It's not unusual for Hollywood movies to feature fire trucks. It is, however, unique to have an apparatus with a speaking role starring in a summertime blockbuster.
"Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” features a crash rescue truck built by Rosenbauer America at its Minnesota factory.
The main character of the film is Sentinel Prime, a Rosenbauer Panther 6x6 Aircraft Rescue Firefighting vehicle (ARFF) in disguise, and an Autobot in its transformed state. Its personality and voice are lent by actor Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek's Spock fame.
Creating Sentinel Prime
For the uninitiated, Transformers is based on a Hasbro toy line of warring alien robots called Autobots (the good guys) and Decepticons (the bad guys). The principal characters of the toys, comics, animation films and now movies, are ordinary looking trucks and vehicles that "transform" in to the weapon-wielding, warring alien beings. They travel among the mere mortals on Earth as unassuming trucks, like 18-wheelers, military tanks and even a Chevy Camaro.
Hollywood producer Michael Bay wanted a new character for his latest Transformers movie and decided Rosenbauer's ARFF had a "tough but sexy appearance," and was sufficiently handsome to pull off a starring role in the Dark of the Moon movie.
At 10 feet wide, 40 feet long and nearly 12 feet tall, the Panther, as Rosenbauer calls him, was certainly beefy enough for the leading role, and is one of biggest Hollywood stars to hit the screen.
Rosenbauer representatives were initially skeptical about the proposal when an assistant from the film company called up Western Regional ARFF Sales Manager Marty Huffman in March 2010.
"Marty was so excited about the opportunity that he agreed to their proposal, which included spending thousands of dollars to repaint the Panther, before he asked me if it was okay," said Steve Reedy, General Manager of Rosenbauer America's ARFF division, based in Wyoming, Minn.
Changes to the Original ARFF
During the initial contacts, movie producers said they had looked at a number of truck manufacturers and liked the Rosenbauer Panther best, but thought the color would never do. Federal regulations require that ARFFs be painted specific colors and in specific patterns, usually bright lime green. They said it would have to be red over black to work for the role they had in mind.
Rosenbauer still wanted to make sure the film company was trustworthy. After all, they were asking for the use of an apparatus with a price tag of at least $800,000 and the time of engineers and company employees - not something to be committed without some assurances.
Reedy said Rosenbauer contacted General Motors, the maker of the Chevy Camaro which "starred" in a previous film as a reference.
Assured that the deal was legitimate and that even the toy maker, Hasbro, was top-shelf to deal with, Rosenbauer decided it was an opportunity not to be passed up.
"We contacted the folks from Bay films and committed our Panther for the role in the movie," Reedy said. "The timing was perfect because we had just finished testing this new Panther. The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requires that new prototype vehicles or major prototype components for existing vehicles be tested prior to release."
Getting the Panther to the right specifications to meet the filmmaker's requirements proved to be a challenge.
Reedy said Rosenbauer representative soon found that working with the production company was "like working with a fire truck purchasing committee." Paint chips were sent back and forth and finally the colors were chosen.
But the paint was not the only change required for Sentinel Prime’s alter ego transformation.
"Bay Films had very specific ideas about how the truck was to look and we got her repainted, changed light colors [from red to blue] and tinted the windows REALLY dark," said Huffman.
Initially unclear whether the character was going to be a good guy or a bad guy, Rosenbauer was pleased to see that Autobot graphics were to be affixed to Sentinel Prime, meaning that he was going to be a good guy. No plot spoilers here.