‘Transformers’ sound mixers reveal how they kept your ears from caving in

Greg. P Russell and Scott Millan are masters of an art that can be difficult to appreciate. Great sound mixers take essential tracks – dialogue, score, and effects, all crafted and fighting for ear space – and meld them together to match, or enhance, the visuals on screen. In a film like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the balancing act is like a Philippe Petit tightrope walk, one rogue robo-BRAAM tipping the controlled chaos soundscape into cacophony. In a new installment of Variety”s Artisans series, senior VP Tim Grey talks to Russell and Millan about the fourth “Transformers” and Michael Bay”s increasingly difficult audio challenge.

“As Michael would testify, sound is 50 percent of his films,” says Russell in the video. A 16-time Oscar-nominated sound mixer, Russell has fit each of Bay”s “Transformers” films between work like “Skyfall” and “Alice in Wonderland.” “Age of Extinction” marked Millan”s first brush with Optimus Prime. But he”s no stranger to the blockbuster mixing world: Nominated for Best Sound Mixing nine times, Millan walked away with statues for his work on “Apollo 13,” “Gladiator,” “Ray,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” His experience clues him into the dangers of heavy sound mixing.

“We made a very conscious effort [on “Age of Extinction”] to not get so loud that it pulls the audience out of the film,” Millan says. “There”s a fatigue effect. Sonically, you can fatigue an audience and they'll tune out. You have to find ways to become more stylized and give the audience a break.”

Russell feels strongly about delving into his job for your viewing pleasure. In a thorough preview of the Variey series, Kris spoke to the sound mixer on the importance of digging into below-the-line crafts. It”s not just to wow outsiders, but to educate an industry that collaborates with them every day:

“The more people can look at all of these disciplines and get an inside perspective, it might open people's eyes,” said Russell. “I'm all for anything that can better inform and educate not only the laymen, but also those in the industry. To this day there are filmmakers who don't understand the difference between sound design and sound editorial and sound mixing.”