• © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Whiskytree Inc.
    erminator Salvation, the recently released
    fourth installment in the iconic series, differs
    considerably from the prior films in terms of look, setting, and effects. T4 takes place in 2018 in a bleak post-Apocalyptic future, whereas the other films were by and large contemporary. The Terminator robots are less primitive, more numerous and also better articulated, owing to major advances in CGI technology since ‘Terminator 3: Age of the Machines’ was released in 2003. And though Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator of the first three films, has gone on to be Governor of California, an animated version of him appears in a brief but tantalizing sequence.

    McG, the film’s director, and Charlie Gibson, the VFX supervisor, were both new to the franchise. “McG came to me with the idea of creating an action-driven film with effects rather than an effects-driven action film—and that appealed to me,” says Gibson. That idea became the organizing principal for T4. Most of the effects, practical as well as VFX, were done in camera and then animated based on the footage. “We were always going for the best action and the best cinematic effects first, and then finding ways to shoehorn the CG effects into that context,” he adds. “The net result is that you get a very integrated and organic feeling, and you’re not sure where the effects start and where the action stops, which is the goal."

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    Gibson came on board after some heavy lifting on the three effects-laden 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies. (He won his second Oscar as part of the team that did 'Dead Man’s Chest'—the first was for 'Babe' in 1995—and he was nominated for ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’.) The experience stood him in good stead. He had already worked closely on Pirates with the VFX team under Ben Snow at Industrial Light & Magic, which was also the main visual effects and animation house on T4.

    “We drew more on the work ILM had done on 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Iron Man' than on 'Terminator 3',” he says. To make the CG animation effects appear grounded in reality, the film relied heavily on ILM’s iMoCap technology which was developed by John Knoll for Pirates. The iMoCap system represents a big advance over traditional motion capture where actors on a set imagine they are grappling with an invisible CG character that’s later animated in.

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    And T4 includes numerous fight and chase sequences with a multitude of Terminators. With iMoCap, it was possible to capture the physical connection between what would end up being CG Terminators and the film’s two stars, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington. “Having a performer stand in for the Terminator on set working with the principal actors was key to the sense of immediacy and the sense of physical reality,” says the VFX supervisor. “There’s actually a physical drama unfolding in front of the camera—otherwise, it’s a one-sided tennis game.”

    There were some 1,250 visual effects shots in 'Terminator Salvation'. “You’re dealing with well over an hour—65 or 70 minutes—of solid visual effects footage,” notes Gibson. “There’s no way for you to get in and direct every aspect of every single shot--you have to delegate.”

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    In addition, Gibson served as second unit director on the film, responsible for many of the more CG-heavy action sequences, while McG focused more on scenes involving the actors.

    To handle the huge effort, Gibson assembled a team of collaborators from previous projects: “I cherry-picked people I’d worked with before, that I trusted to come out on location when I needed them and, in post-production, to supervise a portion of their work.” Instead of micromanaging them “I let them run with it, and working with their own teams, they added all kinds of incredible things to the shots that I certainly would never have come up with.”

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  • © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic


    The group included Snow at ILM, which did over 360 effects shots and the lion’s share of the T4 animation; John Fragomeni and Phil Brennan, visual effects supervisors at Asylum VFX, responsible for most of the work on the cyborg Marcus character; Brian Gernand, creative supervisor at Kerner Optical, which did the miniatures; Craig Barron of Matte World Digital; and John Dietz at Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures.

    Another essential contributor was Stan Winston Studios, “the guardian of all things Terminator,” as Gibson put it, which again built detailed animatronic models of the various Terminators, some of them life-size like the 7 foot 3 inch T-800. John Rosengrant capably stepped into the shoes of Winston, the four-time Oscar winning maestro of makeup, special effects and animatronics who died suddenly last June, after starting work on T4. Winston was instrumental in designing the original Terminator, and provided the continuity on all four films. Rosengrant was one of his protégés.

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    “John and his team knew the Terminator character inside out,” he says. “We were so glad that they were there.” The Winston shop also owned a huge Terminator archive, including a live-cast plaster bust of Schwarzenegger from head to chest from 1983, when it was used to try out makeup prostheses in the first Terminator. It came in handy in creating the animated Arnold who appears fleetingly in T4.

    Schwarzenegger was also the prototype for the T-800 in T4, which was based on his musculature and body movements, as documented in numerous photographs and footage in the Winston Studios’ treasure trove, including the weight-lifting documentary ‘Pumping Iron,’ which first brought him to prominence.

    In creating the skeletal T-800, “we tried to keep that sense of how he walked, and how he moved,” says Gibson. “We wanted to create one single character. How he looked, what the state of his flesh looked like when he was on fire.”

    ILM’s extensive work on T4 included character animation for the huge array of Terminators and digital double work for the main actors. There were six different stunt doubles. Besides the Terminators familiar from previous movies, like the T-600 and T-800 as well as the Hunter Killers and Transporters, there were new robot characters: like the Harvester, a spider-like Terminator that is 60-feet high and gathers up humans, and speeding Moto-Terminators, modeled on Ducati motorcycles.

    There was a lot of 2D work as well. “And we had to match the look and get all the lighting right for all of these pictures, so that if they had a practical match-up they looked spot on,” says Marc Chu, ILM’s animation supervisor.

    The look of T4 emanated from McG and director of photography Shane Hurlbut. McG wanted a world, years after a nuclear holocaust, where the air is destroyed, there’s no sun, and everything appears bleached out. The cinematographer went for a high-contrast, desaturated appearance. He used the OZ process from Technicolor, which uses film with much more silver on the negative, to obtain deep blacks and blown out highlights. “That was really difficult for us,” says Chu. “We had to make sure there was still enough detail in our comps, depending on how they projected or how they DI’d it. That was a big challenge for us, but it paid off. We paid attention to making sure that if you really cranked up the brightness on it, nothing was being blown out, and all the details were still there.

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    The creation of the Terminators started with production designer Martin Laing doing the conceptual artwork, but ILM’s Art Director Christian Alzmann and the animation unit also got involved at the takeoff stage. Observes Chu: “We had quite a lot of input into creating these creatures from the ground up, starting off with what they did with the early production artwork, and then taking them into how they looked in the movie which was bigger, stronger, beefier Terminators.”
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  • The next stage was filming scenes that employed the Stan Winston Studios animatronic Terminators, both rigged and manned by puppeteers. They were so well done that in a few instances parts of them appeared in the final film. The animatronics had detailed metallic surfaces which reflected light, and ILM’s latest customising of the RenderMan shader software that they developed for Iron Man captured new subtleties like the bending of light around curves.

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic

    ILM, in its work on last year’s Iron Man, had done “a lot of interesting new work with shaders for metallic surfaces, because they had done the Iron Man suit,” says Gibson. “There are a lot of metal surfaces in Terminator, and the realism of the motorcycles and the robots benefited from their knowledge they had developed.

    After filming a scene, it was possible to know “exactly what the Terminator would look like in the scene, under all that lighting—how the reflections would play, how the dirt on its surface would look, how the sheen of the light would feel,” says T4’s VFX supervisor. “Then we would have a more articulate performance from an actor in an Imocap suit as a reference. We would combine all of that in digital and get a very articulate, specific performance, which was kind of the best of all worlds."

    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic


    © Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved. Image Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic


    Many of the explosions of the movie were done in camera on sets. “Where we could construct things like the gas station, the production blew those things up and created incredible full-scale pyrotechnics effects that were fantastic when we photographed them,” says Gibson. But in scenes with a wider scope, miniatures from Kerner Optical were employed. “When we were blowing up a huge portion of San Francisco, or an entire skyscraper, or an entire SkyNet installation, we used miniatures and built them at a smaller scale, 1/12 or 1/24,” he notes. Kerner was able to “precisely time and compose explosions and place them into shots, exactly to our requirements. It’s very, very seamless. You don’t really know where the full-scale work stops and the animation work starts.”

    The A-10 planes that the Resistance is using against Skynet and its Terminators were a combination of large miniatures of the fighters with 10-foot wingspans, computer generated A-10’s and the real thing. The Air Force was willing to do some flybys “and we were able to weave them all together, sometimes into single shots. You weren’t able to identify any particular technique."

    The cyborg Marcus character, one of the biggest challenges in the film, was the combined work of the Stan Winston Studio and Asylum. In one visual high point, he rips the skin off his abdomen and reveals that he is a machine underneath. Using makeup, the team at Winston created the surface detail, the bruising and contusions of the torn flesh layer. The cavity was covered with blue makeup the color of blue screen.

    That got erased digitally at Asylum and got replaced with animated CG innards designed, at McG’s suggestion, to resemble a Mercedes engine under the hood. “At the end you get this synthesis of makeup and digital that feels very real,” observes Gibson. “It’s something that’s impossible to do using make-up techniques, and nearly impossible to do using just digital techniques, which are so difficult in terms of tracking things on the skin surface.”




    Terminator Salvation site
    Industrial Light & Magic
    Ben Snow CGS story
    Asylum VFX
    Stan Winston Studios
    John Fragomeni
    Phil Brennan
    Kerner Optical CGS story
    Brian Gernand
    Matte World Digital
    Craig Barron
    Rising Sun Pictures
    Whiskytree Inc. CGS story

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