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July 2017

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Page 20 of 43 19 POST JULY 2017 ptimus Prime has gone rogue and all-out war has broken out between humans and Transformers. To save Earth, the heroes of Transformers: The Last Knight have to learn the secrets of the transformers' secret history, fighting alongside chainmail-clad knights of the old world to maintain order in an effort that's lasted centuries. It's the latest in the long-running franchise about the Hasbro toy line that's 10 years old this year, has earned over $3.7 billion at the global box office (with no signs of slowing down) and with two more films already earning the green light to move forward. Along with the action, the VFX requirements have only grown bigger, and wrangling the network of third-party providers to design, program and bring it all together makes defeating invading alien robot armies seem like a breeze in comparison. Industry titan Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) served as the central VFX hub, completing about 1,100 shots itself and farming further work out to other providers. As ILM's VFX supervisor David Fogler explains, it's the way the company most likes to work. "It's a luxury to be able to absorb an entire show. Ten years ago, we gathered 10 artists in a room and started to put a show together. Now these shows need hundreds and hundreds and hun- dreds of artists at multiple facilities. Processes that we found daunting a while ago, we're good at now." As the primary VFX vendor, ILM has fingerprints in almost every scene. It works with vendors who specialize in certain areas, such as water or crowds, but depending on the workload, the company will keep a lot in house and, as Fogler puts it, do, "ab- solutely everything under the sun." To do that, ILM uses a raft of digital tools. On Transformers: The Last Knight, Fogler and his team used Maya, Mari for texturing, Quintana products for lighting and what he says is a fair amount of Houdini effects. THE NETWORK EFFECT Fogler says he spends less time thinking about software than ever these days, and for good rea- son. One such vendor that brought Transformers: The Last Knight to life was London's The Moving Picture Company (MPC). Working primarily on the submarine and underwater scenes, as well as a drone battle in an abandoned town, MPC contributed around 350 shots — 250 of which are in the final cut, and MPC VFX supervisor Sheldon Stopsack says the modern industry calls for a cer- tain amount of standardization among networks of companies, tools and data. "You have more of a chance of an artist pool where people are familiar with the technology they're using to some extent," he says. "Obviously, you've also got to share more data, and when we shared stuff with ILM it was easy by comparison to what it would have been a couple years back." Both Fogler and Stopsack confirm that such standardization means a lot of front-end work that goes into data pipeline and collaboration de- sign — everything from sharing assets to technol- ogies used to present clips to the director — but there's always a new spanner in the works. On The Last Knight, it was the first time a Transformers movie had been shot natively in 3D. To Fogler, it's just another format to absorb into the fold. "The number of formats that came in was approaching 10 or 15," he says. "That happens more and more. People are practically shooting a shot on their iPhone and hoping to put it in their movie, so we have folks who ingest this stuff and try to keep it invisible and under the hood. By the time it makes it to animation and rendering, it's all been conformed and ready to go." READY FOR ANYTHING Having the data wrangling and working process baselines smoothed out and ready to produce work is essential because VFX teams have to be ready for every new challenge. For ILM, that came in the form of Cogman, Sir Edmund Burton's (Anthony Hopkins') acerbic Transformer butler. "It was the first time in a Transformers movie we had a character that functioned at a human level," Fogler says to describe the clockwork-driven CGI character. "He was a joy, his design is fabulous and remarkably complex. I'm quite proud of him." Cogman is also a good example of taking what you know from experience and running with it. "I've worked on all five films and when you start these shows you really don't know what you're doing. But we've been working on robots now for 12 years or so and Cogman is every single thing we've ever developed for making robots at ILM." As Fogler explains, details exist about Cogman that are barely noticeable on screen, but which combine to make him seem all the more real. His internal parts are all functioning, moving gears and clockwork, all built from scratch in the character rigs. Even his brass body — based on medieval armor — is covered with acid etching. Which raises another question. Michael Bay is famously hands on, but he can't be around to supervise the design of every gear in Cogman's in- nards or every fusing together of the parts of planet Cybertron as it crashes to Earth. Exactly how is the authorial vision maintained through so many people with their own tastes and preferences? MPC's Stopsack says it was easier than you'd think because of how present Bay himself was through the process. He had so much to do, it gave him less time with MPC, but what time he had to O SUMMER MOVIES ILM was the lead VFX vendor on Transformers. The all CGI Cogman is a new character to the franchise.

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