Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's Audio Action: Part 2

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.
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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 Newsblog 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.

Michael Hopkins,
supervising dialog editor
Michael Hopkins, supervising dialog editor:

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Many of the robots may not have lines of dialog, but, said Hopkins, "Most, if not all of them, have got some sort of vocal component." Where wordless vocals are concerned, Hopkins would perform his edits, then pass the files to Aadahl for processing. "He's developed a certain plug-in chain for certain things. For example, he has a chain for Bumblebee. While Bumblebee doesn't actually speak, per se, we do perform him. It's the same thing with Devastator. The actor, Frank Welker, who also does the voice of Soundwave, has this incredibly deep voice, and he gave us all these vocalizations. We cut then and stretched them, and passed them to Erik and his plug-ins, and it brought Devastator alive, because it suddenly had performance value."

But processing couldn't be allowed to interfere with clarity, he stressed, leading to some alternative solutions. "With Optimus Prime, for example, Peter Kellern has this incredibly rich voice, but we wanted it to feel bigger. On the first film, we pitched him down slightly--and I'm only talking 40 cents. On this film, we experimented with all sorts of plug-ins; Michael didn't like any of them. So where he had to be big, we poked him out the front three speakers, as opposed to normal dialog, which would only play out of the center. It just makes him feel bigger."

He continued, "Megatron--[voiced by] Hugo Weaving--gets pitched down two semi-tones, which is quite a lot. Again, we just used EQ and reverbs on the stage. We tried various plug-ins. We do have a plug-in for Starscream, which gives his voice a little bit of a 'zzz,' just to make it different. We've tried to give him a really electronic, processed feel. Michael is still not sure if we've gone too far, but it'll be some sort of variation on that theme."

The mayhem is livened up by several crazy 'bots, according to Hopkins. "Last time, our crazy 'bot was Frenzy, the little guy. We had an incredible voice actor, Reno Wilson, who can do vocal gymnastics. We had sessions where Bay and I were biting our lips to stop ourselves laughing and blowing the take--hilarious stuff. When it came time to find voices for the more humorous characters, I said to Michael, Reno was so good last time, can we bring him back? He plays Mudflap, one of the twins. We've left their dialog fairly straight, apart from this one scene where they're speaking of a loudspeaker, so we processed that. But it's a very performance-based thing, so as soon as you start to apply any treatment, you take away from the performance value."

Bay is a stickler for authenticity, especially where the military is concerned, which meant that Hopkins got to work with various members of the armed forces. "On the first film, I grabbed a bunch of Marines and went to Griffith Park and recorded a bunch of stuff with them--call outs and run bys and all sorts of stuff. To get more specific, edgier stuff, our Army coordinator, Harry Humphries, organized a group of ex-Navy SEALs who came into POP Sound. We did a session with about six or seven Navy pilots, chopper and fighter pilots to get authentic comms stuff.

"I had two very good sessions with the Army liaison guy, Col. Greg Bishop, and we went through all the battle scenes to work out what they would actually be saying in that kind of combat situation. We wrote up these scripts and got our actors playing Army guys to say the real things. It adds that air of authenticity to the film, which Michael is really insistent on. Any time I try to sneak in a loop group player doing an Army line, he somehow knows! I think the armed forces appreciate it, because he goes the extra mile to make it real."

There was relatively little ADR in ROTF. "Michael doesn't like using ADR; the majority of ADR will be for extra lines and line changes," said Hopkins, adding, "I've got probably 30 or 40 ADR cues because of bad background noise."

That said, he continued, "I'd like to put in a plug for one of the best ADR studios I've used anywhere, and one of the best ADR recordists--POP Sound in Santa Monica and Michael Miller. The man is fantastic, and the whole POP set up is great. It's the most friendly, accommodating studio I've ever worked in."

A typical visual effects-heavy film features far more ADR than ROTF: "As an example, on Return of the King, excluding loop group, we had over 2,500 cues, some of which were recorded three or four times as the scenes changed, and the intention changed. In terms of ADR, this film is like a walk in the park!"