Visual Effects on Terminator 2 – Page 3

“Motion control existed before Star Wars but it really came alive with that film, it had much more use than it ever had before. Now it is used for completely non-computer graphics things such as models and spaceships.”

A wacky fight scene.

When Seiden read the description of the following sequence he did not think it would work. It is a wacky set of effects that happen in a short time. The script said, ‘The T 1000 is slammed against the wall face first. In less time than it would take to turn the 11000 walks through itself from front to back, face emerging from the back of his head, it springs off the wall – three seconds. Terminator, the Arnold character. punches his fist into the face of the 11000 punching through almost up to the elbow. The 11000’s head morphs into a hand which grips Terminator’s wrist and its head starts to emerge from its shoulder. The geometry shifting faster than we can follow – three seconds. It is now holding the Terminators wrists in its hands and prepares to throw the struggling Terminator – three seconds.”

“When I read that script and saw the boards I thought it is not going to work. No one is going to be able to tell what is going on – I sure hope I don’t have to work on the shots. I did end up having to work on the shots so I think they work.”

In the first shot of the sequence the 11000 morphs through itself. They shoot Robert Patrick hitting the wall face first and holding it there. The next plate has him coming off the wall facing outwards. They achieve a good line up by tracing the outline on a video monitor during the shoot. Great care is taken to get the actor in exactly the right position. They use a 2-D morphing program to make the transition between the two shots. A morph is essentially like a controlled dissolve with a few extras. “You not only control the timing of the dissolve you can manipulate it like a rubber sheet. It is a flexible tool that allows a lot of different things. However, it is only two-dimensional. With three-dimensional computer graphics we are building models in three-dimensions so the computer has some idea of what things are. The morph technique is simply stretching pixels around.

However, we do not want to morph the wall so we need an articulated matte. The transition takes around sixty-six frames – three seconds. The rest of the shot is coming in and coming out, the transition is very short. We call this an extraction, it is the character extracted from the background frame. In the old days, which in some ways are still with us. all this would be done on an optical printer by using mattes, putting two pieces of film together and projection them onto another piece of film so you get something that goes through where it is clear and is held back where it is black. You end up with something in the centre. Now we do it digitally it is more alive and controllable, like the difference between CD records and vinyl.”

Adding camera shake.

The sequence also has camera shake to add a heightened reality to the action sequence. There is no camera shake in the original plates or it would be very tricky to line the shots up. They shoot extra width and add the shake later.

To enable the computer animators to figure out how to build their models and for the effects supervisor to communicate with the animators and technical directors, with this shot and several others, they decided to make a pencil test of how it would look. “This is regular animation, real pencils, real paper kind of pencil test. It is quicker and easier and we are able to try lots of things very quickly.

“The computer animators work on a scene for weeks and months to get the action convincing. It works because it is well designed. It takes a lot of refinement, a lot of patience, knowing which one to go for, trying different things. Photo realism is something I talked about, making things look real. In this case you are trying to tell a story and you don’t want to be distracted from the real images by something else that doesn’t look real, otherwise you are not going to feel scared or excited.

“It is about telling a story, it is about drama, it is about film making, it is about making the viewer have fun. That is why we are here, not because we spent twenty-five man-years on it, but because it is a fun movie to watch.”

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Printed in Animator Issue 30 (Spring 1993)