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‘Transformers: The Last Knight’: How Michael Bay and ILM Created Complex New Medieval Bots

Industrial Light & Magic riffs on King Arthur in the fifth "Transformers" installment, with firebreather Dragonstorm, Cybertron Quintessa and automaton butler Cogman.

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, from Paramount Pictures.

“Transformers: The Last Knight”

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F


For “The Last Knight,” Michael Bay headed toward classy and medieval, traveling to England and riffing on King Arthur with a bevy of new Transformers. Along the way, Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager enlists the aid of an eccentric historian (Anthony Hopkins), a street-wise teenage orphan (Isabela Moner), and an alluring Oxford professor (Laura Haddock).

For Industrial Light & Magic, the challenge was animating even more complex and detailed metallic creatures for higher-resolution action sequences using IMAX 3D cameras. “It’s about craftsmanship and artistry and it doesn’t get easier on any of these films,” said ILM’s VFX supervisor, Scott Farrar, who has labored on all five “Transformers” movies. “The number of parts on Optimus Prime, for instance, went up from about 10,000 parts to 22,000 parts. That means more difficult rendering for achieving a photoreal look.”

Dragonstorm and the Knights of Cybertron

In a prologue, we’re introduced to the origin story of the Transformers on Earth. A thousand years ago, the Knights of the Cybertron helped out King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his Knights of the Roundtable in their war with the Saxons. This was the result of a pact with a drunken and inept Merlin (Stanley Tucci), who was granted use of the three-headed, fire breathing Dragonstorm.

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F

“The nearly 100-foot dragon contains large, metallic thorns and has a tarnished look,” said Farrar. “It took thousands of pieces. No matter which way you look, he’s gonna spear you. So he’s fairly deadly,” he added.

Some of the best-looking shots in the movie were based on sunny afternoon cloud plate shots from Lear jets and helicopters over England, Texas, and Detroit. “Once you start with a gorgeous setting such as this, then the dragon becomes similarly backlit,” Farrar said. “And the more backlight or edge light that you can have, the more realistic it looks.”

Quintessa, the Sorceress from Cybertron

We’re also introduced to the creator of Optimus and the other Transformers, Quintessa, a beautiful and powerful sorceress from Cybertron. This deity took months to build and is comprised of thousands of intricate pieces.

Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, from Paramount Pictures.

“Transformers: The Last Knight”

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F

Quintessa is very regal-looking with a cowl collar and long, flowing cape. ILM even goes further with an ethereal vibe. She resembles pearlescent seaweed in a pool. Her face was modeled after actress Gemma Chan, who recorded her voice, though there’s a slight resemblance to Optimus, too. “We matchmoved to her and created our character, for the face at least, and some of the arm motion,” said Farrar.

It’s like she’s made of small louvered pieces that act like veins, always moving and all reflective. “She is lit only by what the reflected light is doing for her, so you have to position lights everywhere around her,” said Farrar.

Cogman the Manservant

Then there’s the witty, snarky, sociopathic Cogman (voiced by “Downton Abbey’s” Jim Carter), butler to Hopkins’ Sir Edmund Burton. Like “Rogue One’s” unfiltered droid, K-2SO, he steals the movie.

Cogman in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, from Paramount Pictures.

“Transformers: The Last Knight”

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F

“I think he’s one of the most beautiful creations that we’ve come up with,” said Farrar. “The original idea was that he was a turn of the century automaton. But he can run around, and you can see all the gears that are running inside his face, neck, sternum, chest, and shoulders. It’s like he’s made from fine pieces from a very expensive French watch.”

The key-framed Cogman is also highly reflective. He’s made of silvery metal armor with copper and brass, and shines with warm colors. “It’s all about the detail in proximity to the camera for important acting moments,” said Farrar. “We do ultra-closeups in camera so it all looks hand-tooled and hand-made.”

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