'Transformers 3': 5 Things You Didn't Know About Its Sound

Transformers - Movie Still: Shockwave - 2011
Paramount Pictures

Director Michael Bay mixes it up with the new Dolby Surround 7.1 in "Dark of the Moon."

The haters may accuse Transformers: Dark of the Moon of being too noisy, but sound re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell, a 14-time Oscar nominee, tells the Hollywood Reporter that the movie is “the most ambitious” sound mix he has ever worked on. In fact, director Michael Bay didn’t just settle for innovative 3D photography, he also insisted on a cutting edge sound experience. Russell -- along with re-recording mixers Gary Summers and Jeffrey J. Haboush -- used the new Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound, and moviegoers can hear the results for themselves.

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1. Get close to Optimus Prime and the bots: Dolby Surround 7.1 comprises eight channels of audio. By comparison, the more commonly used 5.1 Surround uses six channels. The 7.1 channel layout includes left, center, right, low-frequency effects, left surround, right surround, back surround left and back surround right. (The back surround left and right are new to the 7.1 channel layout.) Says Russell, “You want to set the audience right in the middle of the movie, and I think nothing has served us any better recently than having this new format to mix in.”

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2. When the Driller robot cuts through a building, the 7.1 really gets a work-out: “This is a very powerful 3D moment, but sonically there’s a lot of sound information that is traveling with the tentacles of this robot. The motion and spatial environments are an extreme use of (7.1),” Russell explains. “In 7.1 you can have a real, distinct sound that goes front to back (in the auditorium) in a way that you don't get with 5.1 because when you pull things into the back it is also coming out of the side speakers in a 5.1 configuration. (The mix was used) to create a real experience with elements flying over your head.”

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3. When the Navy SEALs jump out of helicopters over Chicago, the sound mix heightens the sense of danger: “This is not a visual effects shot; they were actually dropped off the top of the Sears tower,” Russell relates. “They are traveling past buildings and being fired upon by the robot ships and sounds of the incoming missiles are coming from different (directions) in a way that is really effective and shows the 7.1 experience. The direction of the source of the threat is much more apparent.” 

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4. For the full impact, find a 7.1-equipped theater -- if you can. According to Dolby, there are now an estimated 2,000 7.1 equipped theaters worldwide. A full listing can be found here. Although be advised, you might want to consult a travel agent, since the Dolby 7.1 auditoriums can be few and far between in some areas.

5. If you like what you hear at Transformers, then check out Cars 2: Transformers: Dark of the Moon is Paramount's second 7.1 release, following Thor. But Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 was actually the first feature to be mixed in 7.1 Surround. Other examples include Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2. The just-released Cars 2 also boasts a 7.1 mix.