Visual Effects on Terminator 2 – Page 2

        Category: #30 Spring 1993 | Article posted on: December 25, 2010

The next step is compositing. On the live action shot the actors are acting to nothing, that is the essence of special effects work. In Terminator 2 there were many shots of Arnold Schwarzenegger twisting his fist in mid-air where he was supposed to be hitting the 11000. These are called the background plates.

“Nowadays we do compositing digitally, we frame grab every frame of the sequence, and work with it on the computer in high resolution. Optical printing doesn’t allow you to do all the things that digital compositing does and it doesn’t have the same quality. We only deal with celluloid film at the beginning and end of the process, when we go back out to film to send it to the theatres.”

Design forms the backbone.

Probably the most important ingredient ILM supply. and the reason they get Oscar nominations and get work on films that do well at the box-office, is design. “Design forms the backbone of everything we do. No matter how much technical prowess von bring to bear on the subject. if you don’t have good design, if you don’t have a good story. then it is not worth while and it is not going to look good.”

The film makers had to decide what a real 11000 Terminator would look like. Following consultation with the director, all direction and all final decisions come from the director on any show, but also with a great deal of creative input from the ILM design staff, they work on the character sheet. They create numerous story boards and build reference models so they know what they are trying to do. With a model everyone is on the same wavelength, they can see exactly what it is going to look like. You can pick it up, move it around and see how it works in space.

That way it is not so much of a hit or miss thing where you give the client the final film and they say, ‘This is not what we expected.”

Seiden chose a shot from early in the film to illustrate some of his points. “It is our first real look at the 11000 Terminator in all his glory. We have a full body look at him, a slow’ shot, we see him walking out of the fire and transforming from the metallic figure all the way up to the actor as he pursues his target.’’

In order to make a computer model of the face of the actor they used laser scanning technology called Cyberscan. They project a laser beam across the face of the actor and use video cameras to build a 3-D dater-base.

The body parts were not digitised, they were built by hand. This does not involve building a physical model, it is built by hand within the computer. They built models of the different stages of the transition in such a way they could change from one to the other.

A distinctive walk.

They shot sequences of the actor walking to use as a guide. Red markings were painted on the actors body which gave a precise reference from which to rotoscope. “We marked him up with Magic Markers and had him walk around in his underwear. It was critical that we get Robert’s walk down precisely. When he is in character he has a very distinctive walk. He wouldn’t have any wasted motion, he going for a target. he is very direct and that is what you need. A feeling of now, a kind of a neutral evil, not doing anything but wanting to kill, It is nothing malicious, it is it’s job to kill.’’

They videotaped the actor from many different angles to get a feel for the motion. Rotoscoping does not mean it is easy and quick. there are a lot of refinements to be made. “Some people think rotoscoping is cheating but references are vitally important. For most of the show’ I had a jar of mercury sitting on my desk so I could look at it. I could see what it was like when we were trying to light a shot, to see how it moves, how light hits it in a certain way, how it reflects light. References are tremendously’ important in any kind of artwork. In my view rotoscoping is just another kind of reference. If it makes the job work that’s great.”

Lighting and rendering.

The next part of the process is lighting and rendering. For all the Terminator 2 shots this involved creating a mercury-like character which reflects its environment. At each stage they scanned stills into their computer and used those as texture maps. This allows the character to reflect the contents of these pictures. “The important things are the colours, the red of the fire, the blue of the sky, the grey of the concrete canal. Getting the colour right is vital in getting something to look like it is really there.”

The final stage is compositing the shot. In the first shot Robert Patrick walks from the fire as the Terminator whilst emerging as the actor. The actor could not walk through the fire in reality and it was not even necessary because we see the chrome figure at that stage, the actor is only needed at the end of the shot. Sequences from this section of the film were shown to the St David’s audience. “Robert walks into frame about halfway through the shot and he walks out of frame in character. The last part of the shot is the only part we used this particular plate for. You also see in frame a Grip running behind him with an aluminised blanket to keep the heat of the fire off his back. After a number of takes of this shot he begins to smell of burnt cotton from his shirt and he starts to lose the hair off the back of his ears.

Motion control.

“The next thing we need is something without the Grip and Robert walking into the frame in a strange way, so we need what we call a clean frame. That has the exact same camera movements and the fire but without Robert. At some point we make the transition from one plate to the other. How do you get the same camera movement? You can’t expect the cameraman to repeat the move exactly. The answer is motion control.”

All the camera moves were recorded on a computer. In the first shot the cameraman ~vent through his moves in his normal way. He concentrates on getting a good composition, the actor comes into frame and the cameraman tracked the shot to follow. While this is going on the computer system is recording how he does it, exactly where the camera is and where it is pointing, exactly where the focus is where the zoom lens is. Everything about the camera is recorded in the memory of the computer. You can play it back and do it all over again. The camera can make exactly the same moves under computer control.

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