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July 2014
Issue: August 1, 2009

EDIT THIS!: 'TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN'

By: Randi Altman
SANTA MONICA — So many robots! That was one of the big challenges for the editors on Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But thanks to a workflow established on the original Transformers film, the CG robots were a manageable challenge, according to associate editor Calvin Wimmer, who worked with editors Roger Barton, Tom Muldoon, Joel Negron, Paul Rubell and Glen Scantleberry.
Wimmer (who also voiced one of the Decepticons) describes his role as a liaison between Bay and the visual effects houses on the film — ILM had the lead, but Digital Domain, Kerner Optical, Co3 and Asylum also provided shots. "My main job was overseeing the visual effects and getting them turned over to the different visual effects houses. A lot of times I was just giving notes and making sure they knew what Michael wanted, and transferring that information back and forth. When it got toward the end we were cutting in a couple of hundred visual effects a day, [so it got a bit hectic]."
He says the amount of work director Bay had to do on this Transformers was much more intensive in terms of the time he needed to spend with all the visual effects companies. "Michael spent a lot of time with the visual effects houses, but it required even more than he was able to give." he says. "We felt like we were ahead of the game in terms of the robots with ILM because the learning curve was over; they didn't have to invent stuff this time. Because of the shear complexity, there were more robots, and ILM was being more ambitious with them."
Wimmer's first experience working with Bay came on the original Transformers movie, where he was an assistant editor. For this film the editing team was outfitted with nine new Avid Media Composer Nitris DX systems, cutting in DNxHD 36. They worked out of Bay's Platinum Dunes and Bay Films in Santa Monica. "It's kind of a compound," reports Wimmer. The Avids were hooked up to Unity in two different buildings. "The guys at Pivotal Post ran fiber over to Michael's building and we had three Avids and a Digidesign ProControl system for temp mixes." The six other Avids were housed in the "editing" building across the parking lot.

THE WORK

The editors were basically operating on the same schedule they had on the first Transformers film, but this time they had to contend with the additional CG robots and even more visual effects. This added much more complexity to the work and was one of their main challenges. Luckily they had a team of vets onboard.
Roger Barton was the film's main editor. He worked for about a month on his own before long-time Bay collaborator Tom Muldoon came on. "So it was Roger and Tom Muldoon for another month until Joel Negron, who was coming off The Mummy, arrived," explains Wimmer. "Paul Rubell was going to start as soon as he got off Public Enemies, but there was a month gap, so we brought in Glen Scantleberry as as additional editor to bridge that."
Barton was tackling most of the dailies as they were coming in. "We'd get phone calls from Michael and he would divvy up the work, saying, 'Have Tom do this or have Roger do that.' It wasn't specific to one guy does action better or anything like that, but Tom knows Michael so well and Michael values his opinion about stuff, especially the lighter comedy moments."
Bay had Media Composer running on a  laptop and his own editing room, but he wasn't cutting scenes. "He is only hands on in terms of going in to pull selects on the Avid, and he looks at cuts and gives us notes — the laptop was really valuable in terms of him reviewing the cuts," he explains. "He doesn't do any cutting; I don't think he'd want to."
A big difference for the editors on this Transformers was the decision to cut in Avid's DNxHD 36. "We can screen right out of the Avid at that compression," reports Wimmer. "We can take the whole movie to a screening room without having to lay it off to tape. The beauty of having an Avid system that is so powerful in realtime was the DNxHD 36 compression made it very easy for us."
Wimmer says two things made their editing that much smoother: choosing DNxHD 36 as their compression format and making laptops part of their workflow. Deciding to go with DNxHD 36 compression "turned out to be a life-saving choice.
"Had we chosen 115, it uses three times as much storage and there is no way we would have been able to do the laptop workflow, with the whole movie at Michael's [fingertips]."
And Bay really took to the laptop. "Michael's time was taken up with shooting because of the timeframes, so being able to have a laptop for him to review cuts on and give notes was a lot faster than what we would normally do."
Wimmer couldn't imagine doing this film on another platform. "If you tried to do a robot movie on [a] competing platform, it would last about two seconds before Michael Bay just exploded. It would not work in that cutting room at all."

BIG SHOTS

"One of the biggest challenges was, we had two big scenes completely in IMAX," says Wimmer. "You are trying to cut these scenes that you know are going to be 50 feet tall. You have to imagine how the scenes are going to go and try to guess what Michael wants, because you are sort of on your own starting out. Theses IMAX  scenes were tough because you know things are going to be bigger, and you don't know how it's all going to work out on a screen that large."
One of the IMAX scenes was the forest fight, which has Optimus Prime battling a bunch of Decepticons; the other featured  the Devastator Decepticon.
All in all, the experience was a good one for Wimmer and the editors, although they wouldn't have minded just a little more time. "I think some would have liked to have had another month," he laughs. "We felt like we were just a little bit behind because of the size of this film, the amount of work to be done, but it always seems to get done on time no matter what."