Terminator Genisys Interview with VFX Supervisor Sheldon Stopsack | EXCLUSIVE
He always said he'd be back, and even though it may have taken 12 years, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man true to his word. His seven-year stint as California's governor caused him to miss out on starring in Terminator Salvation, but he came back as the iconic T-800 in this summer's Terminator Genisys. As an added bonus, fans were treated to more than one Arnold this time around!
The story initially follows the same conceit as The Terminator, with John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the human resistance, sending Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), and safeguard the future. But an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline. Now, Sgt. Reese finds himself in a new and unfamiliar version of the past, where he is faced with unlikely allies, including the Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger), dangerous new enemies, and an unexpected new mission: To reset the future.
One of the most memorable scenes in Terminator Genisys is a direct result of this fractured timeline, with the aging Guardian and Sarah laying in wait for the original T-800 sent back to 1984 Los Angeles, which results in an epic Arnold vs. Arnold fight. One of the key players responsible for creating the 1984 version of Arnold is visual effects supervisor Sheldon Stopsack, who I recently spoke with over the phone about his work on this sci-fi sequel, which arrived on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD this week. Take a look at what he had to say about bringing this younger Arnold to life.
Was there a certain movie that you saw when you were growing up that made you want to get into this field?
I imagine that you were brought on fairly early in the process. Can you talk about when you became involved and what you were tasked with?
Sheldon Stopsack: Yeah, I was introduced to Terminator Genisys, to work on the young Arnold by a fellow I do effects with. He was approached by Shari Hanson, a visual effects producer on the show. We had worked together on a project called The Lone Ranger. She basically introduced me to the idea and was outlining the type of work we'd do. When I first heard about re-creating the young Arnold character appearing in 1984, it was something that I said to myself would be completely crazy to take on. It's just nuts, incredibly difficult and challenging. The more I thought about it, at the same time, it presented an incredibly great challenge and opportunity as well and got me really excited. That's why we were incredibly keen to take this on. That's how I got introduced.
I was really, really impressed by that scene, and how the 1984 Arnold turned out. Before you got started, how much were you poring over that original film, to get ideas or just to soak everything in from that movie?
Sheldon Stopsack: That was one of the biggest things I had to do. I personally watched every single Arnold movie around that period. I went through books about that time and Pumping Iron, a very iconic documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I probably watched 100 million times. So, we had to take in every single piece of footage we could get our hands on with Arnold, in order to do our homework and our research.
I know these are all available on Blu-ray now, but does the way that the films looked back then, did that influence the work you did on this?
Sheldon Stopsack: That's actually a very solid question, because the question that always came up in interviews is 'Why didn't you use the original footage?' Now, to give that an answer, the original footage was shot on film, and it probably wouldn't fit into this new piece of movie. It was interesting re-creating this look and re-creating this character from the original Terminator series, and a huge part of that is how the look came across. There's actually a portion of it that is re-creating the mood you get from the original footage. In the process of re-creating these movie scenes, and the arrival, we had to study that and mimic that to get that mood across. It was more than re-creating the character, animated exactly as it was. It was more like trying to capture the mood of it. That was actually a task in itself.
Byung-hun Lee's character takes us back as well, with the liquid metal stuff from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Were you involved with any of that, or were there other aspects of the film you were involved in?
Sheldon Stopsack: The other larger portion we were involved in was the futuristic scenes around the LAX war camp, which was part of the opening. That was a large chunk for us, the LAX invasion. It was very different from the Arnold character because it was such a mixed bag, such a wide range of effects, creating this apocalyptic environment and an army of endoskeletons. It was a very nice contrast to the Arnold work, very different and very epic.
Can you talk about working with (director) Alan Taylor and his approach to visual effects? With working on Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World, he has a background with this sort of work. Can you talk about how his approach may have been different from others you've worked with in the past?
Sheldon Stopsack: It's a difficult one to answer. Everyone is approaching visual effects differently, with different knowledge and different interest in this sort of field. Everyone you get to work with his very unique, and Alan was certainly very keen and interested in the process. He was always very helpful in helping us make the right decisions and pointing us in the right direction. It was really a pleasant experience working with Alan. It was really a full collaboration and we all worked on it together.
Going back to the digital version of Arnold, some are worried that we're moving closer to using that technology more and more, creating full digital versions of actors.
Sheldon Stopsack: Well, it's very time-consuming and labor-intensive, creating such an iconic figure as Arnold. If you think about it, it's still a very limited entity. As I was saying before, actors have so much to offer, and there's a reason that actors like Arnold are so famous for what they do. The subtleties are incredibly hard to capture, if you're being tasked to re-create. To re-create such an iconic thing, it is incredible intense, challenging and time-consuming to get to the bottom of it. We're certainly not at the point that actors will be replaced overnight.
Is there anything you're working on now that you can talk about?
I believed they wrapped on that not too long ago, yes?
Sheldon Stopsack: Yes, that is correct.
Is there anything in particular that you're in charge of on that project that you can talk about?
Sheldon Stopsack: Nothing I can talk about yet (Laughs).
I know that doesn't come out until the summer of 2017, so you guys must still have a long way to go on that one.
Sheldon Stopsack: There is a lot of time, yes, but there is a lot of work to be done.
I was going through your filmography and there are a lot of iconic movies you're worked on. Is there a particular genre or a franchise that you've always wanted to work on?
Sheldon Stopsack: There kind of is, actually, and I was fortunate enough to be involved in one of them, Skyfall. That was a big passion for me, James Bond movies, when I was a kid, so that was definitely high up there for me.
Do you have any advice for any younger kids who may want to get into this type of field, of what to study or what to look out for?
Sheldon Stopsack: Yeah, that's a tricky one to answer, really, because I think there are so many things that you could do. One of the things I think is important is to be incredibly passionate about what you do. It's not as much about learning computer stuff, it's about being excited about learning what it takes to do visual effects. Another piece of advice I've often given is, visual effects are so much about us observing the real world, and I think that's a big part of our day-to-day. What we create might be artificial or really crazy, but it should really be based on real-world physics, or something you can observe. It's important to not lose sight of the real world.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Sheldon. It was a real pleasure.
Sheldon Stopsack: Thank you very much.
You can watch Sheldon Stopsack's work with the younger Arnold Schwarzenegger on Terminator Genisys, which is now available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD. We reported last month that new sequels for Terminator Genisys are still moving forward, so it's possible that we could see Sheldon Stopsack's work in these upcoming projects. What did you think of his work on the younger Arnold Schwarzenegger?