Terminator Genisys: Designing Three Different Time Periods

terminator_genisys_posterThe weeks prior to the start of principal photography for “Terminator Genisys” saw the talent engaged in heavy training—the physical shooting schedule included stunts, fights, heavy wirework and weapons.

Actress Emilia Clarke jokes, “Yeah, there was training every day with guns, lots of guns, and then some more guns, and then a few more guns thrown in.  I didn’t know anything about guns before this film, and now, well, I know a lot about guns!  Since I had done some stunt work before, they also had me preparing, to get a physical understanding of what was going to be needed.  This Sarah was brought up by a Terminator to be a warrior, so she has a huge body of knowledge when it comes to fighting and survival.  So a lot of what was done was to help me feel comfortable embodying that part of Sarah, always being prepared.  I worked with an amazing military advisor, and a weapons specialist, and then stunts and just physical training.”

terminator_genisys_6_schwarzenegger“I think it’s a testament to how hard everyone worked,” smiles Courtney, “that the demands of the shoot led to a situation where two Australians in the same cast didn’t even have time to get a beer together!”

It wasn’t just those in front of the camera who were preparing for a new world order.  Prop master Diana Burton and weapons master Harry Lu were also attempting to become part machine in their design work.  Diana Burton says, “One thing that went along with this story is the fact that if machines are designing weapons for machines, they don’t care about the design.  They just care about function.  So we had to become machines ourselves somewhat when we were thinking about what kind of guns that they would create, keeping in mind they’re not creating them for anything aesthetic—it’s only utilitarian, only for function.  So we had to remember not to get too ‘design-y.’”  Their arsenal wound up featuring large plasma guns, courtesy of the machines, as well as manmade weapons modified to fire plasma.

Three Different Time Periods

terminator_genisys_5_clarke_courtneyBut the film features three different time periods so, per Harry Lu, “We needed to fit each period with the proper weapons, so that the historians and the gun buffs would be satisfied.”

Burton adds, “We wanted to hearken to the past, but also bring some things into the future.  And also, Arnold had a big say in the weapons he wanted to use.”

Lu and Burton welcomed the suggestions, and wound up with weaponry “that was beautiful and performed without a single malfunction.”  For the 1984 sequences, the Guardian utilizes a Remington 1100, which Burton calls “functional and slick.”  In 2017, he is armed with M3 and M4 Benellis—“beautiful shotguns representing the high-tech end.”

terminator_genisys_4For Sarah, the design team needed to arm her with a key weapon that had to meet two requirements.  It needed to function as a sniper rifle that could take down a Terminator from a distance; but the script also called for her to blow the back door off of an armored truck at close range.  “We chose a .50 caliber Barrett, which is proper for 1984,” explains Burton.

Burton and Lu estimate the final tally of weapons on the set of “Terminator Genisys” at around 500, which included the specially fashioned ones, the rubbers and the replicas, and the real and collectible period pieces.

Big Yellow Bus

In the world of TG, however, practically anything can become a weapon—including a big yellow school bus.  One massive set-piece of the film involves a bus toppling end over end, and finally dangling off the Golden Gate Bridge.  The performers who were included in the sequence prepared for filming by practicing harness work.  All the while, filmmakers kept at the drawing board, working on the sequence, to render it both safe (for the actors) and intense (for the audience).

terminator_genisys_3_clarkeIn the end, the production was able to leave the bus “wheels down” for filming by employing clever camera placement and angles, and creative rigging for the harnesses—along with some post-production magic, the final illusion created is one of the vehicle hanging precipitously off the famous landmark bridge, with the characters inside clinging for dear life.

Korean Action Star Lee

For veteran Korean action star Lee, it wasn’t so much the stunt prep that he found the most challenging.  Lee says, “Action-wise this film was very different for me, because I’ve never had to act not as a human—as a machine, I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t breathe.  We mostly discussed how I should move with the stunt team—and since there’s no final answer actually, we just kept discussing and bringing ideas.  Then we just chose the way we wanted to do it.”

terminator_genisys_2_schwarzeneggerJason Clarke relished the physicality, the fights and the super-human feats his character is called upon to perform.  He says, “We all worked very hard to be true to the story’s heritage, but also keep it imaginative.  It’s some of the most enjoyable action I’ve ever done—great fighting moves, spinning around, piledriver maneuvers—it has just been so cool.”

In some scenes, the action called for was well beyond human execution, even for the most accomplished of bodybuilding action superstars or experienced stunt performers.  For those special circumstances, production called upon Jason Matthews from Legacy Effects (the company begun by Stan Winston, pioneering effects artist whose work is seen in the original Terminator movie franchise) to create a silicone replica of the supremely pumped and buff Schwarzenegger circa 1984, outfitted with steel armature and physiologically truthful joints, using measurements and face casts from the time around the shooting and release of the original film.

terminator_genisys_1The replica was used when danger prohibited the participation of any live performers, and also during the scenes where the older Arnold meets his younger self in 1984.  (A “stunt” duplicate was also built, but using a softer foam material, so it could be subjected to more hazardous situations…and live through it.)


Updating T-800

terminator_genisys_1_schwarzeneggerLegacy Effects’ Mike Manzel and other artists also worked on creating updated versions of the endoskeleton of the T-800 (the model of the original Terminator).  Modern painting techniques and composite structural substances (epoxies, resins) made for less weighty skeletons, with surface effects replacing the chroming process of the 1984 T-800.  The final ‘hero’ endoskeleton took a crew of about 15 artists a little over a month to complete and boasted of more than 260 separate pieces, all sculpted by hand.  And thanks to such advances as the 3D printer, duplicates could be created in a more post-Millennial manner.  Instead of hand sculpting, each piece would emerge from the 3D printer (some pieces taking as long as 48 hours to print).  From there, they would be molded, sanded and subjected to finishing work.  “However,” Manzel offers, “in reality, I still think it takes just as much finesse to create these as it did back in the day—it’s just using another tool to produce the final project.”