Terminator 2 in 3D: Softimage Software
Date: May 10, 1996
Softimage Software Used to Create Groundbreaking 3-D Attraction At Universal Studios Florida: Terminator 2 3-D. Digital Domain Uses Softimage 3D for Modeling, Animation And Rendering in One of the Most Ambitious 3-D Productions Ever!
ORLANDO, Fla. - May 10, 1996 - This month, Universal Studios Florida will debut Terminator 2 3-D, a spectacular interactive 3-D attraction based on director James Cameron's blockbuster feature "Terminator 2." The stereoscopic 3-D production breaks new ground in many ways, including the fact that it is the first major production of its type to be 100 percent digitally processed. The stringent demands of digital quality, combined with an oversize, high-resolution, 65mm film format, challenged the creative principals in each area of the production to achieve new levels of photorealism and visual dynamics.
Terminator 2 3-D employs dual 70mm film projectors to project the action onto three 23-by-50-foot screens situated at 60-degree angles. The unprecedented 150 feet of 3-D image space immerses the audience in a dazzling display of 3-D animation, filmed sequences, computer graphics and live-action stunts. Frame for frame the most expensive live-action film ever produced, the three-act production climaxes in an edge-of-your-seat finale in which Arnold Schwarzenegger fights the ultimate liquid-metal war monster - the T-1,000,000 (T-Meg). Digital Domain's feature/theme park attractions division produced Terminator 2 3-D. Digital Domain used Softimage® 3D for all the modeling, animation and rendering for the T-Meg.
Softimage 3D Creates a Monster
The T-Meg was created by a team of 10 digital artists at Digital Domain in Los Angeles, the widely acclaimed full-service digital production studio best known for its Oscar®-nominated special effects in "True Lies" and "Apollo 13." According to digital animation director Daniel Robichaud, the original plan was to use Softimage 3D for animation alone, but as the project evolved, the team found the modeling and mental ray rendering of Softimage 3D to have unique benefits in creating the desired effects.
Revenge of the NURBS
Like the T-1,000 in the feature film "Terminator 2," the T-Meg constantly morphs, implodes and regenerates itself. To effect the constantly transforming nature of the giant spiderlike creature, modeling specialists required an especially fluid modeling capability, one afforded by the Softimage 3D NURBS (non-uniform rational B-splines). "NURBS make the modeling process much more controllable," said Digital Domain's Robichaud. "And they allow you to go further in the 'sculpting' process. That's really what it ends up being - sculpting with virtual clay." The Digital Domain team developed a technique called bi-spinal skinning, which uses NURBS to model and skin the six-legged creature using a single, continuous curve as a "spine."
Softimage 3D Metaclay proved ideal for the T-Meg's forming process, in which liquid pools of metal coagulate and re-form into John Connor's worst nightmare. In walking sequences, Softimage 3D Inverse Kinematics was used in combination with shape interpolation, allowing the T-Meg to transform from one shape to another while walking.
Rendering a Decision
Digital Domain decided to explore the Softimage 3D mental ray in an effort to achieve more photorealism from the completely metallic T-Meg. According to Robichaud, "The T-Meg is supposed to be a liquid metal poly-alloy, so if it doesn't reflect its environment and itself in a photorealistic way, it's not convincing visually." Self-reflection was especially critical in a creature with six moving metallic legs and their complex reflections, so the Digital Domain team turned to the powerful ray-tracing of mental ray. "Other rendering packages can give you environmental reflections, but with self-reflection, you need ray-tracing. So we did some tests with mental ray, and the results were very convincing," Robichaud said.
The team also employed mental ray to achieve the craterlike "wounds" on the T-Meg as it was hit by projectiles. The torn-metal effect was achieved by painting a rough texture in mental ray and positioning it where the T-Meg would be hit, then animating the displacement of that texture on the geometry. This solution achieved a strikingly realistic effect that did not require modeling, according to Robichaud. "It took just a few minutes to paint the texture," he said. "The Softimage 3D interface lets you position the texture interactively on your model and see it moving. This capability made it very easy to determine where we wanted the T-Meg to be hit."
Digital Domain Looks Ahead
Robichaud sees the Terminator 2 3-D project as a big step in a new direction for the highly regarded production studio. "The next phase in Digital Domain's evolution is to strive for the same level of recognition in character animation that we have earned in compositing and special effects," he said. "Terminator 2 3-D was the first project in which we had significant character animation transferred to film and where every single element was computer-generated. Softimage 3D played a tremendous part in that process and will continue to play a major role in future productions."
Digital Domain is the largest full-service digital production studio in Los Angeles. The company's mandate is to create an environment that empowers artists, matching their imaginative prowess with the right tools and the best projects.
Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include Softimage 3D (high-end animation), Softimage Eddie (compositing) and Softimage Toonz (2-D cel animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft Corp. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at www.softimage.com and www.microsoft.com , respectively.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (NASDAQ "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.