'Transformers 4' Sound Editors on Their 'Star Wars' Homage and Using an 'Emotional Cow'

The sound editing team of Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn had their work cut out for them on Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction with new characters including Dinobots, Protos and the bounty hunter Lockdown.

The pair have been with the Transformers franchise since the first film. Van der Ryn, an Oscar winner for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and 2005's King Kong, was nominated for the first Transformers film and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The later nomination was shared with Aadahl.

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For this fourth installment, they wanted to do something different, which was possible with the introduction of new robots.

Aadahl tells The Hollywood Reporter that since the Dinobots transform into dinosaurs, they wanted the vocalizations to be less modern — the “Atari version” of the Autobots — with vocalizations that are more “simple and elemental.”

This included “earthy sounds” such as rock friction and a “particularly emotional cow.”

“The cow was never in danger. … There was a cow that was very emotional and would make certain vocalizations when other cows were being fed, but he was not," Aadahl explains. "We separated him from the rest of the herd and brought the others to the feeding trough. … He started crying — a waterfall of tears. We recorded him for about 15 seconds, and by then our hearts were broken. We stopped, and he was fed.”

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In creating the sound of bounty hunter Lockdown, neither Autobot nor Decepticon, the Transformers team included deep breathing that was inspired by veteran sound designer Ben Burtt’s creation of the iconic sound of Darth Vader in Star Wars. “That’s one of my favorite sounds,” Aadahl says of Burtt's work.

Age of Extinction also includes "manmade" robots called Protos (short for prototypes), and Van der Ryn explains that their sound is “more synthetic and less organic than the sounds that we had been using in the other films for both the Autobots and the Decepticons. We worked on a palette of sounds that were more processed — more work within [audio postproduction system] ProTools plug-ins.”

The transformation of the Protos is also more "musical," to reflect the unique way that they shape-shift, Aadahl says. “They had a different way of transforming, which was more of a cascading, rippling, almost musical quality," he says.

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Transformers was mastered for two different immersive sound systems: Barco’s Auro 11.1 and Dolby’s Atmos; these mixes can be heard in supported theaters. This work was done at Technicolor at Paramount, by the company’s rerecording mixers Scott Millan, a four-time Oscar winner; and Greg P. Russell, who has earned 16 Oscar nominations for films, including for all three previous Transformers movies.

“One place that I think the Atmos is particularly effective is in a scene when a giant ship starts sucking up everything that’s metal,” Van der Ryn says. “We were able to have this very powerful, intense sound, streaming up from the sides of the theater, all around us, up into the ceiling [Atmos' configuration includes speakers placed in the ceiling of an auditorium]. So it feels like you are inside this space. … We did it with Auro as well; you still get the sense of upward movement, but not quite as high into the ceiling.”

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA