‘Transformers,’ Michael Bay and the sound of awards season [Updated]

Jan. 15, 2010 | 2:08 a.m.


Hero Complex robot expert Yvonne Villarreal gives a listen to “Transformers” director Michael Bay and his sound team as they wave the flag for trophy time in Hollywood.

Transformers 2

Imagine Demolisher and Optimus Prime wreaking havoc on the Earth as they battle — but doing it in complete silence.

Not very thrilling, huh? The hunky pieces of metal in the “Transformers” films lose a lot of their thunderous power without all that sound. It’s the clinks and whooshes and BOOMS caused by the massive appliances that complete the larger-than-life experience of the films.

Director Michael Bay recently joined sound re-recording mixers Greg P. Russell and Gary Summers, and supervising sound editors Ethan Van Der Ryn and Erik Aadahl to discuss the sound art (and science) of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” at the Cary Grant Theatre on the Sony Pictures lot. 

“I have like 2,000 people — through their artistry — making my dreams a film,” Bay said. “The artistry of this sound group is just amazing. I love, love sound. It’s 45-50% of the movies.”

It’s a welcomed percentage. The acting by Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf may not stir the soul of Academy voters, but the franchise’s high-quality sound performance has made up for that. The first “Transformers” film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 2008 in the categories of sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

“All of our sounds are performing almost like actors,” said Aadahl, whom Bay described as the “secret weapon” of the films. “They’re just performing the scene through sound.”

Michael Bay and friend


From explosions and car chases to clinking metal and pounding footsteps, every piece of sound is carefully produced. “It’s like,” Russell said, “painting with sound.” 

Aadahl continued the thought: “It just takes a lot of playing around with different elements. With sound, we are completely unfettered by the laws of physics.”

And with a film bursting with auditory bombast, a mellow scene can be a welcome challenge. Take the Reedman scene from the second installment of the franchise. After Soundwave finds out the location of the All Spark fragment needed to revive Megatron, Ravage was dispatched to the island of Diego Garcia, where the human-autobot alliance NEST was stationed, to recover the shard. The shadowy robot infiltrated the base with microcons, a swarm of ball bearings. Thousands of the tiny spheres combined to form Reedman, a mantis-like figure.

It was a scene meant to “cleanse the palate” from the booming sound featured throughout most of the film. The volume was turned down to enhance the sound created by the energy sparks. So where did the inspiration for the muted, vibrating zing of the microcons come from? A couple of magnets. Spread an inch apart and tossed in the air, they meet to create a quivering sound that — when amplified by a microphone — resembles the chattering of insects.

“It’s all about thinking ‘How can we take organic things in the real world and twist them around to give them a synthetic edge?’ ” Van der Ryn said.

Many times, the thunderous sounds heard in the theater aren’t synthetically produced. Sometimes everyday household fare (when magnified) can serve as the source. Aadahl said the vibrating hum from his electrical shaver resembled an bug buzz — perfect for a tiny Decepticon scout. The creak from opening the stove door? That served as the central sound for an older (more rusty) Decepticon. And a slamming dryer door was used as the thud for Devastator’s footsteps — proving that that it doesn’t always take a large element to produce a big sound.

“Those huge things seem small in comparison to the small things,” Aadahl said. “We find the macro in the micro.”

So can we expect more thunderous sound in the third installment? Although the number of robots increased significantly from the first film for the second, the third film — which will hit theaters in summer 2011, won’t be as robot-heavy and there will be fewer explosions, a tight-lipped Bay said after the Q+A. 

“There will be a nice crescendo ending,” Bay said. “It gets much more into the robot character. The last time you kind of met a few of the robots; this time you’re gonna get a much cooler landscape.”

–Yvonne Villarreal


Transformers Revenge of the Fallen poster

Bay: “There’s a lot of poison on the Internet . . . whatever”

Michael Bay talks about Shia LaBeouf’s dark moods

PHOTO GALLERY: The romantic side of Bay’s boy movies

Critics hate “Transformers” but it’s not going to matter

Michael Bay’s “Transformers” payday? $75 MILLION… and counting

“Transformers” screenwriters are having a summer to remember

“Transformers” and Michael Jackson — the forgotten link

Bay: Ramon Rodriguez will have bigger role in the third ‘Transformers’

What 2009 fanboys films now have a shot at best-picture nomination?

PHOTOS: Top and bottom, scenes from “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” (Paramount Pictures). Middle, filmmaker Michael Bay and a friend. (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect release date for the third robot movie.


18 Responses to ‘Transformers,’ Michael Bay and the sound of awards season [Updated]

  1. A Rose says:

    Summer of 2011, not this summer…

  2. David says:

    Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
    "… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
    – Macbeth

  3. JRM says:

    Hopefully it'll be better than the garbage I went through last summer.

  4. Joliese Tan says:

    Transformers is turlly amazing movie,i like its effected and action.i waiting for this series next movie.

  5. Troy says:

    I liked the second Transformers better than the first for some reason. I don't know, I just don't really have a problem with Michael Bay movies, and I just really dig the Transformers series so far.

  6. Zach says:

    I can't believe people liked the second Transformers movie. It was absolutely atrocious and it's doubly awful that it made so much money at the box office. I guess that means that the world gets to look forward to another great film by Mr. Bay.

  7. When will the teaser trailer?

  8. Jared says:

    Someone needs to lock Michael Bay in a room with a pistol with one bullet and Transformers 2 playing on a loop.

  9. bobula says:

    Even the best sound can't save a piece of crap like this. In fact, I want my nine bucks back.

  10. David says:

    I don't get how people hated Transformers 2 and liked the first one. Basically it was more of the same. A big robot movie. It's not supposed to be an Art film. I liked it much better than that crap Avatar. Dances With Wolves remake with ugly, cheap looking Blue CGI Monkey people? SUCKS!!

  11. Jim Jones says:

    Unfortunately the colossal turd that was Transformers 2 has completely destroyed any desire I had to see a third movie.
    The first one was silly but likeable; I think it got a lot of mileage out of the fact that they were able to pull off a Transformers movie. The second movie seemed to take everything that didn't work with the first, magnify it and multiply it by 10. It was loud, offensive, and insulting to the intelligence. What's worse, it made the first movie lesser because of it. The Macbeth quote nicely sums it up. Just because it isn't supposed to be arty doesn't mean it can't be good.
    Of course, as bad as Transformers 2 was, it holds no candle to the horror that was GI Joe. I don't even want my money back. I'd pay double to get the time I wasted watching them back.

  12. david says:

    revenge of the fallen was awful. screw sound. focus on making a movie that doesn't suck. The action scenes all happen so fast that the human eye can't even see what the hell is going on. It doesn't matter how good the sound is if you can't see what the hell is going on. damnit!

  13. Craciun Antonius Tud says:

    Hi i am tony michael bay its the best i like the movie he direct's :D:D i wan't to seee Transformers 3 :D:D i know it will be the best

  14. Transformers is one of the best movies of all times I think!

  15. The Wolf says:

    Sure both Tansformers movies have great effects, sound and Megan Fox wearing something skimpy, but lets be honest here these movies though technically great really lack anything unique for a story. There more a commercial grab for money then anything else it's really disappointing

  16. ThaliaGRUBB says:

    Wow, I am happy to find this well

    – Kayden KRAUS

  17. Tha-last-one says:

    Screw what they talking bout… listen Mr. Bay… the movie rocks… growing up watchin the cartoon…and now the MOVIE… I love both movies and cant get enough… Rock on MAN!!!

  18. STEPHANIE says:

    I love all the transformer films I am a huge fan and hope they make a 4th movie and not end with the 3rd one. I have started the 4th one and it is something michael bay you or your writers have not thought of. It will make people come see it time and tiime again. Please EMAIL me back I would love to give this DREAM WINGS TO FLY. Also show the kids that having seizures and other disabilites,that there deams can still have the wings to fly as well and not give up on there dreams or life. As OPTIMUS PRIME SAID, FATE RARELY CALLS UPON US AT A MOMENT OF OR CHOOSEING. PLEASE EMAIL ME BACK SOON. TRANSFORM AND ROLL OUT, STEPHANIE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis