How McG made that T-800 at the end of Terminator Salvation

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Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT

One of the big surprises at the end of McG's Terminator Salvation has been well reported, but if you haven't heard and don't want to be spoiled, don't read any further. But if you want to know how McG created the scene, click through.

At the end of the upcoming prequel/sequel film, a T-800 model Terminator appears, looking just like Arnold Schwarzenegger from James Cameron's original 1984 The Terminator, as naked as the first time we see him.

McG told reporters that he used computer graphics to make the T-800 look just like Schwarzenegger from the first movie. But wherever else he could, McG wanted to use practical effects.

For the T-800 scene, in which John Connor (Christian Bale) confronts the old nemesis, Austrian bodybuilder Roland Kickinger played the Terminator so that Bale would have someone to act opposite. Schwarzenegger's face was superimposed on Kickinger's head in post-production.

"Most particularly, you really get the performance you're looking for when you're not stuck telling an actor, 'Oh, the tennis ball is the robot. Be afraid,'" McG said. "That's terrible. I want a 7-foot piece of Soviet tank machinery where if you punch up against that thing, it's going to hurt your hand. And when the red eyes glow, and the puppeteers from Winston Studios do this and smack you, it brings a better performance out of Sam Worthington and out of Christian Bale and everybody else who's interacting in the film. So it was absolutely critical to build as much as was humanly possible, and then when you have to extend in a CG capacity, sure, go for it. But films that take place purely in a CG environment, I find they just feel animated and I detach as a viewer, so I'm less interested in that respect."

McG used as many practical robots and physical effects as possible during the making of the movie, he added. "It's a very militant philosophy when it comes to that," McG said in a group interview last week in Beverly Hills, Calif. "I'm very passionate about that. I think we can all smell the CG component in these films, and you immediately are taken out of the picture. So we wanted to go to great lengths to go to the one and only Stan Winston—who passed in the making of this picture, and we've dedicated it to his memory—to build all the robots and all the machines of Skynet to the best of our ability. We wanted to do as much as possible in camera, so you get that level of physics and that level of response."

If Schwarzenegger had not agreed to allow the use of his face and likeness for the T-800, McG had a backup plan. "You'll notice the door flies off, and Connor goes down on his back, and he shoots the machine gun up the chest of the T-800," McG said. "If we were unsuccessful in getting the likeness of Schwarzenegger, we were just going to have the machine gun having blown his face off. It would have been the endoskeleton, the skull idea, and it wouldn't have been nearly as satisfactory. In the end, I think the governor's very pleased with what we did and the manner in which it was handled. So I think that's a nice moment in the movie, when that shows up."

Terminator Salvation opens May 21.

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