Q&A: The hardest shots to get right in ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

A VFX-focused interview with director Tim Miller.

As co-founder of Blur Studio, Deadpool and Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller has an extensive visual effects and CG background.

With that in mind, I wanted to ask Miller about some of the specific VFX issues he faced on Dark Fate, ranging from that opening de-aging flashback, to coming up with specific looks for the new Terminator, to the VFX editorial process, and what he found was the toughest visual effects shot to pull off.


Check out the details in our chat below.

b&a: Regarding the opening Sarah and John flashback, what were the ways you considered doing the de-aging for that?

Tim Miller: There was really only one option available to us and that’s the one we used – body double with a full digital head replacement. I suppose we could have gone COMPLETELY CG, but I don’t think that would have been nearly as cost efficient or effective. The likenesses were a combination of a detailed scan for Linda and Arnold and starting from scratch for Eddie. And on top of that a TON of pain-staking sculpting based on images of the actors from the the ages we needed them to be.

b&a: I loved how the Rev-9 displayed aspects of ‘liquid metal’ like Terminator 2 – what direction did you provide in terms of concepts and final execution of this in the character?

Tim Miller: We, of course, did a lot of reference gathering. Lots of web searching for Ferro-fluids. Lots of time lapse of melting materials or freezing/forming materials. And oddly enough just some thinking about how liquid would need to grow and form structures like the ones we needed. Gabriel Luna without the Endoskeleton was like a chocolate Easter bunny with structural reinforcements throughout.

b&a: When you were piecing together the film after principal photography, can you briefly take me through the ways that shots/scenes/VFX were developed as placeholders/stand-ins until the final VFX were tackled?

Tim Miller: I’m a big believer in pre and postvis and so we did a TON of it. The previs guided our more effects-heavy shooting and the postvis worked out how the scenes played and validated whether an idea/shot/sequence could work. My goal was to have NO bluescreen shots or missing postvis in my directors cut. I didn’t want ANYONE to have to ‘guess’ what my intentions were and we were very successful in that. So that made for a VERY intense 10 weeks when I got into the edit bay after the shoot. I had a good rough cut of the film the day I got back, but there was still a TON of work to do refining things.

We prioritized the editorial work so that we could hand off the VFX heavy sequences as early as possible to the postvis teams. We had a full-compliment of folks from The Third Floor on-site as well as artists from Blur handling postvis for the sequences they were doing. We did all the editorial at Blur and ran post production out of our studio which was great. I get to work in a place I feel comfortable, surrounded by artists and friends and I’m able to draw on Blur to plug any holes in resources. We built on top of that solid infrastructure.

b&a: What was the hardest VFX shot/sequence to get ‘right’?

Tim Miller: The opening flashback was the very last sequence to get done and the hardest. That said, because we did some reshoots for the ending — giving Arnold a bigger moment and a more poignant death — we really had to hustle to pull that all together. There were a BUNCH of very challenging shots at the end that ILM had to pull together in a very short amount of time. It was really incredible to see some very complex shots come together in a very short amount of time. Hats off to all the VFX artists there as well as the artists and the supervisors at all our vendors — they all busted their asses and did a fantastic job.

b&a: Did you get a chance, at all, to ‘sit on the box’ and do any kind of shot work for the film?

Tim Miller: HA! No… I didn’t. Aside from some paint-overs in Photoshop to mark-up shots and fix CG-model proportions I didn’t do shit. My skills are rusty and I can’t keep up with all the talented folks we had on the show!

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