By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY
It’s always the quiet ones you need to fear.
Ninjas. Serial killers. Boba Fett. Gastrointestinal functions.
In Transformers lore, the mechanical jaguar Ravage has been a villain favorite since the 1980s for his stealthy tactics and deadly force. Ever since a four-legged mechanical beast prowled through the trailer for summer’s sequel, Revenge of The Fallen, fans have been awaiting more word about the feline-ish Decepticon. As more robots in the June 24 movie are revealed, Ravage comes into focus.
“In the spirit of ‘more than meets the eye,’ Ravage isn’t just lethal because of his sharp teeth,” says screenwriter Alex Kurtzman. “There’s actually another skill set Ravage has that didn’t exist before, so there’s going to be a surprise for fans.”
This version of the cat already looks far different from the original, with a single glowing red eye and a swinging, mace-like tail, but his role will be similar to the 1980s cartoon and Hasbro toy — the ultimate spy.
Ravage often was dispatched to monitor the heroic Autobots and their human allies, reporting back to the Decepticons by transforming into a cassette tape and replaying his recordings through the larger robot master Soundwave, who switched into a Walkman-sized tape deck. (How a giant robot became a small piece of sound equipment was a comical hole in logic never fully explained.)
The cassette tape transformation is gone, of course; Ravage doesn’t turn into anything. But Soundwave will appear, again serving as an evil communications expert but this time in the form of an orbiting space satellite.
“They are still connected,” fellow screenwriter Roberto Orci says of Soundwave and his pet. “But rather than trying to hold onto a notion as antiquated as an audiotape, which some members of our audience have maybe never laid eyes on, we wanted to go a new way.”
And Ravage, as before, won’t speak like the other Transformers.
“We wanted to stay true to the idea that Decepticons who take visual clues from beasts maintain that,” says Orci. “It would be strange to have a talking jaguar, or a scorpion with an English accent.”
Filmmaker Michael Bay has ensured that Ravage has lots of company, including many redesigned favorite robots from the original 1980s incarnation, in the new film.
“We have big guys, some little guys. We have a lot of littler ones, too. Little weirder ones,” Bay says. Like the Insecticons, which were giant bugs in the original series and Hasbro toy line, but are now tiny creepy-crawly infiltrators.
Bay, who collects the Vanguard Award Thursday night at ShoWest, offers a peek at others joining Optimus Prime and Bumblebee for another rock-’em, sock-’em robo-brawl.
AUTOBOTS (the good guys)
As in the original, this fighter plane crash-landed on Earth a long time ago, and he will become a reformed Decepticon now fighting for the humans. His alternate form is the SR-71 Blackbird, the outdated but still-sleek Cold War spy plane.
“He’s old, craggy, forgetful … doesn’t work very well. Can’t transform very well, because he’s very geriatric. They get stuck with him a lot,” Bay says. “He knows the plan of the bad guys, but he forgets all the good parts of the plan.”
Sideswipe, a candy-apple red Lamborghini in the original, joins the cast this time as General Motor’s silver Corvette Stingray concept car. Jolt is a new foot soldier, played in four-wheel form by the Volt, a forthcoming Chevy hybrid plug-in. Two of GM’s other concept cars (the Trax and Beat) play The Twins, nicknamed Skids and Mudflap.
“Some of the junior Transformers are just dumb,” Bay says with a laugh. “But it’s great for kids because they’re like the Little Engine That Could. They’re (screw)-ups, but they get really heroic at the end.”
For the gals:
Arcee is the only female and turns up as Megan Fox’s hot-pink motorcycle. Co-screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci say she was in an early draft of the first movie. “But we felt we needed to win the audience over before asking for that suspension of disbelief: a feminine alien robot,” Kurtzman says.
DECEPTICONS (the bad guys)
The title character:
The Fallen is an ancient robot, sort of the Transformers’ version of Lucifer. He’s one of the original robot aliens, and his defiance and arrogance led to his banishment into another dimension.
The screenwriters say that The Fallen holds the key to life on both Earth and Cybertron, the Transformers’ home planet.
A smaller, but no less malevolent Decepticon is known as The Doctor — a spider-like droid that transforms into various implements of torture and has a not-so-nice encounter with star Shia LaBeouf.
Then there’s a giant one called Demolishor, and another tinier one with the sportier name of Wheelie.
These seven robots — Scavenger, Scrapper, Hightower, Longhaul, Rampage, Overload and Mixmaster — transform into construction machinery, but also link up with one another to form one gigantic robot stomper named Devastator.
“He’s made of vehicles designed to build, and he turns into is someone who loves to destroy,” Orci says. “He is an agent of absolute chaos.”
Bay says Devastator is the crème de la smash and got a uncharacteristic reaction out of the film’s executive producer already.
“Spielberg saw it and said, ‘This is (expletive) awesome!’ ” Bay says, and adds: “It’s always nice when you can make him swear.”
By PETER DEBRUGE
- In the spirit of director Michael Bay’s return, Paramount gave away T-shirts that read “Even Bigger Giant F**king Robots Are Coming” at San Diego Comic-Con last summer.
- Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, both repeat Bay collaborators, teamed up with “The Ring” writer Ehren Kruger, who pitched an idea the producers deemed worth of a sequel.
- A veteran of “Spider-Man” and other big-budget tentpoles, producer Ian Bryce managed the day-to-day logistics, from scheduling and budgeting to negotiating the use of billion-dollar U.S. military equipment, while producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura focused on the creative side.
- Of exec producer (and story confidante) Steven Spielberg, Bay says, “It’s fun to talk with another director who gets how it will look.”
- According to Bay, Hans Zimmer protege Steve Jablonsky “wrote some big cues with Hans on ‘Pearl Harbor.’ Now it’s the other way around,” with Zimmer assisting Jablonsky on “Transformers.”
- “I shoot very fast and need a young, energetic d.p. to keep up with me,” says Bay, who was impressed with lenser Ben Seresin’s reel.
THE VISUAL SUSPECTS
- Effects-laden pic’s lead shop, industrial light and magic, had a tall order on the sequel: Bay not only upped the screen time and overall number of robots but also insisted that the metal beings be able to emote.
- Bay-owned f/x shop Digital domain supplied about 100 shots, mostly of smaller characters. Subtlety may not be the helmer’s trademark, but that’s exactly what he expected from the characters’ animated performances.
- Scott Farrar supervised vfx work for both companies, while pyrotechnics and practical effects were John Frazier’s duty.
- Most of the interiors were shot at Raleigh Studios’ Playa Vista stages, which once served as Howard Hughes’ hangars.
- For dramatic exteriors, the production turned to the Philadelphia and New Mexico film offices. With LaBeouf’s character in college, New Jersey facilitated access to Princeton U.
- Bryce and co-producer Allegra Clegg got military permission to film sequences at Camp Pendleton, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range.
- Tying ancient sites into Transformers lore, the crew traveled as far as Egypt and Jordan, where the Royal Film Commission granted them access to Petra.
To maximize the impact on Imax, Bay shot several sequences on the company’s large-format film stock.
- Hasbro holds the rights to the Transformers property, including the new characters unveiled in the sequel.
- Last Month, General Motors finally began producing the redesigned Camaro featured in the first film. As di Bonaventura explains, “Michael looks around to see what is the cool car and, if it fits the story, puts it in the movie.”
- “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” will reunite most of the original cast, from Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox to super-soldiers Josh Duhamel and Tyrese.
- Among the new human faces are Rainn Wilson and Ramon Rodriguez.
- Fans have been anticipating the arrival of more robot characters, including evil Decepticon Soundwave and Autobots Sideswipe, Skids, Mudflap and Jolt.
- Preferring to work with proven crew, Bay reteamed with first a.d. K.C. Hodenfield, script supervisor Karen Golden and costume pro Deborah L. Scott.
- Former Navy SEAL Harry Humphries has been teaching Bay’s cast how to handle weapons since “The Rock.”
- “We give every crew member one baby break,” Bay kids. With sound mixer Peter Devlin on diaper duty, Geoffrey Patterson (“Titanic”) stepped in. For post, Greg P. Russell is joined by Gary Summers (“Twister”).
- Steve Tihanyi, director of marketing relations for General Motors, let Bay have his pick of the company’s concept cars, adapting four new Autobots to the Stingray Corvette, Beat and Trax minis and forthcoming Volt electric vehicle. Since GM lacked the resources, the crew took the designs and fabricated the cars themselves.
- Not just anyone can film at the Pyramids in Giza. For permission, Bay appealed to Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who turned out to be a Transformers fan, granting the production access that hadn’t been given in decades. “He put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t hurt my pyramids,'” Bay recalls.
- Defense Dept. film liaison Phil Strub has been Bay’s direct connection to the Pentagon since “Armageddon,” supplying script approvals and expert military advice. “You’re doing a crazy robot movie … and the Pentagon says, ‘If we were ever called to fight aliens, this is how we’d do it,'” says Bay, whose films have been big recruitment boosters for the armed forces.
ILM, Digital Domain push the limits for director
By DAVID S. COHEN
After “Transformers” hit theaters in 2007, Michael Bay spoofed himself in a Verizon FiOS commercial, proclaiming, “I demand things to be awesome!” and proving it by flaunting his “awesome pussycat” (a tiger) and awesome (exploding) barbecue grill.
Turns out the helmer was only half-kidding. Just ask the visual effects studios on “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” who have their hands full keeping up with Bay’s itch for excess.
“He’s brilliant, but he’s a challenge,” says Matthew Butler, Digital Domain’s vfx supervisor on the film. Not only is Bay demanding, as top directors generally are, but “he’s incredibly fast-paced. He’s a whirlwind to keep up with, both on the set and in post.”
Scott Farrar of Industrial Light and Magic, lead vfx supervisor on both “Transformers” films, sounds somewhat awestruck as he compares the sequel to its predecessor.
“Michael took the production value up many, many notches,” he says. “Just the backgrounds alone are huge. It’s a combination of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Ben-Hur,’ in regards to fantastic backgrounds and the unbelievable sets we worked at around the world.”
Everyone involved in “Revenge of the Fallen” is keeping the details under wraps, but Farrar says there are some 60 robot characters, and they play in settings around the world. Some, like refineries at night, were chosen to boost the visual drama and show off the scale of the giant ‘bots.
What’s more, this time the Transformers will interact much more with the world around them. Farrar highlights “the splashes and the hits and the fighting on dirt or moving, banging into trees,” explaining, “Things splinter and break, they spit, they outgas, they sweat, they snort.”
ILM, having developed the vfx for the first “Transformers,” is the lead shop on this one as well. But Bay is part owner of Digital Domain, which presents some unusual challenges for Butler and the DD team.
For Bay, co-owning the company puts him in a potential conflict of interest. The director always wants the best for his movie and usually asks for as much as possible from the vfx shop. The owner of a vfx shop, on the other hand, has to keep an eye on costs and margins.
Butler says Bay is remarkably good at balancing those roles: “Michael is very fiscally responsible. a director but he’s very much a producer too. In fact, whenever we’re talking about any shot or sequence, he’s thinking about what it costs, and he’s thinking about bang for the buck.”
One new challenge is that several sequences will be shown in Imax format, approximately 16 times larger than 35mm, which means the CG work must be finished at much higher resolution. At that scale, it can take several days to render a final frame.
All this is on top of creating a new family of giant robots. “(Bay) had to learn a whole litany of new things by getting into this robot culture on the first film,” Farrar says. “I don’t think he’d ever worked on a film where he’d done so much directing of animated characters. So he’s really taken it to heart, and I think not everybody does, but he actually enjoys the process.”
By PETER DEBRUGE
- No one makes movies on the scale of Michael Bay, though the director remembers a time when the studio wasn’t sure whether he could handle anything larger than a musicvideo.
- But as Bay saw it, he’d already logged more on-set experience than most feature helmers. “I’ve already directed over 500 days, and I know how to work a crew,” he told Sony before being allowed to make “Bad Boys.” Much of his team was already in place — and still works with him today. Bay occasionally even sacrifices some of his fee to shoot in California with his preferred crew.
- “Michael, to his credit, is an intensely loyal person,” says producer Ian Bryce, who met the director nearly 30 years earlier, when both were working in lowly Lucasfilm jobs. “Once he finds someone he likes and he trusts, they become part of the team.”
- Launched Platinum Dunes production shingle with Brad Fuller and Andrew Form in 2001, designed to give first-time helmers a shot by remaking such horror classics as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th.”
- In 2006, acquired Venice, Calif.-based vfx studio Digital Domain from James Cameron and Stan Winston.
- Directs commercials via The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, which he opened with Scott Gardenhour, a producer Bay linked up with during his early days at Propaganda Films.
- First caught producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson’s attention by directing the Chicago musicvideo for “Days of Thunder.” Bay went on to make “Bad Boys” and “The Rock” for the duo, followed by another three movies for Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer and Bay currently have “Cocaine Cowboys” in the works for HBO.
- In his teens, Bay landed a job doing file storage for Steven Spielberg, who later handpicked him to direct “Transformers.”
- Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner has brought all sorts of goodies to Bay’s doorstep, including “Transformers” franchise and an upcoming adaptation of the Ouija board game.
SHOPS AND WARES
- Bay relies on Chapman/Leonard for equipment, trusts his digital intermediates to Company 3 and swears by Panavision, Deluxe, Dolby labs and Avid.
- He always uses ILM for visual effects work, but also sends repeat business to Asylum, KNB Effects and Gentle Giant Studios.
Many collaborators have been with Bay for years:
- Production designer Nigel Phelps dates back to Bay’s musicvideo days. Since “Bad Boys,” stunt co-ordinator Kenny Bates has found the best drivers.
- DPs come and go, but key grip Les Tomita has been with Bay since “The Rock.” So has hair and makeup duo Yolanda Toussieng and Ed Henriques, who handled everything from Sean Connery’s coif to Shia LaBeouf’s battle scars.
- Among Bay’s trusted team of editors, “Tom Muldoon has been with me since my very first musicvideo,” the director says. “He also comes in and works on my movies — every single one.” Other key cutters include Paul Rubell and Glen Scantlebury.
Others have worked their way up through the ranks:
- Mitchell Amundsen graduated from camera operator to d.p. under Bay’s watch.
- Bay gave ambitious ex-barista Mark Palansky (who’d bug Bay with questions over the Starbucks counter) a break on “Pearl Harbor.” When the young man tried to ankle his assistant job, Bay said, “I refuse for you to quit. This is the best film school you’re gonna get!” He went on to direct “Penelope.”
- Since assistant Edward Albolote wants to edit, Bay gave him an apprentice role on “Transformers.”
- Matthew Cohan, VP of development for Bay Films, worked his way up from a staff assistant position on “Pearl Harbor.”
- William Morris agents John Fogelman and Rob Carlson set up Bay’s last three features, while CAA’s David O’Connor reps Platinum Dunes.
- Bay and attorney Robert Offer (of Sloane, Offer, Weber and Dern) go back as far as nursery school. “I’ve known him longer than his wife,” Bay says of his counsel.