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TRANSFORMERS

Bringing The Transformers To Life
A single Transformer™ is made up of thousands of separate pieces that combine to make a living machine. That is a fair assessment of how Michael Bay put together the film "TRANSFORMERS." The famously meticulous director laid out his grand vision, assembled its many thousand pieces and kept his eye on each and every one of them as he moved through the development process during which the pieces were manipulated by hundreds of technical experts under Bay's masterful command.

Then, once he had his mass-production factory set up just the way he liked it, he proceeded to guide his troops toward creating the ultimate action fun ride — a giddy, transcendental process of blowing things up on an epic scale. When word got out in the CG community that Bay was going to make a live-action epic out of the concept of the early '80s action figures, legions of long-time fans turned FX workers migrated to ILM to be a part of the process. Some, like Scott Benza, the film's animation supervisor ("I'm responsible for a team of animators injecting life into the digital characters in the film”) were Transformers™ fans as preteens when the toy line first hit the shelves. Getting to play with these toys for a living became the realization of his particular kind of "American Dream.”

"As a kid I definitely thought there really wasn't anything cooler than a vehicle that could transform into a robot,” he says. "So, when I heard that Michael Bay was going to be making a movie adaptation of the original property, I definitely wanted to be involved, as did a large group of the animators here at ILM. Many of the animators came to ILM specifically with the goal of working on this feature. So I was happy to see that a lot of them also got to live out their childhood dream to be a part of this project."

And what do these "dream-weavers” actually get to do? There were several different divisions to Bay's army, with the animators coming into play around the middle of the process. First there were phalanxes of conceptual artists who thought up the mechanisms – how these man-made "characters" would look and move. Then there were virtual mechanics who fabricated the machine parts and figured out how those parts would fit together. And then came the animators, the computer-generation "Gepettos" who actually breathed life into them.

"If you want to relate it to real-world terms,” Benza adds, "it's like there's a group of people who build the puppets, and then we are the puppeteers, only in this case it's more of a virtual sense in which all of it happens in the computer. There's nothing tangible to touch. Everyone works through a computer screen; a group of people build it, then we make it move and make the digital characters act.”

From a performance standpoint, how does one deal with the mechanical film stars' facial expressions and make them move believably through the film's intense action sequences? Well, one way was to get into Michael Bay's head and find out who these characters are. Bay communicated his wishes by citing characters or performers from previous movies who embodied characteristics he wanted for his Transformers™ characters, then filtered their personas through his vision of what the original cartoon and the original Transformers™ property dictated. According to Benza, "Michael J. Fox in ‘Back to the Future' was the character Michael modeled around Bumblebee™. Liam Neeson, in several of his movie roles, was a good fit for us to start thinking about Optimus Prime®. And there were a few other examples he gave us that he thought would be a starting point in the development of the characters.”

From that beginning, the animator's job was to consider the laws of physics — mass and weight — in determining how the characters would move. And then, after that, to throw out<

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