Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's Audio Action: Part 1

The highly-anticipated sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, opens in theaters this 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.
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The highly-anticipated sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, opens in theaters this 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--One of the most anticipated movies of the summer, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, raises the bar from the first film in the franchise, with more robots and more action posing major challenges to the sound crew at Sony Pictures' Cary Grant Theatre. Despite director Michael Bay's admission to the Los Angeles Times that, with the deadline looming, "this one is going to be close," everything was largely under control five weeks before the release date, as the team from the first film reassembled, largely unchanged, to bring their considerable expertise to bear on the task at hand.

Effects re-recording mixer Greg Russell, who has worked on every Bay movie except his first, noted that Transformers laid the groundwork for the sequel: "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."

This new movie features twice the action, and many, many more robots than the series opener, he continued. "In normal movies, there are two, three, even four set pieces. Eight years ago, one or two of those set pieces would have made this a big sound movie. We have several in each reel. It's challenging."

Revenge of the Fallen pairs Russell with dialog and music re-recording mixer Gary Summers, on loan from CSS Studios for the project, for the first time. Summers observed that, with all the action, dynamics are crucial. "You can't be at 110 percent all the time because the audience will just become fatigued; I don't care how good your story is."

The job for the mixers, said Russell, comes down to one word: "Focus. It's my mantra when I'm predubbing, it's my mantra during final mix. What do we want to draw attention to, and what best tells the story? That is, in essence, our job."

Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl,
co-supervising sound editorsHelping distill the soundtrack were co-supervising sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl. Van der Ryn offered, "One of the things that Erik and I really try hard to do is bring to the final stage only sounds that we want to hear. We don't come with alternatives and options. Even so, there's a huge amount of predubbing involved. On this film, we have 23 effects predubs." Plus, he noted, "Greg has 30 faders for sweeteners that are just coming in, so that's essentially a couple of virtual predubs that he has going anyway, because of the late-breaking visual effects."

Added Aadahl, "We have to make the choices, especially with all the action. There's an absurd amount of mayhem. That's part of the challenge all the way through the process, even before we start mixing. We're striving for clarity. We're constantly asking, 'do we need it?'"

The pair had their work cut out for them on this film, with 40 or more new robots added to the mix. "Our whole philosophy is that the sound for each character should represent the essence of that character," said Aadahl. "The difference compared with the first film is that we have a much broader range of robots, so we had a lot more to work with."

On the most basic level, he continued, each characterization had to convey good or evil. "The good guys are much more round. Optimus Prime is still based on air, with much softer qualities. For the bad guys, our key word was 'zang.' We put a lot of time into making sounds that had an evil quality."

Russell was further able to accentuate each character's signature. "I've been able to use compression and different EQ for different robots that give an overall feel to each character. The sounds lend themselves to that, but I tried to even take that to another level, in terms of having the round, soft, cozy sound palettes for one robot versus a sharp, edgy, grittier sounding."

Supervising dialog editor Mike Hopkins pointed out a critical issue with the robots' voices: "I think the fans of the cartoon characters expect a certain level of voice processing, but we've got a complicated story to tell and if you don't understand what they're saying, then we're going to lose the game. The problem we have with any processing we do on dialog is that it can affect the clarity."

Hopkins was able to focus on those issues as the film required relatively little ADR work, not least because Bay is no fan of looping. "On a normal visual effects movie of this kind it would be incredibly easy to have anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 ADR cues," he said. "We're probably only going to have a couple of hundred. My editors and I have worked extremely hard to make the production dialog play."

Sony Pictures Post Production
www.sonypicturespost.com

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
www.transformersmovie.com