Computer Graphics World

July/August 2014

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54 cgw j u ly . a u g u s t 2 0 1 4 V I S U A L E F F E C T S tion, put him into a shot, and start the lighting before running the simulations. It we hadn't done everything else fi rst, the simulation would have been a waste of time." For Optimus Prime, the Autobot hero, the big challenge was keeping track of his changes through the fi lm. "We had three diff erent versions of him as he became more and more like a knight," Farrar says. "We had to switch his sleeves, shoulders, and face mask. And, he had three levels of damage. We had a time- line that showed what should be where, but that assumed the shots would stay in place. Some- times they fl ipped around." New to this show were robots made from the element "Transformium," which, the prologue suggests, arrived on Earth centuries earlier, perhaps creating a kind of metallic ice age. Re-discovered in time for the fourth fi lm and employed under the infl uence of a ma- niacal CIA agent, it is used by Actor Stanley Tucci's character to build Autobot-sized robots designed to fi ght the Autobots. That gave these "bad" robots a particular advantage: A er being blown apart, they could reform into their former shape or into any product placement shape needed by the fi lm. It also gave the animators an advantage: The metal on the robots' faces could bend a little to help create an emotional performance. Transformium also aff ected the way in which these new robots transformed into new shapes. The Autobots still fold and unfold into vehicles. Transformium robots break into a moving cloud of small rectangular particles and then reform. ILM artists designed the eff ect. "It took [CG Supervisor] John Hansen's team of six guys a long time to develop," Farrar points out. "It's one thing to do a new visual trick, but this was very technical. We wanted it to act almost like a little animal sometimes. They had to decide how big to make the shapes, how many, the colors. And they had to make it entertaining. To get that con- trol takes a long time." L A Y E R S O F C O M P L E X I T Y Unlike the previous Transformers movies, the biggest asset in this fi lm was a spaceship, not a ro- bot. Production Designer Jeff rey Beecro and his art department team in Los Angeles developed the "Night Ship" concept. "To develop the look inside with long hallways like in a giant warehouse, steam in the back, all the things that give you scale and depth, Michael [Bay] had two people build a 3D model for him," Farrar says. "Once in our hands, though, we had to change things." The huge, complex model was simply too heavy. "Michael would say, 'Move the camera,' and we couldn't," Farrar says. "It would take 45 minutes to load the scene just to see a snapshot. So we had one of our modelers vastly simplify the polygons." Also helping the crew iterate shots faster was new so ware developed for the fi lm. "We increased the size of our render- farm because the show was gargantuan," Farrar says. "But, that wasn't enough. We realized we could have only one or two takes. We need many takes of everything, but we had reached the literal limit of the farm." Animators were already working with lower-resolution characters and the simplifi ed polygons for the "Night Ship," so the next step was to render shots with fewer frames. The solution, called MoFlo, blends shots animated on "fours" – that is, every four frames. "We aren't looking at fi nal frames, but it gives us the illu- sion of true animation without doing a full render," Farrar says. "The in-between frames are a bit blurry, but we can get a good idea of the shots. Otherwise, if we had three robots in a shot, we might not see them for days; it could easily have taken four or fi ve days to render one single background of the "Night Ship" alone. Internal refl ections on the robots, every little high-tech thing you do costs you time in the render. We had engines fi ring and things burning, and Michael constantly compared our CG renders to what's real." D E S T R U C T I O N Although the robots aren't real, the metal they are made of needed to look believable, as did the cities they destroyed. THE TRANSFORMERS IN THIS FEATURE HAD MORE DIALOG THAN IN THE PREVIOUS THREE FILMS, AND THEIR NARRATIVE CARRIED THE MOVIE FORWARD IN SOME SCENES. " ABOUT THIS MOVIE IS DENSE. WE HAD HUNDREDS OF LAYERS MORE THAN THE PREVIOUS FILMS."

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