- “Bumblebee” is the latest “Transformers” movie.
- We sat down with the movie’s Foley team to learn how they helped bring the Autobots and Decepticons to life using sound.
- To create Bumblebee’s movements, they used objects like car seats, helmets, and sprinkler heads.
Following is a transcription of this video:
– Narrator: The “Transformers” movies are known for explosions and giant Autobots that crash into buildings. To make all that feel real, the sound has got to be just right. “Bumblebee,” the latest entry in the franchise, was no exception.
To learn more about how the sounds you hear in the movie are made, we talked to the film’s Foley team. Foley sounds are any sounds based on a character’s interactions and movements. Usually that means human characters, but it can also apply to the sounds of animals, and, in this case, big metallic creatures. Many of Bumblebee’s movements aren’t different than what you’d expect from a human character, but he’s made of metal, so he’s going to sound different.
This is Dawn Lunsford, Alicia Stevenson, and David Jobe, the Foley team behind the movie.
Dawn: Bumblebee’s a car, so it seemed logical that we would use car parts, car doors, car hoods, depending on what part of his body we might be doing.
Narrator: Surprisingly, the best way to understand what it’s like to create sound for an Autobot is with a small comedic scene. Bumblebee, an adorable alien from outer space, befriends Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld. There’s a hilarious scene in the movie where Bumblebee wrecks Charlie’s house.
Alicia: We sort of thought, yes, Bumblebee’s a car, but he’s also kinda like a puppy. Dawn: He touches things very delicately.
Narrator: The team had a lot of interesting objects at their disposal, like this very old lawnmower. Riding this over the car door, paired with a little hit of a seat cushion, helped them create the sound of Bumblebee sitting on the couch.
David: Bumblebee still needs to sound heavy, but you can play with weight, and you can play with attack, and sometimes those little things can give a sense of aggression and clumsiness.
Narrator: They often use these “rain birds” to get the sounds of Bumblebee’s hands. Here, Bumblebee tries to open a soda can. What’s more complicated are the multipart sounds. The individual sounds usually get recorded separately and then layered digitally. For this part of the scene where Bumblebee hits his head on a lamp, they needed to record two sounds: first a helmet hitting a car door, then a lampshade swaying back and forth.
Dawn: Sometimes something as simple as that lampshade could be five tracks, easily.
Narrator: If these two sounds were recorded at once, the sound mixer wouldn’t have as much control balancing the two sounds. Surface makes a huge difference.
Alicia: I put the parts against the car door so that it would sound connected, like it’s connected to a whole robot. Otherwise, it might, if I put it on the cement, then it might sound too thin.
Narrator: For instance, for the sound of Bumblebee tapping his fingers…
Alicia: I don’t know, it just sounds too thin to me.
Narrator: And for the movie’s underwater scene, they actually had to get a little wet. Then, in the editing room, they manipulated the sounds they recorded to reflect how deep underwater Charlie and Bumblebee go.
Not every Autobot is the same. Bumblebee and Optimus Prime are very different in size, so they sound different.
– My name is Optimus Prime.
Narrator: Optimus is bigger and more bombastic. Bumblebee is, as the sound team described him, very gentle and almost E.T.-like. You can see that especially in a moment where Bumblebee plays with Charlie’s hair.
But what about those fight scenes the franchise is known for? Anna Behlmer, one of the movie’s rerecording mixers, explained how sound works in a fight scene between two Autobots.
Anna: The fights are always so challenging. You know, they’re two metal robots, but they have to have their own characters. You have to know which one is which. So their punches sound a little different from one to the other. And when one is winning and one is not, obviously whoever’s winning’s punches we always make stronger than who’s losing. You just make them audibly louder and more intense and heavier.
Narrator: Behlmer said they have to be really careful with sound levels in these scenes. Smacking metal sounds much louder than smacking flesh. Too loud and they risk fatiguing the audience.
Besides the Autobot fights, another thing this franchise is known for: explosions. Those sounds aren’t done with Foley but digitally. Every explosion sound has to be unique.
Anna: The challenge is not to make it sound like every other explosion. So there’s an integration that happens with other sounds that you would never think would belong in an explosion. Like maybe a high-end screech that would make you feel uncomfortable or maybe sometimes even a deep animal vocal like a deep growl or something to that effect.
Dawn: Foley is a team effort. It’s like being in a band. But hopefully you’re working with people that you get along with and that you have the same creative sensibilities, like we do, so we’re very lucky. Don’t try this at home, kids. It’s very dangerous. High stakes.
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