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How Have Special Effects Evolved Since the First TRANSFORMERS Movie?

transformers__age_of_extinction__2014____poster_by_camw1n-d7i1moaParamount Pictures and Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has done incredibly well at the box office. The first three films raked in a combined total of $1.07 billion worldwide. So, what can this success be attributed to?  The storyline, directing and acting can only go so far. What really sells these films to fans are the sophisticated level of special effects. Seeing their favorite Autobot or Decepticon in action loans itself to any conversation about the films. So, how have the special effects evolved since the first Transformers film was released in 2007? 

For the first “Transformers” movie, the effects proved to be especially challenging. When ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) began working on Michael Bay’s Transformers, the VFX crew thought they would be modeling three or four hero robots that might do 14 transformations. One year later, the team had assembled 60,217 vehicle parts and over 12.5 million polygons into 14 awesome automatons that smash each other, flip cars in the air, and crash into buildings. 

You can see how Optimus Prime fits into the physical limits of the semi-truck.
You can see how Optimus Prime fits into the physical limits of the semi-truck.

As a goal for any filmmaker, it is of paramount importance to connect the audience to the film. In the case of Transformers, this is done through digital effects or digital arts. When creating these effects, it is generally done by pre-building a creature, film it with a stand-in on set, then animate it to react to actors in postproduction. However, ILM designed a backwards interface, moving the beginning of CGI production out of the hands of the creature development team and onto the desktops of the animators. By allowing animators to get the first crack at rigging control — the way a computer-generated character is built, the way it walks and rotates — ILM’s IT team could develop software for custom transformations designed on the fly that might satisfy Bay’s notorious flying camera angles. Click a button here, and a flatbed’s brake light can pivot into an Optimus Prime punch. Set a control function there, and an alien jetfighter wing can cock into a Megatron claw for any of a half-dozen different scenes. 

The Bumblebee Stand-In
The Bumblebee Stand-In

To add tire treads, dirt, scratches, color and other textures, painters applied 34,215 texture maps to the parts. Animators and character developers transformed the robots 48 times, moving digital headlights, bumpers, engines, tailpipes, doors, gaskets, bolts, tires, and other pieces to and from CG jets, cars, helicopters, trucks and other vehicles. 

Using these images from "Men in Black," you can see how the CGI is layered into the shot.
Using these images from “Men in Black,” you can see how the CGI is layered into the shot.

The significant difference between the first “Transformers” film and the new “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” besides the seven years, is the amazing use of 3D effects. The 3D is used to make things “pop” out of the screen, while drawing the audience in. (Again, the target goal of any filmmaker.) The application of establishing depth is done subtly throughout the film to tremendous effect. 

In addition to the new Autobots and Decepticons, there is the introduction of the perennial favorite “The Dinobots.” Streamlined and basic for their design in the animated series, the ‘new’ Dinobots are masterfully assembled with every part of their make-up designed for a specific purpose. As a bonus, fans will get to see Dinobot leader, Grimlock, show off his fire-breathing skills as well.


Lastly, one of the biggest technological advancements for the film is in the use of sound. Yes, there are a lot more explosions, but if the theater you attend has the new Dolby Atmos system this will introduce a powerful new listening experience with sound that truly envelops you and allows you to hear the whole picture. To put it into perspective, expect “Transformers: Age of Extinction” to be explosively moving, metallic and loud. 

Here is a brief storyline for Paramount Pictures action/adventure/sci-fi film. 

It’s been four years since the ‘Battle of Chicago,’ a mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings Autobots, Decepticons and a paranoid government official down on them. 

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” will open in theaters in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D on Friday, June 27th. The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, T.J. Miller, Sophia Myles, Peter Cullen (as the voice of Optimus Prime,) Mike Patton (as the voice of Grimlock,) Titus Welliver, Melanie Specht, Bingbing Li, Abigail Klein, Thomas Lennon, Jack Reynor, Victoria Summer, Cleo King, Geng Han, Teresa Daley, Michael Wong, Chanel Celaya, Aaron Lee Wright, Dan Latham, Glenn Keogh, Kristin Miller White, B. Adam Baillio, Saúl Salcedo-Frausto, Jonathan Emond, Lisa Belcher, Ray Lui, Candice Zhao, Byron Li, Frank Welker (as the voice of Galvatron,) John Goodman (as the voice of Hound,) and Ken Watanabe (as the voice of Drift.) Ehren Kruger wrote the screenplay, while Michael Bay directs. 

Sources: psu, popular mechanics, creativebloq, gadgets.ndtv, Dolby