The Transformers: The Movie saw voice actors Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Scatman Crothers, Chris Latta and others return to reprise their roles from the show, and were joined by Judd Nelson, who was coming off the back of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire as young Autobot Hot Rod alongside The Untouchable’s Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus, Monty Python Eric Idle as Junkion Wreck-Gar and Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy as new Decepticon leader Galvatron. Rounding out the voice cast was legendary actor and director Orson Welles as the evil planet Unicron. “The good thing about animation in those days is that you weren’t asking for much of a commitment from people,” Dille notes on getting Welles in the movie. “If they were in town, it was just a few hours. It probably paid well for the time. Also, sometimes you’ll find that actors want to do kid’s stuff – which animation was considered at the time – so their kids and grandkids will see them.” For Shin, getting Welles was dream casting as he wanted someone with a low and deep tone for Unicron, which the actor had shown in Macbeath and the radio play of War of the Worlds. “We thought he was right fit into this character and when he accepted our offer, we was shouting for exciting,” Shin jokes.
Sadly, by August 1985 when Welles came in to record his dialogue, the 70-year old actor was very frail and ill. “When I was waiting for him in a recording booth, he was entering in a wheelchair with an assistant,” Shin recalls. “At a look, I could see he was not in a good condition. All the staff as well as a recording engineer moved carefully while making a comfortable room for him. I stretched my arm to him to shaking his hand and represented as the director of the movie. I showed him a panel of character concept drawing to prepare for his voice. He signed on that drawing to me for the movie be success.” Despite his frail state, Welles went into the booth to deliver his lines. “Orson started reading the lines of the dialogue script, and he was really just red, not performing,” Shin adds. “However, but I felt he was doing his best, and I was sure that other staff also thinking the same as me and we glanced at each other, but no one commented on his reading. After he left the sound studio, we decided to alternate his voice by the sound synthesizer machine. It wasn’t widely common to have a voice alternate device in those days, but we found only one voice synthesizer device in Hollywood and alternated his weak voice to a strong and gigantic voice.” In an interview following the performance, Welles said, “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another. The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.”
Orson Welles passed away on October 5th 1985, just two months after finishing his recording for The Transformers: The Movie, making the film one of his final big screen performances. Although Welles’ “toy movie” quote has become synonymous with the film’s legacy, his close friend Peter Bogadanovich told a Reddit AMA in 2015, “I don’t think Orson was bitter about [The Transformers: The Movie]. Orson wasn’t really bitter. He was very acerbic. He could be rather cutting. But I wouldn’t say he was bitter. I’m sure he had moments of bitterness, but I don’t think it was in his nature, really, to be bitter.”
Coming on to score the movie was composer Vince DiCola, who was requested by the producers following his work on Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV. “Unfortunately they had no actual footage for me to look at when I signed on,” DiCola recalls. “It was all in storyboard form, and to be honest it was difficult for me to get a sense of what the movie was going to look like from the storyboards. The boards did provide me with an idea of timing and overall mood, and that was enough for me to get started.” Although DiCola had no prior knowledge of the TV show or the toys, he knew what vibe he wanted to achieve. “Basically I went into my studio and started writing thematic and action-related material based on the feel I was getting from the storyboards,” he says. “As things progressed and we were fed a little film footage at a time, I would make any necessary adjustments for timing, etc. I would then make and send demo tapes – cassettes back at that time – to my copyist Charlie Calello, who would generate musical charts which we could then take into the actual recording sessions at Scotti Brothers studio in Los Angeles to record the final masters with the rest of the musicians. Another very important part of the process was having my co-producer Ed Fruge edit all the music I was submitting. Even during the time I was composing music to what we were initially told was final footage, many significant edits were being made to the film, and Ed’s job – which he did very well, I might add – was to make sure the resulting adjustments to the music were as ‘musical’ as possible I.e: the music had to be cut in a way so as to downplay the edit points and sound as if it was actually composed that way initially.”
One of the bigger scenes for DiCola to score was the death of Optimus Prime, which the composer took very seriously. “Although I had no previous knowledge of the TV show and/or its characters, it quickly became apparent that Optimus Prime was a major character and his death was going to be one of the most important and memorable parts of the movie,” he recalls. “Consequently the melody came to me rather quickly and easily.” He adds: “Because I had no connection to the series prior to my work on the movie, I could only react to Prime’s death from a musical standpoint in terms of the movie itself. Is it ever ‘right’ to kill off a main character in a TV show or movie? It’s pretty astonishing to me how often this occurs these days – Game of Thrones being just one example.”
For Nelson Shin, however, DiCola’s music wasn’t the right fit for the movie. “I think DiCola was a talented composer,” he argues. “At that time, he tried to present as much music as possible for us and worked hard to find good music, but he seemed to mainly listen to an executive producer who took financial budget rather than to try to understand the film, which I – as a director – wanted him to do as my words. Now I might need to listen again the soundtrack in order to evaluate it though. Anyway, then I felt that too much music was layered in the movie. As a director, I thought that its quantity was a problem, not its quality. My biggest regret is that I didn’t get a chance to do what I wanted to do my way.” Because of this, Shin requested that the music track be lowered in the sound mix, something that didn’t go unnoticed by DiCola. “To be honest, when I saw the final version of the film I was a bit underwhelmed but only because I was disappointed in how low the volume of the music ended up being relative to the sound effects,” he says. “And then, due to the fact that the movie was only in theatres for a short time and didn’t seem to attract much positive attention at the time, it wasn’t long before it drifted into the category of ‘just another job’ in my mind. That’s not to say I didn’t give the project 150% of my attention while I was working on it. I was and remain very proud of the music I composed for the movie.”