The Evolution of Terminator's SFX
The Terminator franchise has always been synonymous with ground-breaking special effects, and the latest entry in the series, Terminator Genisys, looks set to continue that trend – the movie even has original creator James Cameron's seal of approval.
With that in mind, we've decided to take a look at the evolution of the Terminator saga's special effects work over the last 31 years, to not only see if it all holds up, but to get a direct comparison of practical and digital effects in similar looking shots.
The Evolution of Fake Arnold - Part 1
One of the most memorable scenes from the original Terminator film (The Terminator, 1984) sees Arnold perform gruesome eye surgery on himself with a scalpel, revealing a red robotic eye underneath.
Half of the scene was performed by Arnold with a blade-less scalpel, while the other half used extremely fake looking Arnold Schwarzenegger head molds to show the aftermath – one was 1:1 scale, while a second larger fake head was created for robotic eye close-ups.
The Evolution of Fake Arnold - Part 2
While we appreciated the throwback to the original Terminator movies, 2009's Terminator Salvation could not be saved by the appearance of an unconvincing computer generated Arnold.
Arnold's image was digitally placed over Austrian bodybuilder-actor Roland Kickinger (Son of the Beach) to pay homage to the original films.
This CGI monstrosity's whereabouts are unknown, though it's believed that he's currently residing in a Recycle Bin somewhere alongside CGI Dwayne "The Scorpion King" Johnson.
The Evolution of Fake Arnold - Part 3
Terminator Genisys (2015) has revisited the idea of a young, computer-generated Arnold Schwarzenegger with much more success than Terminator Salvation (2009).
Lighting, textures and animation have all been vastly improved, though the creation is still in the realm of the uncanny valley – we think it's the eyes that give it away.
Endoskeletons - Then
Designed by the late Stan Winston, the Endoskeletons from The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) are examples of iconic practical effects that look absolutely convincing (when not in motion).
Achieved via stop motion and puppeteering work, these T-800 models may not move as gracefully as we'd like, but we love them nonetheless.
Endoskeletons - Now
Terminator Genisys (2015) takes the digital approach to realising the Endoskeletons in its future war scenes, which allows for smooth movements and whole armies of robotic killers to appear on screen at once.
The use of digital T-800s certainly adds a sense of scale to the film's battle scenes, though it's easy to tell that what we are looking at is computer generated.
Robo-Arm - Then
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) featured a show-stopping scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 rips the living tissue right off his arm to reveal his robotic insides.
This incredibly convincing effect was practically achieved with clever camera angles and an animatronic arm being held up from below the camera's view.
Robo-Arm - Now
Terminator Genisys (2015) also features a scene in which Arnold reveals his robotic arm, only this time it was done digitally.
Arnold likely performed this scene with a green glove over his arm, with the digital version inserted later.
While it was probably easier for the production to shoot the scene this way, the end result does not achieve the same level of realism as the practical version did in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).
Shot through the eye - Then
Robert Patrick's T-1000 was shot in the eye in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and the effect was certainly eye-opening (pun completely intended).
While we can see that this is clearly a Robert Patrick dummy, our attention is directed at the hole in his head, which is physical and therefore quite real-looking.
Shot through the eye - Now
This effect from Terminator Genisys (2015) doesn't convince for a single moment.
Looking at it as a still image, it does not look like the hole is physically connected to actor Byung-hun Lee's face.
Flaming skull - Then
This flaming Endoskeleton shot is taken from the incredibly powerful opening credits of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and was achieved with a practical T-800 model.
Whether the model was actually immersed in flame is uncertain (though the reflections in the skull's metal plating look real enough), we feel like we could reach out and touch this very-real Endoskeleton.
Flaming skull - Now
This Endoskeleton and the fire it's submerged in are completely digital, though the effect allows for some actual movement in the shot, which makes the scene from Terminator Genisys (2015) quite dynamic.
It doesn't have the same sense of menace as the flaming robot scene at the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but we can see why the filmmakers would opt to go digital with this shot.
Fire walk with me - Then
This scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was absolutely sensational and extremely impressive back in the early '90s, though we can certainly see how it has aged.
Simple textures and fire effects have dated the scene significantly, though we still love it.
Fire walk with me - Now
A similar scene from Terminator Genisys (2015) also sees a Terminator emerge from a huge fire, only the shot is much more visually dynamic this time than it was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with improved fire effects and plenty of added detail, including an incandescent metal effect which highlights just how hot the machine is.
Going nuclear - Then
The tremendously dramatic nuclear explosion scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was achieved with the use of miniatures.
While it works fantastically in the film (with help from Brad Fiedel's haunting score), it's plainly obvious that we're looking at toy cars and trucks.
Going nuclear - Now
Terminator Genisys (2015) also has a nuclear explosion scene of its own, this time created by a team of digital artists.
The initial explosion looks a little fake, but the impressive resulting carnage looks right out of a blockbuster disaster film.
Young Arnold - Then
Now on to the Terminator franchise's most impressive special effect – Arnold Schwarzenegger himself!
This seven-time Mr. Olympia winner was a sight to behold in The Terminator (1984), with features that seemed chiseled out of stone – he is truly a one-of-a-kind presence.
Young Arnold - Now
Terminator Genisys (2015) features scenes set in 1984 during the original film's events, which required a young, digital version of Arnold to be created once more.
The result in this film is much more impressive than it was in Terminator Salvation (2009), though the eyes still give the effect away.
It seems that when it comes to Arnie, there is no substitute!