Apocalypse with your own hands: how Cameron filmed a nuclear explosion for the movie "Terminator 2"
Categories: CinemaBy Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/apocalypse-with-your-own-hands-how-cameron-filmed-a-nuclear-explosion-for-the-movie-terminator-2
At the end of August, James Cameron made a gift to all fans of a really cool movie. Following Titanic, the director translated the second part of the legendary Terminator series into 3D format. Some cinemas still have sessions, by the way.
"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" once revolutionized the field of computer graphics in cinema. A breakthrough that can only be compared to "Avatar". What are only scenes with T-1000 metamorphoses worth. However, the most ambitious special effects — shots of a nuclear apocalypse provoked by SkyNet — Cameron's team delivered almost without the use of computer graphics. Alexey Turchin, a blogger of LiveJournal, tells how they managed it.
The scene of Sarah Connor's dream, during which she sees a missile strike on Los Angeles, turning into nuclear ash in a matter of seconds, was created thanks to the masters of miniatures from the studio 4Ward Productions. When the script was ready, the manuscript was handed over to Chapter 4Wards for review. He was given the privilege not only to find out the plot of the film months before the premiere, but also to choose for himself which special effects he would like to do. The choice was made in favor of the scene of Sarah's nightmare, and the creation of detailed storyboards began.
After the storyboards were ready, the search for video materials that would help to correctly recreate the mechanics of the process began — the task was to portray the blast wave as reliably as possible. It was 1990 in the yard, there was simply no YouTube. As a result, experts found a fragment of nuclear weapons tests on some videotape.
Nuclear Mushroom Dancer
First of all, the masters from 4Ward Productions had to prepare a frame with a cloud of a nuclear explosion taking the form of a mushroom. The option with a digital cloud was not even considered — they really wanted to shoot the explosion, but by full-scale shooting, something non-standard suddenly became implied. The head of the studio suggested making a mushroom-shaped costume and putting a professional dancer in it, who, thanks to his plasticity and flexibility, most convincingly "unfolded" from a shapeless cloud into a mushroom cloud.
The process of creating an explosion in the form of a mushroom
This idea was shared with Cameron, and he even liked it. Fortunately, it did not receive further development — instead of a suit, a plexiglass structure was assembled, in which the desired effect was achieved with the help of smoke and rotating disks.
Blast wave of corn
For the filming of shots when an explosive wave sweeps through the city and sweeps away entire neighborhoods, Cameron was going to do something very radical. He wanted to go to the desert, assemble a mock-up of the city there, cover it with explosives and blow it up. But difficulties in obtaining permits forced him to look for another solution.
Hand-drawn scenery of the city. The artist's hand is visible in the lower left corner
A helicopter was hired, from which photos of Los Angeles were taken from the right angle. Based on these pictures, the artists created hand-drawn scenery. The so—called matte painting is a technique when full-scale and painted shots are combined in one frame.
Industrial heat guns were used to shoot the blast wave, and to achieve the effect of blowing buildings into dust, a mixture of corn flakes and matzo (bread made from dough that has not undergone the fermentation process) was made.
Silhouettes of buildings used to visualize blocks at the post-production stage
The scene was shot very carefully — everyone spoke in a whisper, and not the slightest breeze was allowed. Someone even turned on relaxing music to help focus. Cameron was simply shocked by the result: he personally called the director of 4Ward and thanked him warmly.
Shooting through a mirror
In addition to the general plan scenes, it was necessary to prepare miniatures for larger shots when the blast wave demolishes detached buildings, trees or vehicles. The material of these decorations was very light and fragile, but even with this in mind, it took about ten air cannons to blow them off the frame. To simplify the task, the guns were loaded with shrapnel from small debris and balls.
A miniature of the quarter. Part of the equipment of the heat guns is visible at the bottom right
It took at least eight takes to create one suitable frame, and the best one did not always get into the editing version. For example, the moment when an explosion sweeps away a passenger bus was shot flawlessly, but when it was viewed again, it turned out that the background behaved wrong, and Cameron had to take a more reliable shot with a less spectacular bus.
Bridge and trees before (photo 1), during (photo 2) and after (photo 3) the volley of air cannons
It was not without difficulties, which were overcome in a very resourceful way. For example, Cameron saw one scene with a wave going strictly from right to left. But the masters from 4Ward have already built all the props and miniatures so that the wave goes from left to right. There was simply no time to redo the layouts, and then the scene was simply filmed through a mirror.
And the cleaning company also threw up problems. Its employees, instead of cleaning up the pieces of matzo, gypsum snow and corn flakes, swept all the garbage in the face of a dilapidated city, which specialists from 4Ward had to restore almost from scratch.
The scene in which Sarah has a nightmare lasts for a few minutes. But it is of great importance for the film. The episode not only clearly shows the nightmare of a nuclear catastrophe, but also performs the function of a trigger that transfers Sarah from the mode of a fleeing victim to the mode of a mother fighting for her child's life. A mother willing to do anything to change the future.