Cameron and Bay Talk 3D, Preview ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’

BayCameron.jpgSpeaking to an audience of theatre owners at the 2009 ShoWest exhibitor’s convention, director Michael Bay famously derided the burgeoning trend of using 3D to draw moviegoers back to the multiplex. Shortly thereafter, he began production on the mega-budget sequel Transformers: Dark of the Moon … in 3D. What triggered the abrupt change of heart? In the end, it was a tag-team effort on the part of Dreamworks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg and Hollywood’s most vocal 3D booster, James Cameron, that led Bay to embrace a format he once declared a “gimmick.”

Bay revealed as much last night at the “3D: A Transforming Visual Art” event at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where journalists, film students, and various miscellaneous industry types gathered to hear titans Cameron and Bay talk 3D shop, and to catch a preview of the first five minutes of Dark of the Moon. In between technobabble-laced discussions of f-stops and dynamic ranges, some interesting tidbits emerged:

Bay is a 3D convert, but not a zealous one: Conversation about the format took on a distinct pattern, with Bay at various points lamenting some hassle or limitation of 3D filmmaking, followed by Cameron assuring him that the issue had been addressed by recent advances in technology … or at least would be in short order. Among several complaints, Bay decried the bulkiness and techno-complexity of the 3D camera rig, which caused multiple headaches for his camera crew, particularly his Iranian-born cinematographer Amir Mokri (“You have to understand: People from Iran are very passionate,” Bay explained) and served to slow down his famously fast shoots.

3D added $30 million to the Dark of the Moon budget: “Bottom line: If you want to do 3D right, it’s going to be expensive,” said Bay. Cameron was quick to assure him that the added cost would be easily offset by extra earnings from 3D showings, which Bay grudgingly conceded as likely.

Bay still prefers film over digital: Bay considers himself an “old-school” director, still partial to Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. (And all of his CGI shots are rendered in a Commodore 64, the same computer Cecil B. Demille used for the visual effects in The Ten Commandments.) Though most of the movie was shot digitally, Bay still relied on film for close-ups. “I don’t like the digital look at all” for face shots, he asserted. Cameron, predictably, disagreed, claiming that “as far as I’m concerned, digital has surpassed film.”

Crappy 3D is bad for everyone: Though they differ in enthusiasm for the format, the directors are clearly united in their disdain for bad 3D. Without naming names, Bay derided filmmakers that employ “bullshit 3D” that leaves audiences feeling cheated. Cameron’s words were more tactful but also more dire, labeling poorly-rendered 3D as “a danger to the business.”

Oh … and about that footage: (Minor spoiler alert) The audience was treated to a preview of the first five minutes of the film, a prologue montage that serves to explain how how an Autobot spaceship ended up crash-landing on the dark side of the Moon. Upon being made aware of the craft’s existence, a CGI JFK orders the inception of the Apollo program in order to ensure that Americans get to the craft first — and the advanced technology it presumably contains — before the Russians do. The footage was dazzling, the storytelling a little clunky, the crappy CGI JFK a needless distraction. (CGI Nixon, on the other hand, looks fairly decent. Go figure.)

And one more thing …

Crunches can be creative: Bay revealed that he conceived one of the film’s signature action sequences, in which several elite military types base jump off of Chicago’s Trump Tower and glide through the Windy City’s skyline at breakneck speeds, while doing crunches at the gym. Incidentally, that also happens to be how Hitchcock got the idea for Psycho’s famous shower scene. Like Bay said, he’s old-school.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens everywhere July 1, 2011.