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Determination: MPC & Terminator Genisys

MPC's visual effects supervisor Sheldon Stopsack talks us through the process for creating the incredibly realistic Young Arnie for Terminator Genisys...

MPC's visual effects supervisor Sheldon Stopsack talks us through the process for creating the incredibly realistic Young Arnie for Terminator Genisys...

When it came to producing Terminator Genisys (2015), the duo of visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs (The Avengers) and visual effects producer Shari Hanson (Star Trek) collaborated closely with MPC to honor the past, while establishing a new future for the iconic time travel franchise established by James Cameron (Titanic) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Commando).

Terminator Genisys Featurette: James Cameron and Paramount Pictures International

Not only was The Terminator (1984) a point of reference, as the first introduction of the title character had to be recreated for Terminator Genisys with an additional twist, but "It needed to feel like it was the same character from that iconic movie now facing a different threat in a different set of circumstances,” states MPC visual effects supervisor Sheldon Stopsack. The iconic scene in question is of course when a Young Arnold Schwarzenegger confronts a group of street punks at the Los Angeles Observatory, but is now intercepted by an older version of himself. "The fight was choreographed and acted out with Brett Azar [Central Intelligence] as a stand-in for the Young Arnold character.”

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Principal photography for the Young Arnold versus Old Arnold fight took place in New Orleans rather than Los Angeles. "Even though it was shot on location, there was a large amount of blue screen and set extensions.” Supplementary VFX plates where shot which were integrated into the originally choreographed fight. "We noticed that the sequence was good but was lacking a few iconic moments. At that point we started to do a lot of brainstorming and post-viz work internally to see whether there was any additional work that we could do, or an additional shot that we could create.”

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Young Arnold had to be a believable CG character. "We were constantly cross-referencing and referring to footage from movies that Arnold Schwarzenegger acted in, along with tons of photography that we found.” The visual research was extensive. "His anatomy and general appearance was different throughout the years.” A particular bodybuilding documentary proved to be extremely helpful. "Pumping Iron [1977] was one of the more utilized references because there are so many scenes where Arnold Schwarzenegger is working out and you get to see the unique appearance of his muscles and body proportions.” Even though no body scan from the period existed there was one of a head cast which assisted in the digital recreation.

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"We ended up with an anatomical skeleton as the basis, but that was to get the proportional aspect right,” explains Sheldon Stopsack. "On top of that was a muscular system with volume preservation. The next level we considered was a physical simulated approach like a FEM [Finite Element Method] system where we simulate the skin layer. We didn't end up doing that because it couldn't be art directed to the level that was needed to maintain the image of this iconic figure."

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"Terminator Genisys was one of the first shows where we took advantage of having a full ray trace approach of rendering things,” continues Sheldon. "We took advantage of the development of creating a whole new shader library, and that affected the skin shading approach as well. For the skin shading, we used sub-thermal and epidermal layers to get the skin appearance right. It was a huge undertaking to get the technology to allow us to get the believability and accuracy into the skin appearance and the shading of certain things."

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"For the hair, we utilized MPC's in-house grooming tool which is called Fertility. For an iconic figure where you get a full close-up of his face, we pushed it to the next level in terms of the complexity of our groom that we set up. There were different hair systems for different portions of his body, whether it be the chest hair which is translucent and peach on the back, to facial stubble combined with peach on the cheeks. He is not always close-up on the screen but it does make a difference in the overall sheen and visual appearance of the skin."

Terminator Genisys clip "I've Been Waiting For You" with Young Arnie

"For the dialogue shots we always planned to have a motion-capture session with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a starting point for the facial performance. But what we also did was design a set of blend shapes that we knew we wanted to be prepared for a full facial rig. We built them through a manual labor process by referencing footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he is raising his eyebrows or squinting or sneering. We used it to block out the sequence. When the actual motion-capture shoot with Arnold Schwarzenegger took place, we collected that data and used it to refine the blend shapes that we had done at that point."

The Terminator in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Photo credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"The eyes were another big task for us,” notes Sheldon, who had to overhaul the standard eye software employed by MPC. "We followed the anatomy of a human eye to a level where it was like a medical study. There was a rigging aspect that needed to be considered. For instance, a huge part of what makes a human eye believable is the accumulation of liquid around it called the meniscus. If you ever see some micro photography of the human eye, the iris is an incredibly complex structure that dynamically changes. The pupil dilates a lot.”

Over 30,000 polygons had to be produced to achieve the required detail and resolution. "The coronary of the eye always breaks the light and gives this caustic effect on the iris itself that shifts. We had to introduce a caustic system to support that. You're always looking for an extra moment of life in a human eye, subtleties like a little glisten or glint that you catch here and there.

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"Arnold Schwarzenegger has a distinct way of moving,” observes Sheldon. "That goes from complex things like walking and running, to the subtleties of how a head turns or an eye squints. For example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger squints a non-symmetrical phenomenon always happens. One eye is always slightly more closed than the other and there's this imperfection that you need to have in order to nail that character. We literally had to watch every single Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that we could get our hands. We made a mix of clips which were then categorized and associated with each individual shot. That could be the eye movement, facial expression or overall body movement.”

During the course of the fight, Young Arnold gets inflicted with various degrees of damage. "We ended up having three variations of the Young Arnold built, starting off with the full clean undamaged version to introducing bullet wounds where he has been shot in the chest to the next level where he is losing portions of his face and we're revealing parts of the endoskeleton structure, just as it has been done in the past. The grand finale is to have the Young Arnold taken out by a uranium bullet that punches a huge hole into his chest. It was something we developed as the sequence was being cut, so we knew when to introduce the different destruction levels.”

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Moviegoers can expect to see a different rendition of Young Arnold than what was initially previewed. "The trailer version that we did in November of last year was something that had to be fast track to some extent,” explains Sheldon. "Luckily there wasn't too much of a giveaway which meant we made it work for the required frames.” The digital character continued to evolve. "An extensive development followed after that; in particular, the facial rig wasn't fully fleshed out at that point. The same goes for the body performance and body rig.

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"The other big portion of our work was the guerrillas storming into a post-apocalyptic work camp set up by the machines. The LAX sequence was based on principal photography that took place in New Orleans. There was a small set portion built of some wall segments. We ended up creating a full digital version of the work camp with different modular structures of the walls, fuel cells, turret guns, towers, and prisoner cells where humans are being held captive.” Sheldon notes, "Throughout that process it became clear that the sequence was all about the more the merrier. Which meant that all of the shots that show a portion of the sky we had to add helicopters in there fighting the hunter killers.” The crowd tool utilized by MPC was modified. "For things populating the background and wider aerials, we found a set of rules for the flocking logic that would give you a nice volume of an aerial battle.

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"We did quite extensive crowd work on the ground where we added more guerrilla troops invading and storming in and fighting an army of endoskeletons,” remarks Sheldon. "The endoskeletons have a unique design and everyone has a clear view of what they look like. The whole production design for Terminator Genisys was following the language of the original movie. We did an extensive build with various levels of Look Developments for the different purposes where we ended up using them. They could be a fully fleshed out hero build holding up the full screen, which you could show the closest detail in, to lighter versions of them for the wide aerial shots where we had an endoskeleton crowd which we used our crowd system ALICE for.”

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

A key digital work camp structure was an aircraft hanger which houses the time displacement chamber that the machines use to send terminators back in time.

"Unknown for the longest period of this sequence was what is in the inside of this hanger,” reveals Sheldon. "The hanger is based on the opposite side of the work camp. Our hero characters need to invade from one side in order to get to this hanger door. But it wasn't quite clear what we actually see inside. We knew that the time displacement chamber was housed there but there was no clear design, so that's where our Art Department kicked in. We developed the concept work based on that with our client.

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

"I can't thank the team that worked on this movie enough,” says Sheldon. "Everyone was sensible and aware that what we were trying to do here was not an easy task. We had to push boundaries. There's one thing worth mentioning as well which is that we didn't finish developing the character of Young Arnold until the last minute of the show. We still made corrections to the base of the skull to minor texture changes or shader adjustments. It was something that progressed from start to finish. There was no point in this whole production where we said, ‘The look development or CG or animation is done.' We kept everyone up and running. It was an on-going process for all of the departments which was interesting for this one.”

Photo Credit: MPC / Paramount Pictures
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Related links

Check out more Terminator Genisys clips on YouTube
See more of Sheldon Stopsack's work for MPC
Visit the Terminator Genisys homepage

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