Thoughts on Transformers Sound Design

By Gabe Cowan

Transformers Sound Design

Tranformers: Optimus Prime

Are the transformations light on sound design in the Transformers movies? That is the question. When I first saw the movies, I was a lot younger and didn’t have the audio knowledge that I have now. I recently watched ALL five movies (why are there so many?) to relive the awesome spectacle. Giant robots destroying each other, sick sound, repetitive Micheal Bay explosions, sweet looking cars, and countless other bits of candy for the ears and ears to take in. But now I am able to critically listen to the audio in the movie, and it is phenomenal!

Sound Breakdown

Sound designer Erik Aadahl is extremely talented and he designed crisp, clean and balanced sounds that leave us in awe. However, what I noticed was that these huge transformations felt empty when listening deeper. These robots are 20-30 feet tall, are clearly made of metal, but only have a few very big sounding moving pieces. What about all of the other smaller parts of these robotic vehicles? Don’t those sounds matter too? If you go back and listen to the first time we see Optimus Prime transform, you will notice that the music carries 75% of the weight in terms of sound. Of course, it is an epic moment when the iconic leader shows up. You feel hope with the music playing. But if the music was stripped, the sound design is light.

Why is the Sound Design Light?

The question I had to ask myself was, “Why did I think those sounds were extremely detailed”? The answer is, my kid brain filled in all of the ‘missing’ sounds. So, why are the sounds light? The human brain can focus on only a few sounds at once. There’s no need to be overly detailed if the audience won’t even notice some moving parts are not represented in the sound design (which we didn’t). If more sounds were included, the mix would be much busier and perhaps it would feel like too much is happening all at once. Overall, the sound design is definitely still very good and has aged well. 


What do you think of the transformations in this legendary series of films? Did you ever feel like the extended transformations were a bit light in sound design? What would you personally do differently today, with a tool like Audio Design Desk to help you?


If you enjoy these posts that help make sense of how certain scenes work with the sounds being used, here’s another you’ll probably enjoy. How to make major chords sound sad: https://add.app/can-major-keys-sound-sad/