''Terminator 2'': How?d they do that? -- An exclusive look at the breakthrough special effects that created the summer's biggest smash

If the computer-generated T-1000 were operating in a completely computer- generated world — characterized by the hard edges and uniform colors that pop up in TV commercials — that would have been the end of the job. But in order to blend convincingly into live-action sequences, ”this stuff had to look photo- realistic,” says Muren. ”This is nothing like a (computer-graphic)world. This had to have its own reality.”

For example, in the shot in which T-1000 strides out of a flaming truck wreck in a flood canal, ILM’s artists were able to combine the computer-originated figure with actual footage of the canal to make an utterly convincing whole. Cameron thinks the end result is T2‘s best FX sequence. ”It’s the most complex, sophisticated shot in the film,” he says. ”It’s full-body, human-motion animation. That had never been done before. There had been simulations of it, but there had been something always slightly wrong. It would look like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk.”

Contrary to some accounts, however, not all the eye-boggling effects in T2 came from computer animation. The special-effects house Fantasy II used models, life-size props, and stop-motion photography in several scenes, including the futuristic war sequence that opens the film. And the stunning nuclear-attack nightmare was re-created with the help of highly detailed miniature sets by 4-Ward Productions.

Many of T-1000’s most dramatic moments were also the product of more traditional techniques. Visual-effects master Stan Winston provided makeup, body prostheses, and misshapen puppets to bring T-1000 fully to life. Each of his creations detailing T-1000’s successive breakdowns even acquired its own nickname: Splash Head (when the cyborg’s head splits nearly in two), Donut Head (showing him with a gaping hole in his noggin), and Pretzel Man (as he breaks up into sections just before his fall into the fiery pit).

Meshing ILM’s work with Winston’s was crucial to achieving the illusions. In most of the scenes where T-1000 is shot or otherwise sundered, the first part of the effect involved one of Winston’s devices, which was worn by Patrick and rigged with radio- or cable-controlled triggers to fire on cue; when it came time for T-1000 to pull himself together, the ILM team then stepped in to provide the shots in which T-1000’s wounds heal themselves. To fake bullet holes in the creature’s chest, Winston invented spring-loaded foam-rubber devices made to look like molten metal. Working from his designs, ILM used its own homemade computer programs to reverse the process, healing the ”wounds” entirely by computer.

Coproducer B.J. Rack, who oversaw the massive special-effects effort, sums up the significance of this and the dozens of other technical miracles in the summer’s most visually dazzling movie. ”There’s a kind of magic between the few seconds that are physically real, because they involve real objects, and the computer graphics, which, though awesome, are not physically present,” she says. ”In your mind, it all smears together so that you’d swear it was all real.”

Department of Transformation

The sight of the silvery T-1000 emerging unscathed from a fiery truck crash in T2 marks a breakthrough in marrying computer-generated images with real footage. First, ILM’s technicians painted a gridwork of lines on actor Robert Patrick and shot footage of Patrick walking and moving. That footage never appears on-screen, though; it was fed into a computer to provide a reference for a computer-generated image that could move and walk like Patrick. Then the background, a fire blazing in an L.A. flood canal, was shot. That background was also fed into the computer and a rough version of T-1000 was superimposed on it. To provide realistic reflections off the cyborg’s metallic skin, ”texture maps” of the surrounding ground, canal walls, , and sky, created by photographing the actual location from what would have been the T-1000’s point of view, were fed into the computer. Finally, subtle finishing touches were added: The creature’s reflection in the wet cement and appropriate shadows were digitally inserted.

For the sequence in which Linda Hamilton dissolves into Patrick, ILM used a technique called ”morphing,” in which the computer generates the intermediate steps between one image and another.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Movie
  • 137 minutes