‘Bumblebee’ Through the Eyes of an Animator | Modern Society of USA

‘Bumblebee’ Through the Eyes of an Animator

‘Bumblebee’ Through the Eyes of an Animator

One scene in the new Transformers movie “Bumblebee” finds the title character alone in a house. His teen caregiver (Hailee Steinfeld) has been hiding him in the garage, but he finds his way out, touching everything he shouldn’t and, because he’s giant and metal, causing a lot of inadvertent destruction. This bumbling, charming moment plays out as it might in a classic animated comedy, not in a high-stakes action movie.

The emotional center is the relationship between Steinfeld’s character, Charlie, and Bumblebee, whom she discovers after acquiring him, in Volkswagen Beetle form, from her uncle’s scrapyard.

Knight had a template of Bumblebee from the previous movies but was set on going a different way with him here. Since this was a prequel, he wanted to hark back to the ’80s design of the original Transformers cartoon. So he opted for a simpler look, one that focused more on the character’s emotional core than on his mechanical bells and whistles.

“Instead of the upper arm being made out of 50 small pieces, it might be made out of three large panels supported by small parts,” said the visual effects supervisor, Jason Smith, of Industrial Light and Magic. He has worked on four “Transformers” films, beginning with the 2007 installment.

Did this simplification of the design make it easier for the artists? Not exactly.

“It’s not much of a savings in terms of effort,” Smith said. “Because when you replace these multiple pieces with a large panel, you have to make that panel really read as something physical and real.” So more effort is put into how the paint and the metal look and what it takes to make Bumblebee feel like he’s moving in more emotional ways.

And to help create a greater connection on the set between Charlie and Bumblebee, the props and special effects teams built part of a practical Bumblebee: head, chest and upper arms. “The paint was detailed, the eyes would light up,” Smith said. “It was a really faithful copy of Bumblebee at full size.” He said it was useful for all departments, but particularly for visual effects, because it could show computer animators how much light should be reflecting off the chrome, the shade of yellow the robot should be in a particular room, and so on.

All of these details were in an effort to create a Transformer that felt fresh onscreen. “I know I have exacting standards,” Knight said. “But we all had to work together to make this robot as expressive as it could be.”

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