SECTOR 7, Second Life — The film sports giant robots that change into sports cars, big-rigs, helicopters — even a CD player.
But the biggest makeover of all was reserved for the human cast of the upcoming "Transformers" (see " 'Transformers': Checking Under The Hood For Juicy Plot Details"), when stars Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox and director Michael Bay invaded Second Life for a virtual press conference.
"Is that me?" Fox asked, no doubt in front of a computer somewhere pointing at her on-screen avatar. "Wow. I have gigantic [breasts]!"
Try getting that quote on "Inside the Actors Studio." But such was the tone at the press conference, an online free-for-all that mixed serious talk about the movie with irreverent banter and non sequiturs. (Example: "Does your microphone smell like bacon?" Fox asked. " 'Cause [mine] does."). Tu-tu wearing journalists (that would be us, by the way) crowded into a virtual re-creation of Sector 7, a top-secret containment lab under Hoover Dam, and sat behind a dancing Bumblebee.
"I've never heard of this before," Duhamel said of SL. "I think it's really cool though."
For Bay, a voyage into cyberspace put him right in the heart of the lion's den, smack dab in the center of the very people who made their displeasure vocal when it was announced he would be the film's director.
"I got a lot of flak from fans on the Net," he said, his online voice a little hoarse, before launching into a defense of his many changes to the classic characters. "We reconceived all of the robots. We kept a lot of the iconic things with Optimus Prime. You know it's Optimus Prime, it's just he looks a little bit different. I equate it to the Marshmallow Man in 'Ghostbusters.' [The cartoon version] wouldn't hold up on a 40-foot screen. I always opt for very, very real effects."
Notorious for being somewhat arrogant and difficult to deal with, Bay's avatar was the very best of hosts, all smiles as he held court in front of a virtual, and extremely cool-looking, Megatron. Later, his cast lauded him for his no-nonsense approach.
"At the end of the day when you have 750 people working on the set of a film and you got one man that's the captain of the ship — if he's lackadaisical and just chilling and he's Mr. Humility, then nothing's gonna get done," Tyrese said, his voice booming over computer speakers across the globe. "You hear all these things about working with Michael Bay, [but] once you get to the set, you respect his process."
Of course, a serious question like that was immediately followed by someone asking Megan who she thought the sexiest Transformer was, a query that could only be asked by an avatar with a name like "NOTDAMEJUDYDENCH."
"Starscream," she quickly answered. "[Why?] 'Cause he just is. Why is Simba [from 'The Lion King'] sexy? He just was. Maybe it was because Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the voice. I can't tell you. It's something I just feel."
If avatars could laugh, the assembled journalists would have been in stitches. As it was, many clicked on the applause button, their hands politely clapping in appreciation of Megan's candor.
Less open was Shia, who, just like his real-life counterpart, wouldn't give up the goose on any details relating to "Indiana Jones 4," where it's rumored he'll play the intrepid archaeologist's long-lost son (see " 'Indiana Jones 4' Pic Shows A Bruised And Bloody Harrison Ford"). He did argue, however, that Michael Bay shares at least one very important trait with his more celebrated counterpart.
"Just two different styles, [but] they both move at a fast pace," LaBeouf said of Bay and Steven Spielberg. "Steven's whole thing is more strategized, more planned out, whereas Mike is more interested in happy accidents. [He] creates a set where happy accidents happen often."
One happy accident, joked LaBeouf, was a kissing scene he shot with Fox that ultimately got cut, but that he laughingly said was a personal gift from his director.
"I was loving it. It was the best day on set, [but] I think Bay was just helping me out," he said. "I don't think that was ever in the script. He just let it happen."
So impressed was Shia, the 21-year-old actor insisted he wouldn't return for "Transformers 2" unless Bay was the director.
"If Bay's on it, I'm in. It's gotta be Bay or the movie doesn't work," he said. "It's up to him. Whenever he's ready to go, I think we're all in. Visually, I've never seen anything close to what Bay puts on screen."
So after nearly 30 minutes of online chatter, all of it conducted by virtual representations, what would the actors want to transform into if they really had the power to change?
"I would be a 40-foot cruiser, an ocean cruiser," Duhamel contended. "And when I would transform into a robot, my name would be Chill or something."
"I want to be Zac Efron so I can be in 'Hairspray,' " Shia added.
Hey, after a morning spent walking around a "Transformers" set in Second Life — and doing it all while wearing a tu-tu and chatting with robots — I'm willing to believe anything's possible.
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