Tag Archives: KSC

My Transformers 3 filming experience at NASA KSC (with photos)

I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting photos. I figure now that the movie is out all the closed set stuff is overcome by events.  Here’s hoping I don’t get sued.

Back in the Fall of 2010, Michael Bay and his Transformers 3 crew came to central Florida to film for one full week inside the gates of NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. There was an open casting call for badged KSC employees so myself and about 600 of my coworkers applied and got our photos taken by the casting company. The day I was called to be an extra, I was unable to do it due to some critical work meetings that I could not get out of. Sadly they never called me again.  I guess that was my only chance to be an extra in the film.

Since I have past experience working with NASA Public Affairs at special events and for past motion picture filming, I was able to work with Public Affairs for a couple of days as an escort. A Public Affairs escort basically babysits the film crew and answers their questions and makes sure they don’t do anything they’re not supposed to do. My first day working for Public Affairs was the first day of actual T3 filming at KSC. The crew was setting up for a scene in the center transfer aisle inside the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). For a while I was tasked to be a bouncer at the doors to the VAB to make sure every crew member and extra had the proper badges and such. It was hard because I had to turn away real KSC workers. It was a closed movie set and only cast and crew were allowed in certain places and KSC workers were around and they were trying to catch a glimpse of the stars and the sets and such.

After the morning inrush of film crew settled down I was able to stroll around the VAB transfer aisle and look at the set being put together and lit. The whole transfer aisle of the VAB was going to be used and so the workers had set out a bunch of big lifting equipment and such in the aisle. Someone on the Internet posted a security camera photo of the area onto a public NASA forum:

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[image source]

In the middle of the aisle they had set up a headquarters or a lab looking movie set with some computer equipment and displays.  Here’s another security camera snapshot of the set:

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[image source]

While working in various places in the VAB transfer aisle that morning, I saw the main actor, Shia LaBeouf, walking around wasting time and getting mic’d and warming up for his first scene. I also saw his stunt double hanging around dressed the exact same as him and rehearsing some stunt moves. Shia is way skinnier than he appears on screen. I suppose this could be said for all TV and film actors, though.  I chose not to take any photos of Shia or any of the cast that I came across.  I didn’t want to get in trouble.  And Shia looked like he was pretty serious and focused getting ready for his scene.  Here is a photo I took in the general direction of the VAB aisle set, though:

t3-filminginvab

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

About mid morning, I got a call on the radio to go to the VAB front gate to escort the director, Michael Bay, onto his set. He has a reputation for being pretty mean, but he was plenty nice to me. He had a rolling suitcase in one hand and coffee in the other hand. When the NASA public affairs person introduced him to me, he let go of his suitcase and shook my hand and said “Hi, nice to meet you”. Of course this was the morning of the first day of shooting at KSC, so why wouldn’t the guy be in a good mood.

He did not have an entourage with him … they were all inside the VAB, I suppose. As Michael Bay and I walked across the parking lot towards the VAB he said it’s been 11 years since he was at KSC. He said the movie Armageddon was his last trip to KSC. He directed that movie too, along with Pearl Harbor, The Rock, and Bad Boys. I said something like “Oh, you haven’t been back since Armageddon?” and he said no. Then I asked if he had just gotten off a plane this morning and he said yes, but then he said he came from Miami this morning, not California. He mentioned that he had a house in California and a house in Miami. I said I had read that on wikipedia … showing how much of a geek I really was. Oops. That comment didn’t seem to phase him, though. By now we were walking up to the big open door of the huge VAB and he looks up at the VAB and says “This is gonna be cool in 3D”. I smiled and agreed. At that time the entertainment press and bloggers were still arguing on the Internet about whether Michael Bay was really going to film in 3D or not.

I walked him to the headquarters/lab set and he got to work. There were assistant directors and lighting people and a bunch of other folks working on the set and showing the director what they had done. About an hour later the extras were brought in. 150 in all for the VAB shot. They were a mix of military commanders and SWAT (NEST is what they call it in the Transformer world) people. Back at the front gate of the VAB, the crew kept bringing in equipment and vehicles. They brought in white SUVs that were dressed like NASA security. They brought in some little NEST special forces vehicles with a fake machine gun mounted on top.  Here are a couple photos I took of the NEST Hummer vehicles:

t3-nesthummer

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

t3-nestlogo

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

And lastly, they brought in the whole collection of Autobots. I don’t know all their names, but I saw Optimus Prime, the big semi truck. Bumblebee, the yellow Camaro. Ironhide, the big black truck. Ratchet, the brightly colored emergency vehicle hummer.  And there was a red Ferrari that is rumored to be a new Autobot for this movie. The coolest autobot to look at was probably Sideswipe, which is a silver corvette stingray. In this movie, Sideswipe is a convertible.

t3-autobots

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

Although The Wreckers are also pretty cool looking. These guys are three NASCAR chassis with all sorts of robot looking attachments and mods.  I did not get a decent photo of the Wreckers.

Here is a security camera snapshot showing the crew using the Pursuit Systems camera boom car inside the VAB.  They used the camera boom car to shoot the scene where the actors were walking into the VAB from the North doors.

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[image source]

I am always fascinated by all the equipment that movie crews use to film a scene.  Here is a security camera snapshot showing a large lighting crane that they used while filming inside the VAB.  It’s basically a big stadium style light grid with a big white vinyl or similar diffuser mounted in front of it:

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[image source]

Here is a better photo of the Pursuit Systems camera boom car that I took a couple days later:

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[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

Here is a photo of Optimus Prime with some other misc extra vehicles in the background.  They’re sitting in a parking lot in front of the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF):

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[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

Here is a better photo of Optimus in front of the OPF:

t3-optimusprime

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

When they were filming there at the headquarters/lab set inside the VAB, one of the assistant directors came up to me and asked if I could help scare away some KSC workers that were hanging around outside. I did that and then walked around the back of the VAB to see if there were any other workers trying to get a peek at the filming. All the Autobots were parked back there and I had to scare away some more workers. I also noticed some extras and some assistant directors standing around outside the back side of the VAB and they were waiting for the cameras to roll. I saw John Turturro who plays the wacky Sector 7 secret government agency guy, Agent Simmons. He was sitting in a motorized wheelchair for this particular scene and his assistant had a neck brace.  Here’s another security camera snapshot that was posted that day:

t3-security-cam5

[image source]

I had to leave for a few hours for some meetings and when I came back NASA Public Affairs put me at the VAB front gate to make sure all the film crew vehicles that were trying to get in had the right placards displayed. Luck had it that at this time the film crew was out in the parking lot in front of the VAB filming a chase scene from around the side of the VAB into the front parking lot, although they didn’t go over 25 mph. I had to block the gate to make sure no vehicles tried to enter while that scene was being filmed. That was pretty cool to see, but the scene did not make it into the film.  Here’s a photo I snapped after the scene was finished.  You can see Optimus Prime complete with trailer and the camera boom car:

t3-filmingoutsidevab

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

Then the crew threw together a new chase scene that started about two blocks away from the VAB and ended with the whole convoy tearing through the open front gate of the VAB. I got to watch this scene shot about 4 times. They did it right at dusk as the sun was starting to go down. Here is a video that some KSC employee (not me) posted on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcRuppKTZSU

The short video shows the black camera boom chase car in front, then Bumblebee, the red Ferrari, Sideswipe, a new Autobot that I forget the name of, The NASCAR Wreckers, Ratchet, and last but not least Optimus Prime with trailer, all rolling out for the scene.  This scene also did not make it into the movie, but it was cool to watch.  I watched them film this scene about three or four times from the VAB front gate.  The convoy raced right past us.  I’m guessing that if us people who were standing there watching this scene being filmed would probably just be digitally erased from the footage for the film.

A couple days later I helped Public Affairs again and was tasked to escort the film crew while they worked at the Launch Control Center (LCC).  Here is a photo I took of director, Michael Bay, and his assistants walking around the LCC looking at the VAB and framing up a potential shot.  Michael Bay is the one in the red cap:

t3-director

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

They then set up a shot in front of the LCC with some NEST Hummer vehicles zooming by the gate and some extras running across the street and then Shia and John T meeting near the turnstiles and performing some dialog.  They must have shot this scene close to ten times to get it right.  Most of the set up and fluff was cut and just the minimal dialog made it into the movie, though.  Here is a photo I took of the extras getting a briefing before the scene started filming.  In the background you can see trucks and film lights and equipment.

t3-extras

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

Here is a photo of the actual scene being shot in front of the LCC.  You can see a NEST Hummer vehicle with the machine gun manned and behind that you can see a camera boom and also a mic boom.  And the group of people are extras getting ready to run across the street towards the turnstiles.

t3-lccscene

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

When they were done filming at the LCC, they quickly moved their equipment to the countdown clock at the press site for a vintage scene where there is a crowd watching the Apollo 11 moon launch.  They had some vintage cars and a group of extras in vintage clothes and vintage sunglasses.  They even had vintage lawn chairs in the scene.  During the set up of the scene director, Michael Bay, wanted the countdown clock to count down during the scene but the timing guys were having trouble getting the clock to work.  I played interference.  I talked to the timing guys on the radio while the scene was being set up and rehearsed.  Eventually I had to tell Michael Bay that the clock was not going to work.  He laughed it off and made a joke that maybe he should buy NASA a new clock.  All his crew laughed and so did I.  I don’t recall if the value of the ticking countdown clock actually showed up in the final edit of the film, though.  If it did, it was digitally painted there.

Here’s a photo I took of the extras while the crew were placing them and handing out vintage accessories:

t3-vintage1

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

And here is my last photo.  It’s the same scene, but you can see the 3D camera on its boom pretty well and you can see director, Michael Bay, framing up his shot.  He’s there in the red cap.

t3-vintage2

[photo by Kurt W. Leucht]

I was able to help Public Affairs one other day, but I didn’t get any photos.  It was inside the high bay of the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF).  It was just a little bit of dialog with some lab equipment in the background.  A very short scene in the movie, but it took about a half day to shoot it.

I was not able to help out during the filming days out at the launch pad nor during the day they shot inside the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).  But those scenes are very prominent in the movie.

Well, that’s it for my Transformers 3 filming experience.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Kurt

Ares I-X flight test launches successfully!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably heard that NASA launched a new rocket today.  Below are some photos from in and around the NASA Press Site and also some video of the launch that I took today.  The video also contains some decent manatee footage.  There are usually manatees hanging around the turn basin there near the Press Site.

The Ares I is intended to replace the Space Shuttle for launching astronauts into space after it retires in the next year or so.  Today’s launch, dubbed the I-X mission, was an unmanned flight test of this new rocket.  Not only was it unmanned, but the whole upper stage was fake and just dropped into the ocean after separation.  But we’re taking baby steps here, people.  Don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.  🙂

Here’s the video that I took.  Click on this link to see this video on the YouTube website where you can comment and vote on it and stuff.



And here are some photos.  Click on any photo for a full sized version.

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Obligatory photo of the countdown clock with the launch vehicle in the background.  It was 5am when I arrived at the Press Site this morning.  Way way earlier than my normal arrival time.

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Inside the NASA Press Site where they show various camera views of the launch vehicle and they also have some cool large models of the Ares I and also the future Ares V heavy lift cargo vehicle.  These models are like 7 or 8 feet tall.

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Various news channels shoot interviews all day long here at the NASA Press Site.  Here you can see the Air Force weather officer getting some time on camera with Fox 35.

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NASA TV showed some beautiful sunrise video …

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… so I went outside to see it for myself.

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Live trucks lined up in the NASA Press Site parking lot. You can see the rocket in amongst the transmission towers.

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The NASA Press Site is about 3.5 miles from the launch pad.  You can see the white rocket and the three really tall lightning towers around the launch pad.  These towers were built especially for the Ares I program.

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Here are the folks from NASA Edge recording their show.  NASA Edge is a cool and hip educational program on NASA TV. You should check it out. While you’re there, be sure to also check out NASA-360, which is another cool educational program that NASA produces.

Ares I-X test flight rolls out to the launch pad

History was made tonight and I was there. It was pretty cool to witness the rollout of the Ares I-X test flight rocket first hand. Ares I is designed to replace the Shuttle for getting astronauts into orbit. Enough talk … here are the photos that I took and also a short edited video (click for larger versions of the photos):

This is the employee signature banner for Ares I-X.  Each flight gets a banner that is displayed along with the vehicle and these banners are signed by KSC employees who have worked on that mission.  I worked on the ground control system for the Ares I-X mission, so I made sure I signed this banner.  I wonder if you can find my signature…

Can you find my signature now?

How about now?

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The Ares I-X rocket doesn’t look terribly huge inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, but it’s nearly as tall as the Saturn V rockets that we used to go to the moon during the Apollo program.

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Excitement is in the air as the new big rocket emerges from the VAB.

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Isn’t she big and beautiful!

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Not symmetrical by design.  We’re re-using a Shuttle mobile launcher platform for this flight, which has two holes for solid rocket booster exhaust.  So we mounted the Ares I-X rocket over one of the two SRB holes in the platform.

Glowing in the spotlights.

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The spotlights were very bat-symbol-like.  I didn’t get a good photo of it, but there was enough moisture in the air to clearly see the rocket’s silouette projected big and bold up into the sky.  It was quite impressive.

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Obligatory photo of me standing in front of the rocket for the scrapbook.

Here is the video:

Or you can watch the video directly on YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHEla1t0byQ

KSC Beach Cleanup

Last week I was able to take part in an annual beach cleanup on the very remote beaches of the Kennedy Space Center. It was a lot of hard work, but it was pretty cool to take part in this worthy cause. I put a short video from the beach cleanup on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjT6dTbacg0

This is an annual event at KSC and it is organized by the Fish & Wildlife Service, who owns most of the land that KSC sits on. They do this every year before sea turtle nesting season starts.

There were some pretty interesting items that were collected, in addition to a ton of bottles and bottle caps, which I noticed were the most frequent item found. A lady right directly in front of me found 2 separate messages in bottles. One of them was a letter from a 9 year old girl in the Bahamas who’s whole class had put messages into bottles for a “sea-pal” exercise. The lady who found the message said she was definitely going to write the little girl back. I found quite a few bottles, but none with messages.

It was hard work in the hot sun, but I’m going to sign up again next year.

Kurt