Transformers The Last Knight - Michael Bay's Secret Weapon

There are plenty of movie lovers out there who just don’t like the movies of Michael Bay. But no matter how ridiculous the action is in his movies, or how silly the story may be, you can’t deny that he is one of the most proficient and efficient directors working today. All of the stories you hear about how crazy this man is on movie sets are true. But it’s because of his demand for excellency that the cast and crew respect him, working intensely to ensure that the production is moving quickly and efficiently.

Some might find Michael Bay’s intensity unnecessary and over the top, but it’s his raw, unbridled passion for filmmaking, albeit in his own unique style, that has resulted in one of the most impressively run film sets I have ever seen. In fact, pushing his crew to do such hard, fast work has resulted in one particular innovation that is essentially Michael Bay’s secret weapon to shooting a mega visual effects blockbuster like Transformers: The Last Knight in such a speedy, productive fashion, and it’s not the Bayhem camera that we’ve talked about before.

Find out what Michael Bay’s secret weapon is after the jump.

While visiting the set of Transformers: The Last Knight, myself and other members of the press were welcomed into the kind of cargo van that you might find a team of FBI agents sitting in to listen to phone calls on a stakeout. But inside this sleek black van is some of the most advanced equipment in the industry used to monitor and receive the live feeds and data of two to three IMAX Alexa 65 3D camera rigs. That’s right, this is a 3D production van that allows the crew to move faster than pretty much any other 3D crew.

In the early days of 3D’s popularity on film, Michael Bay wasn’t a fan because the camera rigs required to shoot in 3D were so large and cumbersome. Technology has come a long way since then, and Bay’s crew has figured out how to shoot in 3D with some of the most advanced cameras and still move at the breakneck speed he demands from them. Matthew Blute, the production’s stereographer sat with us inside the 3D van explained why they built this unique vehicle specifically for Bay:

The goal of all this was threefold. First, we want to have maximum technical control of what’s going on out there because as you’ve noticed, it’s a pretty dynamic environment with Michael. We never know what’s going to happen, we never know where anything goes — we may need to move over there, move down here, we’re running around.

At this point both Blute and Corey Turner, Senior Vice President of Post Production at Paramount Pictures, both say almost in unison, “We’ve got to be quick.” And then Turner continues Blute’s explanation:

That was the whole reason of doing the van. On the last movie we had the same team, but we decided to be able to move quickly and to adapt to how Michael wants to change locations fast, rearrange sets fast. We built out the van so we could do that. A lot of other shows will just have video go in this room and that team will move back-and-forth. This is all mobile so this team can navigate anywhere, and also in certain cases we’re really far away from the action. We can be up on a different floor of a building like from the last movie, or we could be around the corner or down the street. These guys are basically able to insert themselves into the production or be a remote unit somewhere and still have the flexibility and control that Michael needs to get the shots.

The 3D van is hooked up to the rest of the camera crew and video village (where Bay watches playback of what they shot) on set by way of fiber optic cable, and they can actually be a kilometer away from the set and still do everything they need to do. This includes receiving all of the data (footage) from the cameras, keeping the cameras in sync, taking care of the focus, iris, zoom and all that good stuff. Then there are the 3D details such as the volume of the shot, distance between cameras (the interaxial) and much more. Considering how they’re shooting Transformers: The Last Knight in 3D, the van has to be able to handle quite a bit.

As we said, this Transformers sequel is being shot in part on the IMAX Alexa 65 3D rig, which is actually two cameras (a right and a left one to create 3D imagery), and Blute tells us this is the first time these cameras have been used in a 3D configuration for a live-action movie like this. An Alexa 65 camera on its own is shooting extremely high-resolution imagery, but we’re talking about having two 3D rigs, which means four Alexa 65 cameras could be shooting at once. That’s a lot of data. In fact, it’s double the normal amount of data on any 3D movie because of the Alexa 65 and the number of rigs they’re using.

But this 3D van isn’t the only cool tool in Michael Bay’s arsenal, because there’s also what is essentially a mini-version of the van that’s inside of a much more versatile vehicle that has the ability to see a lot more action. A common vehicle you might see on the set of a blockbuster shooting action sequences is a Porsche Cayenne with a camera arm attached to it. That looks something like this:

Porsche Camera Rig

What’s unique about this kind of vehicle on Michael Bay’s set for this particular Transformers movie is that is has a mini-3D station inside of it so Bay and 3D engineer Don Presley can see what he’s shooting from the vehicle. Blute explains:

He’s actually doing [everything we do in the van] but at 75 miles an hour in the back of the pursuit, bouncing around in a cornfield with explosions going on.

In addition to being able to move as quickly as Bay wants them to, this set-up also allows the director to see how what he’s shooting looks in 3D right away. Blute explains:

The biggest advantage to being able to do this, in my opinion, is that you have the ability for the filmmaker to control exactly what the 3D is going to look like in real-time so that the whole creative team — director, director of photography, production designer, actors — they can all see their creative choices in 3D in real-time as opposed to having to convert it later and figuring out how the 3D is going to work then.

Our time in the 3D van ended when it was time to get a new set-up ready, and the crew moved quickly to get the van ready to move to another position for the next shot. Hopefully it was going to be quick enough for Michael Bay’s purposes.

Transformers: The Last Knight hits theaters on June 23, 2017.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: