Travis Knight re­veals how he re­mod­elled Bum­ble­bee

SFX - - Bumblebee - Richard Ed­wards

For me as an an­i­ma­tor, de­sign is some­thing that you can use to con­vey ideas and emo­tions. Just the shape of the VW Bee­tle, these rounded forms, these very warm shapes… I think if there’s ever been a car that you want to hug it’s a VW Bee­tle, and I think that sort of evokes what’s at the core of Bum­ble­bee, how he is the most hu­man of the trans­form­ers, how he is the one with the great­est affin­ity for hu­man­ity. When you take that shape and then you con­trast that with the bad­dies, the trans­form­ers that he has to go up against, you can see the dif­fer­ence just in the shape lan­guage – these an­gu­lar and an­gry shapes that you see in the De­cep­ti­cons make you see how for­mi­da­ble they are rel­a­tive to this warm, rounded VW Bee­tle.

“Right from the be­gin­ning one of my things was to stream­line, to strip down. I met with my de­sign­ers early on about Bum­ble­bee him­self, and I was talk­ing about how im­por­tant it was for him to be the most ex­pres­sive trans­former we’ve ever seen. their ini­tial ap­proach was to say, ‘We’re go­ing to make him more hy­per-de­tailed, we’re go­ing to go into his face and put in all sorts of mov­ing parts…’ I said, ‘No, no, no, no! Don’t make it more de­tailed, make it less de­tailed. Strip that stuff away, make the stuff that is im­por­tant stand out!’ So that’s his eyes, lit­tle as­pects of his face, his an­ten­nae…

“If you take just a hand­ful of el­e­ments and we make sure that’s where the au­di­ence looks, and you strip ev­ery­thing else away, it makes those things more ex­pres­sive – it’s a stan­dard an­i­ma­tion trick. If you look at a char­ac­ter like WALL-e, it’s es­sen­tially just a box with a cou­ple of eye­balls on top, but they can con­vey so much emo­tion with just those sim­ple forms. that same kind of an­i­ma­tor per­spec­tive is what I brought to the de­sign of Bum­ble­bee and all the ro­bots. I wanted to make sure that they were very, very ex­pres­sive with sim­ple forms. A lot of that stuff was just strip­ping it down to the ba­sics.”

“I have to say that I was in­cred­i­bly giddy to bring these char­ac­ters to life,” ad­mits Knight. “If we were go­ing to see a Cy­bertron, I wanted to see a Cy­bertron that was evoca­tive of that ini­tial feel­ing and de­sign that I ex­pe­ri­enced when I was a child. there was some­thing so beau­ti­ful and clear and won­drous and mag­i­cal about that ini­tial wave of de­signs.”

Knight also seems to tac­itly ac­knowl­edge one of the big­gest prob­lems with the pre­vi­ous movies – that with most of the ro­bots look­ing more-or-less iden­ti­cal from a dis­tance, it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to work out what was go­ing on at a dis­tance.

“see­ing these gi­ant hunks of metal smash­ing into each other, I think it’s al­ways re­ally im­por­tant that the au­di­ence un­der­stands what they’re look­ing at, and I think it’s very easy for these things to be­come con­fus­ing vis­ually,” Knight says. “those ini­tial de­signs of that first wave of trans­form­ers were so per­fect be­cause they had to be phys­i­cal things that ac­tu­ally moved – there was a sim­plic­ity to them, and you al­ways knew which char­ac­ter was which, just based on colour. when you have all these high-oc­tane, white-knuckle bat­tle se­quences and the cam­era’s flash­ing around all over the place, you want to make sure the au­di­ence knows what it’s look­ing at.”

with no Me­ga­tron on the cast list (at least, as far as we know – Michael Bay fa­mously said the De­cep­ti­con leader wouldn’t be in trans­form­ers 2, only for him to turn up in the movie), there’s room for new an­tag­o­nists this time. For starters, shat­ter and Drop­kick (voiced by an­gela Bas­sett and Justin th­er­oux, re­spec­tively) are a pair of De­cep­ti­cons who’ve come to earth “to hunt Bum­ble­bee down” – as “triple Chang­ers”, they’re ca­pa­ble of mor­ph­ing into two dis­tinct ve­hi­cle forms.

there’s also a hu­man an­tag­o­nist in the form of agent Burns, played by wwe wrestler John Cena. while his true mo­tives have been shrouded in se­crecy, we do at least know he’s not a friend of Bum­ble­bee and Char­lie. “with John Cena’s char­ac­ter agent Burns, it was im­por­tant for me to make sure that he was not this two-di­men­sional, mous­ta­chio-twirling bad­die,” says Knight. “so even though we’re cer­tainly not root­ing for him and he’s a heavy guy, we un­der­stand where he’s com­ing from. that makes his per­spec­tive al­most more ter­ri­fy­ing, that on some level he’s kind of right. his point of view on the world makes sense and we get where he’s com­ing from, even though we don’t agree with him.”


But look­ing past the am­blin in­flu­ence, the fan-pleas­ing nods to the orig­i­nal trans­form­ers, and an ’80s set­ting that’s worked won­ders for the likes of Stranger things, the most ex­cit­ing weapon in Bum­ble­bee’s arse­nal is ar­guably its di­rec­tor. travis Knight may be mak­ing his de­but as a live-ac­tion film­maker, but in an­i­ma­tion his CV is spec­tac­u­lar. as one of the lead­ing lights at stop-mo­tion pow­er­house laika, he’s worked on ac­claimed films like Co­ra­line, Para­nor­man and the Box­trolls, while his first fea­ture film as di­rec­tor, Kubo and the two Strings, is a beau­ti­ful, so­phis­ti­cated piece of sto­ry­telling that ar­guably de­served

to beat Zootropo­lis to the Best an­i­mated Fea­ture Film os­car. Not a bad train­ing ground for a di­rec­tor who’s now work­ing with a com­puter-an­i­mated lead char­ac­ter...

“I’ve been an an­i­ma­tor pro­fes­sion­ally for more than 20 years, so my whole job has been to breathe my life into inan­i­mate ob­jects,” says Knight. “of­ten­times it’s been in stop-mo­tion with a pup­pet, but in this case it was some­thing made of ones and ze­ros, so I ap­proached all the key scenes with Bum­ble­bee and the other ro­bots not as vis­ual ef­fects, but as char­ac­ters – these are ac­tors.

“there are def­i­nitely anal­o­gous ex­pe­ri­ences to work­ing in live ac­tion,” he adds. “ob­vi­ously in an­i­ma­tion it’s much, much slower. Kubo and the two Strings took five years from be­gin­ning to end to bring to life. on this film, our pro­duc­tion sched­ule was some­thing like 58 days. It just moves at a much faster clip, but the same skill sets are there.”

per­haps you could even say it’s destiny that the trans­form­ers-lov­ing kid turned an­i­ma­tor should end up bring­ing them to life on the big screen.

“I’ve loved stop-mo­tion since I was a kid,” Knight says. “I re­mem­ber those first ray har­ry­hausen crea­ture fea­tures ab­so­lutely cap­ti­vated me, and to this day there’s some­thing ab­so­lutely mag­i­cal about see­ing these inan­i­mate ob­jects be­ing brought to life through the skill and the tal­ent and the hands of an an­i­ma­tor. to me it evokes that time when we’re chil­dren and we have these beloved play­things where we imag­ine these things have an in­ner life – stop­mo­tion ef­fec­tively is as if it’s a child’s play­thing be­ing brought to life, and that’s why I think there’s such a pri­mal qual­ity to it.

“so it is in­ter­est­ing that 30 years af­ter I was in­tro­duced to these char­ac­ters that I would tell sto­ries about them through my own hands. It’s a sur­real thing, but def­i­nitely those things are con­nected.”

Bum­ble­bee is in cin­e­mas from 26 De­cem­ber.

You just hope there’s not a hid­den stinger some­where.

Char­lie’s in charge be­cause she gets the cool jacket.

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