The failed motion capture that still resulted in one of ‘Total Recall’s’ best scenes

The film’s X-ray sequence seemed perfect for mocap…

Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci-fi satire Total Recall is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week. While a slew of scenes were crafted with special effects, make-up effects and miniatures, one moment was attempted using motion capture. This was the X-ray scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is among a group of passengers being screened. The giant X-ray screen reveals the entire – moving – skeletons.

The moment was deemed one in which nascent motion capture would be well-suited to help animate Arnie as a CG skeleton. However, the capture never properly worked. This meant the visual effects studio Metrolight Studios, Inc. (which was not responsible for the mocap) had to resort to roto-animating individual character actions from a piece of B-footage that had luckily been taken from the other side of the on-set screen.

It’s all something visual effects supervisor Tim McGovern relates very candidly in this official behind the scenes video, below. The way the rotoscoped animation was done and how footage was actually taken off of monitors and then recorded to film, and later combined optically with the live-action footage, is also fascinating.

A few years ago, too, I had a detailed chat with McGovern about this very sequence (the article also includes input from production visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig and director of miniature photography Alex Funke about other aspects of Total Recall’s effects work, which would ultimately go on to be recognized with a Special Achievement Award from the Academy).

Happy 30th anniversary, Total Recall!

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