ore than meets the eye? The motto of "Transformers," whose sequel, "Revenge of the Fallen," is opening at midnight tonight at both Champaign's Carmike Beverly Cinema and the Goodrich Savoy 16, could also describe Champaign native Josh Nizzi, a 32-year-old freelance artist whose designs of transforming alien robots such as Megatron will grace big screens around the world.
Nizzi, who now lives in Cary, N.C., tapped into a more typical machine to tell The News-Gazette how he broke into film, and how a Transformer goes from sketch to screen.
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What is your connection to the Champaign area?
Josh Nizzi: My parents (Patrick and Andrea Nizzi) live there, I was born there, went to the (University of Illinois), my first job out of college was at Volition, I met my wife at Vineyard Church, and had two of our three kids at Carle.
How did you first get involved in "Transformers?"
JN: I have been a fan of Transformers since I was a kid. After seeing the first movie, I loved how the robots were brought to life and wanted to work on the sequel. But breaking into any industry is hard, especially films – there is like no information on the Web about how to do it. So I decided my best bet was to design a robot that would likely be in the sequel and put it on the Web. I figured that Devastator would probably be in the next film so I designed one of the robots that combines to create him – Long Haul. I put the image on the Web and got a lot of nice fan feedback.
Freelance artist Josh Nizzi, a Champaign native and University of Illinois graduate who now lives in Cary, N.C., is the designer behind several of the robots featured in 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.'
Then a few months later, I got an e-mail from the design director of boys' toys at Hasbro, Aaron Archer, asking if I wanted to do concepts for "Transformers 2." After dancing around the house a bit and talking with my wife, I signed on. Soon after that, (film director) Michael Bay's studio hired me on and I was making trips to L.A. to work on site as well as remotely.
N-G: What are the robots you designed and what was your design process like?
JN: The robots I'm primarily responsible for are Megatron, Jetfire, Power Up Optimus, and Long Haul.
The design process usually goes something like this:
– Brainstorming/rough sketches.
– Refine a few roughs that are most promising.
– Pick one and do a finished painting.
– Do a rear view.
– Do a close-up of the face.
Depending on how fleshed out a character is in the director or production designer's mind, this process can be quick or there can be a lot of iterations. For example, Long Haul, the design I did before I was hired was the first design approved for "Revenge of the Fallen"; there were no iterations at all. Megatron had many iterations because Michael was still figuring out what to do with the character as I was working on him.
N-G: What kinds of machines can the robots you designed morph into?
JN: Megatron transforms into a Cybertronian tank. Long Haul is a giant dump truck. Jetfire is an SR-71 ("Blackbird" reconnaissance aircraft). What happens with Optimus is one of the big plot points in the movie, so I don't want to give that away.
N-G: Have you worked on other movies, and if so, what have you done?
JN: I've worked on "G.I. Joe," "Robot Taekwon V," "Tarzan" and other movies that don't have titles yet. But I also do a lot of work in other entertainment such as video games, comics, toys and theme parks.
N-G: How did you get into this field?
JN: I've always loved drawing. My parents did a great job of nurturing my interests and talents. I went to the U of I and got a degree in graphic design. After college, I got a job at Volition and worked on a number of games there. I went to work at Day 1 Studios in Chicago before going freelance and expanding into films and other areas besides video games.
N-G: Have you seen the final cut of the new "Transformers" movie yet? How does it compare to the first film?
JN: I have not seen the final cut. I'm probably more excited than anybody to see it, though. From what I have seen, it looks like the movie is going to be a lot like the first one, but with more of everything – and I like more.
Behold... Galvatron! And behold the exclusive print I'll have available at the 2009 London Film and Comic-Con. It is of course a variant of the Apocalypse Comics exclusive cover for All Hail Megatron #12 (and of course it is an homage to the classic cover to the Amazing Spider-Man #50 by legend John Romita).
This print is limited to only 50 copies. I'm also considering only offering it if you also buy Apocalypse's exclusive cover for AHM #12, as I don't want this to take away from Apocalypse's sales. I have a feeling these are going to go fast...
"“Transformers Spotlight: Metroplex” provided Schmidt with another interesting challenge, as the one-shot takes place almost exclusively in wide-screen presentation, whereby all but the first and last pages are double-pages spreads. “I felt that a story about a transforming city should feel big and I jokingly said I was going to do all spreads in the issue,” the writer said. “And then Chris Ryall, the Editor-in-Chief, called me out on it. Said I couldn't do it. And let me be honest, it was hard to do!
“Normally, you shoot for around five panels to a page, on average, but spreads are different and they have different rules so that the reader will read them properly. The canvas had changed. It was really tough, but what I'm finding is that every time I have an obstacle to overcome (especially since I'm still a fairly young comics writer) that it just makes me step my game up. It was a challenge, and figuring it out I think led to a better book.
“That all said, the real star of this issue is Marcelo, the artist. Holy crap, he hit this one out of the park! It's killer work and just stunning! He hit every spread perfectly. I could always read the spreads perfectly, my eye was never drawn down instead of across the spread. He's just amazing and really proved his ability with this one.”
Also notable about the Metroplex spotlight is that, despite the title, Goldbug is the point-of-view character, with Metroplex making a major though somewhat enigmatic appearance and hinting that he is at the center of some secret Autobot intrigue. “There are plans for Metroplex,” Schmidt confirmed. “There is very clearly something more going on that is seen on the surface. And yes, that will be picked up on later, but I can't say more...”"
This coming weekend could make Hollywood history for Michael Bay, the movie director behind the big-budget epics “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor.” His latest release, the $200 million action-adventure movie “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” is poised to possibly become the biggest opening in Hollywood history, with estimates that it could gross more than $200 million by Sunday’s end—rivaling the record-shattering totals for last summer’s “The Dark Knight.” But the 44-year-old director, who has a predilection for massive budgets and pyrotechnic explosions, has already set his sights on a radically new goal: making an art film.
The Wall Street Journal: This film features even more talking robots—based on the Hasbro toy line—than the first “Transformers.” Why add in more robots rather than humans?
Mr. Bay: That’s what fans wanted. The first film was really about us setting up the situation, and this movie is about us discovering what we could do better with that situation, how to make this most out of these special effects and these characters.
Did Hasbro force you to conform the aesthetics of the robots to match the style of its toy line? Did you have to make any compromises on characters for the sake of promoting Hasbro’s stable of pre-existing Transformers characters?
Not at all. I told [Hasbro] that I was going to do my own thing, and they really let me go off on the designs. They gave me carte blanche—it was pretty phenomenal. But I still listened to people who were in that world when they asked things like, ‘Can we make Optimus’s ears a little longer so he appears more in character?’ That’s easy to do. And a lot of the artists and people that we hired were fans of Transformers growing up, so having so many fans working on my crew really kept me on point. There are things that I invented—the creaky geriatric robot that is always grumpy, for example, or the little wheelie guy, he’s not in the Hasbro lore. But kids love that stuff—this little guy as a pet on a chain. They gravitate towards it.
Did you add testicles to the robots, too?
No, those are construction balls.
Uh-huh. So, now that you’ve finished the sequel of “Transformers,” are you ready to direct the third installment of the franchise?
I just want to take some time off. It’s been almost three years that I’ve devoted myself entirely to this world of robots. At some point, enough is enough—and I literally carried this movie on my back. I only finished it in the last week. It was a tough movie for me to finish—especially with the writers strike, the possible SAG strike. At one point, we were the only union movie in America shooting—Hollywood was so messed up from those two events.
So you don’t want to do another sequel?
I don’t know who [would] want to take on my shoes with this franchise. We might just take a year down.
What’s next for you, then?
I’ve been talking to some big actors right now about something that is totally different. A small dark comedy, a true story, with actors just acting, no effects. I’m done with effects movies for now. When you do a movie like “Transformers,” it can feel like you’re doing three movies at once—which is tiring.
It’s interesting that you want to focus on acting. Megan Fox, one of the leads in “Transformers” has criticized your films for being special-effects-driven and not offering so many acting opportunities. Do you agree?
Well, that’s Megan Fox for you. She says some very ridiculous things because she’s 23 years old and she still has a lot of growing to do. You roll your eyes when you see statements like that and think, “Okay Megan, you can do whatever you want. I got it.” But I 100% disagree with her. Nick Cage wasn’t a big actor when I cast him, nor was Ben Affleck before I put him in “Armageddon.” Shia LaBeouf wasn’t a big movie star before he did “Transformers”—and then he exploded. Not to mention Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, from “Bad Boys.” Nobody in the world knew about Megan Fox until I found her and put her in “Transformers.” I like to think that I’ve had some luck in building actors’ careers with my films.
With all the recent emphasis on 3D and technology in movies, do you think we’ll see some directors emerge out of the special effects houses?
Mr. Bay: People have come before from the special effects houses and have not done well. People can come from anywhere—but its really about telling stories. Either you’re born to do this or you’re not.
Speaking of effects, What about 3-D? Are you a fan? Will we watch the third “Transformers” movie in three dimensions?
I prefer the flat screen. I’m not jumping to do 3-D at all—it’s a pain in the neck to shoot it and I actually like the flat image. I’ve heard that some people can’t even see 3-D and, moreover, that a major side effect of watching it is feeling exhausted. Can you imagine how you’d feel watching one of my movies in 3-D?
You really shot all those scenes [in ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”] at the real pyramids?
One of the things that I pride myself on is that in situations where people say, “You can’t do that,” somehow I am always able to pull it off. I did it with “Pearl Harbor” and I did it with “Armageddon,” with the space shuttle, and luckily [Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities] Dr. Zahi Hawass, who runs the pyramids, was a fan of the first “Transformers”—so he let us film there, even though we’re the first film to do so in 30 years.
Those pyramids get pretty beat up in the film. Did they crumble during the filming?
The destruction is all effects. We were very, very careful. We didn’t break anything.
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