How Transformers were brought to life on the set of 'Bumblebee' (exclusive)

There’s a scene in Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off which hits cinemas on Christmas Eve, that sees the yellow Autobot ruffling the hair of Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie (check it out in the trailer below).

Obviously, Bee is largely a CGI creation, so we were curious to find out how this robot-human interaction was actually achieved on set, and Steinfeld tells us it was done in an adorably low-fi way.

“When it came to [Bumblebee] touching my the top of my head,” the 22-year-old actress tells Yahoo Movies UK, “It was a hand on a stick that somebody reached in, and [ruffled my hair].”

Hailee Steinfeld gets up close with Bumblebee (Paramount)
Hailee Steinfeld gets up close with Bumblebee (Paramount)

“I think what we can take away from this,” jokes her co-star John Cena in the video above, “is that, without CGI, a Transformer costs about 8 dollars. Two sections of PVC pipe, and two tennis balls.”

Bumblebee director Travis Knight says there were more skin-on-metal interactions between humans and Autobots in this film than other Transformers films, due to the personal story at the heart of the film.

“There’s a ton of physical interaction [in Bumblebee],” shares Knight.

“We usually shy away from that sort of thing, because it’s difficult and it’s very hard to make it look real, and believable. But that was at the crux of the story. At the heart of the story is this beautiful relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee, who was generated in a computer.”

Knight’s history is in animation, with his previous feature film being the stop-motion adventure Kubo and the Two Strings. He says his experience in planning scenes frame by frame in animation helped map out CGI sequences, but sometimes he had to get physical on set and act out scenes as Bumblebee himself.

“When I was breaking down the script, I would storyboard all that stuff out,” Knight explains.

“And then we’d built little props that could be proxies of the robots, like a robot hand, or part of a robot torso. Sometimes I would get in there and act things out so that I could show people how he’s moving, and what he’s doing.

“Occasionally we had a circus performer who was on stilts to give people sense of how quickly a robot of that size would move though the scene.”

“I could always see the robot, he was in my brain, but not everyone else could!”

You’ll be able to see the robots for yourself when the hotly-tipped Bumblebee arrives in cinemas on 24 December.

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