fogler – who was in charge of assets, building the models, painting, and putting all the bump maps in there and all that stuff – he became a supervisor on the show. And he’s a guy that started at ILM’s Model Shop [Jason Smith is also one of ILM’s visual effects supervisors on the film]. All of us have gone to school on these shows, learning to be better and better at what we do. I think it’s really all about the craftsmanship and the artistry of what our crews do.

Failes: When you started on the first Transformers film, which came out in 2007, were you confident that you could get metal reflective pieces to look convincing on screen?

Farrar: We were stumbling into the whole thing back then, but were we confident we could make metal look as real as photographic? No! We didn’t even have that as a goal, we were just – you know, the funny thing was, we started with designs that were more boney-like and more an odd-ball, alien style. But we looked at it with Michael and we said, well, they’re all built out of ‘unobtainium.’ When you look at the character, you don’t know what it’s made of, and if you don’t know that it’s a car part then you won’t get it.

Watch a trailer for Transformers: The Last Knight

All of us know what car parts look like, everybody that has cars, and they’ve seen engines, wheels, transmissions and tires, calipers and brakes. So we junked everything and we said, let’s assemble something like 6,000 photos of car parts and get our asset team building the models to use those pieces to build our robots.

In the end, I remember that first close-up where Optimus looks into the Witwicky bedroom, and you get super, super close to the head, and I myself was amazed and thrilled by how good it looked. It looks perfect up close and we were a foot away from this shiny chrome face. I thought, alright, this is very cool.

“We said, let’s assemble something like 6,000 photos of car parts and get our asset team building the models to use those pieces to build our robots.”

― Scott Farrar, ASC, Visual Effects Supervisor, ILM

Failes: What sort of approaches over the years have you had to animating the transformations?

Farrar: Well, there’s this one particular artist that we’ve had to rely upon in every one of these movies. His name’s Keiji Yamaguchi and he’s able to actually perform these machinations and these animations of the transformations that are incredibly technical and challenging. We turn it over to Keiji and a month or two later, he’s got a transformation. It might have to be pushed out further for the shot but that’s where, you know, Industrial Light & Magic – we have a little magic, but we have a lot of brilliant artistry, too, to make that happen.

Director Michael Bay (bottom right) and actor Mark Wahlberg on The Last Knight set.

Optimus Prime and Bumblebee battle it out during a complex fight sequence.

“All of us have gone to school on these shows, learning to be better and better at what we do. I think it’s really all about the craftsmanship and the artistry of what our crews do.”

― Scott Farrar, ASC, Visual Effects Supervisor, ILM

Failes: Since the first film was released, there’s been a lot of development in physically-based rendering and, in particular, ray tracing. Obviously, that suits shiny robots, but how have you taken advantage of that over the last few years?

Farrar: Whenever possible, we do. I mean, it’s very cool when you see Bumblebee and Optimus Prime together and you see them each reflected in the other’s front body surface and so forth. It’s gotten more and more realistic because it is physically real the way all the reflections are occurring.

But that also drives up render time, and we can’t do it for every shot because it depends on the distance. Just like any movie, it’s not just the technical challenge and pulling off great visual stunts, you also have to be realistic. When your render times are through the roof, we have to calculate: when do we really want to show these things off? So we spend time picking which are the hero shots to do the full-blown renders on.

This official behind-the-scenes video showcases the shooting of a water-filled sequence from the film.

It drives up everybody’s abilities, and everybody got better and better at that sort of thing. In this last movie I didn’t worry about it one bit. Will McCoy, who was on set as our data wrangler – every shot he was worried because, you know, we’re on this platform in the middle of a Detroit backlot, and it’s the end of the day, and Mark Wahlberg and Joss Duhamel are sliding all over this thing with water everywhere and lights behind them, and there are lights in the shot and greenscreen sometimes behind them, but most of the time not. But I would say to Will, ‘Don’t worry. We only need to worry about the shots that we end up getting, and by and large we can always solve the problem.’

“Just like any movie, it’s not just the technical challenge and pulling off great visual stunts, you also have to be realistic. When your render times are through the roof, we have to calculate: when do we really want to show these things off? So we spend time picking which are the hero shots to do the full-blown renders on.”

― Scott Farrar, ASC, Visual Effects Supervisor, ILM



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