Scott Farrar, VFX, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
With effects work on 38 films to his credit, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more seasoned effects man than Scott Farrar. After accepting an invitation to the set of “Star Wars,” Farrar saw the first motion control system in action. Inspired, he embarked on a career that would see him work on some of the most groundbreaking effects films in history.
Five times nominated for an Academy Award (he won in 1986 for his work on “Cocoon”), his resume also includes work on “Return of the Jedi” “”Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and its sequel, “The Wrath of Khan,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Jurassic Park,” “Men in Black,” “Minority Report,” “Deep Impact,” and “Star Wars: Episode I.”
As Visual Effects Supervisor on both “Transformers” films, Farrar continues to work on the cutting edge of visual effects. I caught up with him to discuss his work, how effects have changed over the years, and working with Michael Bay.
JS: Let’s start off by talking about the improvements over the first film.
SF: Sure. You’ll see in this film there are a lot of refinements. The robots look better, the details are better. We tried to move further into a more realistic style of lighting this time. If you know effects, you know the lighting is hard to do with something like robots, especially these that have a lot of refined surfaces. The action is better too, and we learned quite from the last film about what to do and what not to do. As you know, there are a lot of sequences shot on IMAX cameras, where the resolution is eight times larger than a normal camera. The sharpness and overall look a lot better. As a result at one point you see a full-sized Optimus Prime. It’s going to be thrilling. IMAX is designed for big sequences like this, and I think we’ve met the challenge and then some.. We’ve really pushed the envelope with this film quite a bit.
JS: Can you talk specifically about the changes you made to the robots?
SF: Just remember there are 60 new characters in this film, and with 12 to 15 in the first film, we were just like “Uh-oh.” Plus the level of work in IMAX is incredible. You get to see every single piece of every robot. It was all done on camera, and they all had to be pieced together and connected, and that process takes weeks. The characters of course all start out as a skeleton. When Michael (Bay, the director) showed me the script, I thought, “Whoa, this is staggering.” How do you maintain the level of quality? Just to give you an idea, the first “Transformers” took 20 Terabytes of memory. “Revenge of the Fallen” took 150 TB. One 150-foot character took 15 TB by himself to render.
JS: How about the existing characters? What kinds of tweaks did you do to them?
SF: Well, we did a lot to Bumblebee, for one. In terms of CG and lighting, it’s very easy to make a flat image. But something with compound curves are much more complex. On a flat panel a gleam of light looks fake. We wanted to improve those complex curves.
JS: And there’s plenty of that in a Michael Bay movie, right?
SF: That’s the thing about Michael Bay. He’s a car nut and he knows how all of the glints and gleams should look on a car. He’s really good at calling me out when something looks fake. And when he says something I know he’s right. He has a really good eye. That’s why I enjoy working with him.
JS: You have a gigantic resume, working on everything from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to “Star Wars” films to “Jurassic Park,” “Roger Rabbit,” and of course the first “Transformers.” Those are really groundbreaking films, especially in terms of effects. Can you talk a little about how effects work has changed since you started?
SF: How have effects changed since “Star Trek: The Motion Picture?” Well, it was all stop motion. It was so much more difficult. We always had to lock the camera down and everything had to be just so in order to do any effects. It slowed the production down. You could do green screen, and you could do layer upon layer, but your imagination was limited as far as what you could put on the screen.
JS: And contrasting that with, say, this film?
SF: Going into computer images has really freed things up. But I do think we’re still in the stone age where it comes to computers. I doubt we have used a blue or green screen at all in this film. We just didn’t need to as much. Wait. I take that back. I think we did one scene with a green screen, but for the most part it’s not necessary. We can use rotos and really get the dirt and grime that Michael loves to see on screen, and just create these incredible effects. But I don’t think we’ve truly tapped the potential when it comes to harnessing this technology.
JS: So that changed the dynamic of the actors working with the CG characters as well, didn’t it? It’s not as difficult to put the characters in around the actors.
SF: Come on, Joe. You can break every rule in the book with this stuff! I remember in the first one there was that scene where Optimus is hiding under a bridge with Sam and Mikaela. I laughed when I was talking to Michael about it and I said, “You know, you’re totally supposed to not do this kind of shot.” Michael said “Why?” I told him “because it always looks bad.” He stopped for a second and said “okay, let’s do it.” And it worked.