Following the success of the Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), the Abyss (1989); James Cameron wrote, produced, and directed the 1991 sequel to the Terminator ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, and Edward Furlong as its principal cast.
Terminator 2 follows Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her ten-year-old son John (Furlong) as they are pursued by a new, more advanced Terminator: the liquid metal, shapeshifting T-1000 (Patrick), sent back in time to kill John Connor and prevent him from becoming the leader of the human resistance. A second, less advanced Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is also sent back in time to protect John.
James Cameron has been touting Avatar as a movie that redefined filmmaking, but Cameron has been an important force in the movie industry for a very long time, in particular from a technological standpoint. A force that has spurred on the development of computer-generated graphics, with movies that push the limits of special effects.
Cameron had a clear vision of what he wanted in the creation of the T-1000 Terminator for the sequel but there were technical limitations regarding computer-generated imagery. The production of the 1989 film The Abyss provided the proof of concept needed to satisfactorily resolve the technical concerns.
Even so, Terminator 2 extensive use of computer-generated imagery was the most ambitious since the 1982 and 1984 science fiction films Tron and The Last Starfighter respectively. Therefore, despite Cameron’s status following the hits Terminator and Aliens, finding financing to execute his elaborate vision for T2 was trying and contributed to the seven-year lag between the original and the sequel. But the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) crew also needed time to hone their technical capabilities.
CGI was required particularly for the T-1000, a “mimetic poly-alloy” (liquid metal) structure since the shapeshifting character can transform into almost anything it touches. Most of the key Terminator effects were provided by ILM for computer graphics.
Cameron’s cave of CGI geniuses and in the early 90s high-tech world consisted of hand-picked people and they would work out how to be able to create the scenes we see in the movie and how they’d be integrated. In total, the creation of the visual effects cost $5 million and took 35 people, including animators, computer scientists, technicians, and artists, ten months to produce, for a total of 25 man-years.
Despite a large amount of time spent, the CGI sequences only five minutes of running time in total. Enlisted to produce articulated puppets and prosthetic effects was Stan Winston’s studio, who was also responsible for the metal skeleton effects of the T-800. In the clip below we see some behind the scenes footage; the appliance makeups for Arnold Schwarzenegger that would expose the 800-series Terminator’s deterioration through the course of the story, as well as animatronic Schwarzenegger puppets.
Robert Patrick has revealed that he approached the role by seeing the T-1000 as a praying mantis, using his body with his head tilted forward and the ears being the focus of the movement. The way he was moving and running and doing his thing truly made the T-1000 even more real than the special effects.
The visual effects are what was groundbreaking about Terminator 2, but the storytelling around it was very good as well, that is why we are still watching the movie today and why Terminator 2: Judgment Day also received widespread critical acclaim upon its release.