NYTimes: “Welcome to Chicago, Just Don’t Kill Us”
By MEKADO MURPHY
AFTER two films and more than $1.5 billion in global box-office sales, it’s no surprise that another installment in the “Transformers” franchise would soon be exploding in a theater near you. The battle between the Autobots (the good robots) and the Decepticons (the evil ones) continues in “Dark of the Moon,” opening Wednesday with more destruction, more robots and one powerful cinematic weapon: 3-D.
The film’s director, Michael Bay, opted to shoot the film primarily with 3-D cameras, rather than add the technology in postproduction, as has been done with many live-action projects. “We spent so much time devising our whole movie and the shots that play out around 3-D,” Mr. Bay said. He also noted that “the size differential between the robots and the humans makes it so appropriate” for the format.
The previous films have involved revisionist history placing Transformers and their tools for survival amid landmarks like the Hoover Dam and the Egyptian pyramids. With “Dark of the Moon,” the 1969 Moon landing takes a giant leap into the narrative.
Another important element of the film is the setting — downtown Chicago — of a third-act battle sequence. A typical Michael Bay frame is packed with activity, and the one here is no different, with the technology, setting and action all vying for attention. Mr. Bay and Scott Farrar, the film’s visual effects supervisor and second-unit director, explained what went into the shot.
BASE JUMPING Mr. Bay experimented with several kinds of stunts for this film. The parachutists in this shot play Special Forces paratroopers sent to counterattack Decepticons. In this frame, they are BASE jumping — leaping from buildings (though the activity can also include, as the acronym has it, leaps from antennae, spans and earth features like cliffs). “It’s a very dangerous technique,” Mr. Bay said, because of the brief time between the jump and the pulling of the rip cords. For this shot, Mr. Bay said, the parachutists jumped from Trump Tower across the Chicago River. For aerial shots, another jumper followed them with a small 3-D camera on his head. Three of the four paratroopers in the frame are real; the one in the center is computer generated, since he has to land on Shockwave’s shoulder.
35 EAST WACKER DRIVE This turreted 40-story landmark skyscraper, once known as the Jewelers’ Building, plays a significant role in the last part of “Dark of the Moon.” For the first years of its existence it was occupied by jewelry merchants, who, for security purposes, drove their cars into a special elevator at street level and were taken directly to their floors. This isn’t 35 East Wacker’s screen debut, though: it was also featured in “Batman Begins” in 2005.
AN ARM FOR DESTRUCTION The dominant creature here is Shockwave, a giant Decepticon making his first appearance in the film series and wreaking havoc on the cityscape. One of his primary tools is an arm-mounted energy cannon, which is fed by reactor cores on his back. Shockwave, designed and animated by Industrial Light and Magic, rises about 40 virtual feet and has more than 2,000 moving digital pieces. “He doesn’t stand around and talk,” Mr. Farrar said. “He just fights.” Shockwave took the animators about 30 weeks to build before he was ready to be added to a shot.
HOTEL 71 The Decepticon battle takes its toll on Hotel 71, an actual boutique hotel in Chicago. While the damage shown in this shot is the work of computer graphics, the base of the hotel and a five-block radius around it were dressed with debris for scenes of destruction. “Chicago gave us so much latitude,” Mr. Bay said. “We had blocks and blocks we were able to shut down at a time.” Rather than close, the hotel used the production to its advantage, making it known that the filming was happening there. “They got a lot of fans from around the country who sat in their windows and watched us shoot,” Mr. Bay added.
AN EYE FOR BATTLE Shockwave’s face is characterized by a single glowing red eye, which Mr. Farrar saw as an important part of the character’s design. “The eyes are critical and the mouth is critical,” he said. “If you can’t read those, you can’t understand what the character is doing or portraying. You have to read Shockwave through just the emotions of the face, almost like a silent-era movie star.” For this reason Mr. Farrar and his team sought to make Shockwave’s eye appear as real as possible, with a lens, a moving iris and a light inside that can oscillate.