Summer Movies: 'Terminator Genisys'
Issue: July 1, 2015

Summer Movies: 'Terminator Genisys'

MPC Film ( spent a year producing visual effects for the new Terminator Genisys film, but the studio’s involvement dates back even further. MPC and its VFX supervisor Gary Brozenich had worked with Terminator Genisys VFX producer Shari Hanson on Lone Ranger, and she once again turned to the studio to help fulfill a vision for the big screen.

“She approached Gary in early stages, during filming,” recalls MPC VFX supervisor, Sheldon Stopsack, who oversaw the studio’s work on the new film. “Gary introduced me to idea. He explained from the start the potential sequences.”

Terminator Genisys was directed by Alan Taylor and opened in theatres on July 1st. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney.

According to Stopsack, MPC was responsible for 250 shots featured in the film. Double Negative was the film’s lead VFX provider, and both Lola and ILM also made contributions. MPC’s biggest challenge involved creating a much younger version of Arnold Schwarzenegger to support the film’s storyline, which returns at points to 1984. 

“The prospect of recreating an iconic figure is both appealing and scary,” says Stopsack of their work on the digital character. “First, I thought it was crazy to take on. Not only is it difficult to create a human, digitally, but that multiplies by a hundred if you start applying it to an iconic person like Arnold. We realized we can’t leave any stone unturned, and right from start, we had to put in all the energy to take it to the next level.”

Stopsack says the MPC team referenced footage from the original Terminator film, as well as from the 1977 body-building documentary, Pumping Iron.

“We used any material we could get our hands on: photos, footage, the original movie,” says Stopsack. The material would provide guidance for modeling and texturing, and was constantly cross referenced as the CG character was being developed.”

During production, a bodybuilder was shot in front of a blue screen, but Stopsack says very little of that material was used in the final visual effect. “The appearance of Arnold is so unique,” he explains. “He has a very unique characteristic to him, and a stunt guy would not give you that.”

Ultimately, MPC approached the sequence with the intent of 100 percent replacement of the live-action actor, but the final effect involved closer to 80 or 90 percent. The screen time of the digital character represents nearly 2,800 frames, consisting of over-the-shoulder, wide, close-up, and dialogue-driven shots.

MPC’s Montreal studio handled the bulk of the work. Its London and Bangalore studios also pitched in, and their Los Angeles location hosted meetings and presentations.

“Time was our only enemy,” says Stopsack. “The model was in flux until last day for corrections and changes. There were changes to the face mesh — it was always being questioned. We never really called it finished.”

MPC relied on a combination of tools to accomplish the shots. Autodesk Maya was used to create the 3D, and the rigging was also Maya-based. “We have software sitting on top,” says Stopsack, “in particular for rigging.”

For texturing, The Foundry’s Mari 3D texture painting tool was used quite a lot, says Stopsack, adding that the texture maps alone represent 18GBs.

Next up for MPC is work on the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Double Negative ( in London handled approximately 900 shots for Terminator Genisys, including the T1000, T5000, and T3000 Terminators, the helicopter and bus chase sequences, and the explosion at the Cyberdine headquarters.

Peter Bebb is the studio’s in-house visual effects supervisor and says the studio got involved in the film back in January of 2014.

“They wanted to split up the major ticket items,” says Bebb of the filmmakers. “MPC doing the 1984 Arnold stuff was a major undertaking. They wanted another vendor to do the major T3000 and John Connor basically, and that was going to be us. And along with that, because of the interaction with him and all the other characters, I think it came as a package.”

Double Negative’s team grew as large as 500 when in full swing. The studio relies on a combination of proprietary tools for rigging and animation, but starts in Maya. On this film, because of the complexity of the VFX, Double Negative employed Side Effects Houdini for many of the effects — a tool that Bebb refers to as “phenomenal.” Compositing was performed using Nuke.

One of the challenges Double Negative faced was designing the new Terminator, the T3000. “We had to put up a substantial amount of work to win that,” Bebb says of their winning bid. “We knew with the new Terminator that [the filmmakers] really wanted something unique. We did not want to go down the classic robot/metal [road]. It had to be something that was individual, and we knew that it was going to be a huge design undertaking.”

The T3000 is driven by design and battle efficiency. “The form follows function,” says Bebb. “It’s how a computer designs something. It’s got to have some reason that it’s that shape. We started with something that looked good, but then said, ‘This doesn’t make sense? Why would it look that way? Would a computer actually do that?’ The main design behind this thing is that Cyberdyne is basically infecting John Conner and trying to kill him.”

John Conner’s cells are being replaced, so the character is a combination of his human form and Skynet’s nanotech. “We had to blend those two together, which is why it doesn’t look like the T800 or T1000, because those are pure, bespoke robots. Obviously the T1000 replicates what it forms. The T800 is a pure robot that sits under flesh structure. The [T3000] is pure design and functionality for combat effectiveness. Everything else is tossed aside.”