Behind the Robots - 'Transformers 2' Crew Talks

It’s been 25 years since the robots in disguise morphed from toy line into an animated TV series that immortalized them to an entire generation. And to celebrate, they’re making their second big-screen outing with the opening June 24th of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Again starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, and Tyrese Gibson, the Michael Bay directed film is a slam-bang, all-out action extravaganza that includes scenes shot in IMAX and stands a good chance of repeating the 2007 original’s success at the box office.

Making the film included a mix of both the familiar and the new in all aspects from writing, producing and supervising the visual effects on the film.

“The sequels that we loved growing up were Superman II and Terminator 2 and Aliens,” says the film’s co-writer Alex Kurtzman. “The common denominator in all those movies, aside form the fact that they stood on their own, was that the hero was challenged in some very fundamental way. The best sequels are always a refusal to the call story and the consequences that follow. And that ended up being what we built Transformers on.

Despite what now seems as the obvious success of the first Transformers — the film grossed $319 million domestically and more than $700 million worldwide — co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci say they didn’t starting thinking about a concept for the sequel until the first film was behind them.

“I take it one movie at a time,” says Kurtzman, who says they knew they’d have to delve into the mythology of the franchise more in the second film. That lead to the notion that the Transformers have been interacting with humans from the beginning of time.

But there are several other layers that the writers say make the film more than just a brainless summer blockbuster. While the first film was very much about coming of age, the second film is about the journey Shia LeBeouf’s character, Sam Witwicky, undertakes as he goes out into the world as an adult, makes mistakes and has to correct them. Kurtzman also says there’s a cautionary tale in the movie, about the dangers of technology once its separated from the humanity that created it.

“(Executive producer Steven) Spielberg, when we were talking about this movie, he said the first one is in a way thematically about losing your virginity, the second one is stepping into adulthood. So part of that gradient difference is a reflection of that move,” says co-writer Roberto Orci.

That means the movie has an edge to it that the first film did not, in the intensity of the action and even in the language, which Kurtzman says is rougher than it was in the first film.

Add in the need to find sufficient screen time to introduce new characters and still have time for the favorites, and writing the film becomes a real challenge, Kurtzman says.

One thing that was easier for the writers was knowing how the characters were going to look, move and sound on screen.

“The first movie was very much a mystery,” says Orci. “By the time the Transformer arrive, you want them, you’re hungry for them. You don’t get that benefit in this second movie. Now, everyone knows who they are, and now we want to see them in the beginning.

Revenge of the Fallen also amped up the military interaction. Producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura says the expanded U.S. military role in the film was a natural given both Bay’s track record of meeting with the military for his movies and the concept of this particular movie.

“If you’re going to fight these 32 to 100 foot robots, who else would you fight them with?” he says. “What they bring to it is obviously a sense of reality in the movie. But what was most interesting for us was our interaction with them, because you get to see these people who made a life choice and the honesty of that choice comes through each and every time you meet these guys.”

On the technical side, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen raised the bar for visual effects. Scott Farrar of Industrial Light and Magic, who headed up the visual effects on the film, says that in addition to creating some 40 new digital characters for the film, they also had to create, for the first time, close-up shots of CG characters for scenes shot in IMAX.

“The simulation of Devastator on top of the pyramid, with all the blocks being thrown down, is the largest simulation we’ve ever done in our company,” says Farrar. “It was a pretty complicated show.”

The Transformers themselves were incredibly complicated. Farrar says that Optimus Prime is made out of 10,000 digital pieces, while the Devastator is about eight times that. They also had to work with Hasbro to ensure that the robots’ transformations were roughly comparable to the way the toys were going to work.

In making such a complicated movie, there was still room for inspiration and improvisation to strike. Once such example was the character of Jetfire, who Farrar says they decided would be disguised as a SR-71 Blackbird jet after seeing the real plane while shooting in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“It’s such a cool thing, and the idea of turning this character into an old guy just felt right,” Farrar says.

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