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In The Driller, the snake-like creature that attacks a Chicago highrise in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Industrial Light + Magic, the lead VFX house on the movie, has created one of the most complex effects it has ever overseen. To do so, ILM’s Scott Farrar, the movie’s VFX supervisor who also led the VFX teams on the earlier Transformers movies, had to overcome a number of challenges. As he explains to The Hollywood Reporter, not only were the movies’ effects ambitious, they also had to be designed for 3D. And then ILM also threw some “secret sauce” into the mix.
1. The Driller consists of 70,051 parts. By contrast, Optimus Prime, the head Autobot, has just 10,108 parts. Due to the complexity of the Driller, and the fact that he lays waste to a skyscraper, only a few artists working with ILM’s most powerful desktop machines were able to load the shots where the machine takes on the building. And they sometimes waited nearly an hour for the files to load.
2. Massive computing power was needed so that the Driller could destroy the skyscraper: Rendering is the process of calculating the information in a CG file for final video output — essentially by turning numbers into images. It took a staggering 288 hours per frame to render the Driller along with the photoreal CG building that includes all those reflections in its glass.
3. Stereo 3D added to the complexity. At the time of the live-action shoot, choices were made about the interocular distance, which is the distance between the centers of the lenses of the two cameras. “We take the same information,” Farrar said. “We copy that exactly.” ILM rendered a left eye, then a right eye image. The VFX team viewed the shot in 3D, then refined and repeated as needed.
4. For a last push on the final weekend of work, ILM’s entire render farm was used for Transformers 3. ILM calculates that that added up to more than 200,000 rendering hours per day — or the equivalent of 22.8 years of render time in a 24-hour period.
5. A final injection of “Secret Sauce” was used to improve the theatrical experience. Because some 3D movies look dark or soft when projected, Farrar said, “We did make sure things are as bright as possible; Michael (Bay) called up theater owners to make sure they keep the lamps bright in the theaters.” Plus, he added, “We also added a kind of secret sauce to make everything a little sharper, because we know that through the steps, no matter what, when you get to the final screening things tend to go less sharp.”
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