The highly-anticipated sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, opened in theaters Wednesday, June 24. All this week, the Pro Sound News blog goes ‘behind the scenes’ with the film’s sound crew, starting with today’s article. In the ensuing days, you’ll find in-depth interviews with audio principals, explaining what it took to add thunder to the cinematic spectacle.
By Steve Harvey.
Culver City, CA–The final mix for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen at Sony Pictures’ Cary Grant Theatre paired effects re-recording mixer Greg Russell with dialog and music re-recording mixer Gary Summers for the first time. Helping distill the soundtrack for one of the most anticipated movies of the summer were co-supervising sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl. Regular dialog and anything with a vocal component fell under the purview of supervising dialog editor Mike Hopkins, who worked with Van der Ryn and Aadahl on robot vocalizations that required substantial processing.
effects re-recording mixerGreg Russell, effects re-recording mixer:
“It’s probably the most ambitious sound movie I’ve been a part of,” said Russell. But, he allowed, “The first film really helped to lay out a plan. The initial layout was crucial, and that was done pretty well in the first film. Our starting point on this one was so far advanced in the approach and what we were going to do to bring this film to life. We’re just trying to support what you see onscreen as best we can so it’s believable.”
He added, “The choreography in this film is improved from the first film. The robots are more graceful; there’s a sense of fun to watch them, yet there’s a visceral, aggressive attitude. It’s rough but pretty!”
ROTF features a lot of battle sequences, he continued. “Michael [Bay] wants to keep the activity of that offstage intensity alive, but when there’s onscreen material that is our focal point, we do need to shape that offstage material. We do that in predubbing and even more in finaling. The objective is to focus an audience on a given moment, a given visual, and not be distracted.”
The biggest challenge of the movie was how to get everything to play. Part of the solution for Russell was to create two stems within the final mix, one for hard effects, such as regular military hardware, and another for the robot weapons and sounds. Still, it was necessary to distill the sounds to provide focus: “What can we do to clean this out, to make this much more specific? What can we mute in our Pro Tools session? What can we mix down, or highlight, to get the cleanest possible sequence?”
Russell gave kudos to Van der Ryn and Aadahl: “I really love their focus on trying to deliver very concise, precise elements to me; I don’t have to spend my time weeding out. In a movie of this nature, it’s critical that they edit and make choices before it gets here. Otherwise, we just wouldn’t have the time and it would be a lot messier. It’s been a wonderful collaboration–and I love the sounds; it’s something completely different than anything else out there. I felt that way about the first one, and I feel that way even more on this; I think we’re stretching our legs a little on this movie.”
The team ensured that the effects and music play well together, and that neither steps on the dialog, he noted. “There’s a lot of humor in the film, which we need to protect. The charm of the first one was that you were really entertained and there was plenty of humor. We want to allow that humor to read through. Like in any other action movie, the biggest challenge is that in the big moments where there are big effects, there’s big music. It’s the same game, so we’ll do that give and take. Where there are big hits and impacts, the music is going ‘boom’ with us, but when we have music with big, long sweeping melody lines, those play beautifully with the robots, because we don’t need rhythm; the robots are the rhythm of the track–all these footsteps and big impacts.”
He added, “The sounds that create these robots are very musical, and Steve Jablonsky has written a great score.”
The mixer has some tricks up his sleeve to cope with the challenges: “When you have multiple sounds happening in a sequence, we really broaden the scope of frequencies so that things aren’t living in the same range. That separation is necessary for clarity, as well as panning things and rhythmically having things syncopate so that they aren’t stepping on each other. Even if you offset ever so slightly, it creates separation.”
Russell has worked with Bay since his second feature, The Rock, in 1996. “The effects chair is a pretty busy chair to be in on a Michael Bay movie. I look back and know that some of the most challenging sequences I’ve had to put together and mix have been his movies, without question. They’ve made me a better mixer. Our relationship is a good one, and I’m proud to be on his films,” he said.