Arts & Entertainment

THE TERMINATOR Future World Breakdown: Creating a Set Piece on a Budget

James Cameron

Lesson time 17:43 min

James breaks down the iconic future world set piece from The Terminator, showing how he created a set piece on a limited budget.

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Topics include: Using Rear Projection and Miniatures • Learn How to See Through an Artist’s Eyes • Build Your Knowledge of Effects


[MUSIC PLAYING] JAMES CAMERON: What we have here is the entire first future war sequence storyboarded from end to end. So what I was thinking is, we take the movie and look for the commonality. So here in the storyboard, I imagine that Reese kind of lays his head down on the side of the car door and goes to sleep, and then this is a dream, as opposed to what we wound up doing in the film, which is that he's waiting-- sitting, waiting in the car. And he looks over and sees the construction vehicle. We do this kind of instant transition to the future, but we don't know we're in the future yet. But we are. We're now on a-- the vehicle that has treads in the future, it's called a hunter-killer, and we tilt down, there are a bunch of skulls on the ground. So clearly we've done some kind of dreamlike transition, but we haven't seen the moment where he fell asleep. And we don't even know that that's happening yet. And now or in the future. So if you look at-- at the storyboard for that, it looks like this. Here's the vehicle with the treads near the skulls down below. Here's a fairly abstract shot looking up at the hunter-killer. And then if you progress the film, here's that-- here's that shot. Now I'm not seeing the spotlight or the searchlight. And then we see Reese in the ruins. He's established coming up here. It wound up being a little bit different, but, you know, here we establish Reese in his future world. You don't have to follow the storyboards exactly. So here's the hunter-killer crushing the skulls, and here's the hunter-killer crushing the skull. So there are certain images that survived through the process and certain ones that were either winnowed out and we wound up not doing. For example, the way I imagined it is that it's all very abstract at first, and we see Reese introduced by his legs running as he's getting shot at by this machine, and we think he's gotten killed, but he's hiding behind a column. I wound up not shooting that. I don't remember exactly why at this point. Maybe because we didn't have time, maybe I felt it just wasn't necessary. But where we get into a similarity to the sequence again is him taking cover. Ah. So here, we introduce this young female resistance fighter, and then that moment is here. Now you can see that the camera wound up reversed. Probably just simply because of the way the set laid out, you know? And where the key light was. And me not having the time-- and it really didn't matter. And so Reese signals to her, and this is him signaling to her here. And then they run together. He signals and they run. But first they crawl, then they run. So I think the fact the idea of him crawling through the wreckage is actually indicated in the next storyboard while we see the-- the hunter-killer in the background. So it was all fairly well thought out ahead of time, but the important thing about storyboards is they're-- they're not-- they're not an absolute blueprint, they're ...

About the Instructor

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

James Cameron

Academy Award–winning director James Cameron teaches you the tricks of the trade and shares his approach to epic moviemaking on any budget.

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