On June 11th, the New York Film Academy Animation department hosted an anniversary screening of The Terminator (1984) to a full house. The film remains exciting as ever as evidenced by the thunderous applause during the end credits. After the film, co-chair of animation Mark Sawicki moderated a panel of artists who created the amazing effects for the film. Guest artists and Oscar nominees Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant were character creators and puppeteers of the Terminator robot for the film. The Terminator was the first film they worked on with the legendary Stan Winston. Upon Winston’s passing in 2008, Shane and John co-founded the Legacy studio to carry on the tradition of excellent character creation and practical effects work on such films as Aliens, Predator, Jurassic Park and Iron Man. Also joining the event was guest artist Ernest Farino who was responsible for the main title and graphics work on the picture. Mark Sawicki worked with Ernest as an optical consultant to help devise the look and procedures to generate the robot’s eye view or Termovision. Ernest is a two time Emmy winner for visual effects and is now directing.
The group shared marvelous stories from the movie such as rubbing honey into the make up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face to attract a freshly refrigerated fly as it woke from its frozen slumber. Another trick shared by Ernest was a shot of Arnold pushing his fist through the windshield of a moving car. This was accomplished with a stationary car with a mechanical battering ram in the shape of Arnold’s fist. The illusion of movement was created by having a truck drive by with a fake wall of plastic bricks attached to its side. The bricks moving quickly behind the stationary car made it appear that the car was moving quickly past a static wall as the fake hand shattered the windshield.
Both Shane and John emphasized the importance of story and sticking to reality to create believable effects. John said that to make a believable dinosaur you have to obey the laws of physics and have a two-ton dinosaur move with heft and weight and not fly around like a bumblebee.
After an engaging discussion of trends and techniques, the panel was open to questions from the audience. Many students asked what it was that made older practical effects more appealing than today’s CGI. Shane suggested that in the past horror and fantasy films were overlooked as small pictures and the filmmakers had much more freedom to entertain happy accidents or try bold lighting and other techniques. Today’s multi million dollar blockbusters have a great deal at stake and much more input is given from not only the studios but other large franchises like McDonald’s who use movies as cross promotional vehicles. One student compared older effects to gleaming silver while CGI was more like polished steel. Mark mentioned that lighting is very difficult to mimic in a virtual environment and can create the impression the student mentioned but there are ways to improve upon it such as the use of HDRI imagery to light the CGI characters. John pointed out that CGI could be exceptional if done well with attention to detail and dedication to realism as exampled by Jurassic Park.
There was a great deal of interest among students to either pursue the field as artists or make use of these tried and true techniques as directors in their own right.
The event wrapped up with our guests receiving complimentary gift bags from NYFA as they graciously autographed their names to The Terminator poster that will soon adorn the halls of our school.
Thank you Shane, John and Ernest for inspiring us all and reminding us all about the importance of story and characters!