Those Bullet Effects In Terminator 2 Weren’t CGI

Remember Terminator 2? Guns were nearly useless against the murderous T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Bullets fired at the “liquid metal” robot resulted only in a chrome-looking bullet splash that momentarily staggered the killing machine. The effects were done by Stan Winston, who died in 2008, but a video and short blurb shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts revealed, to our surprise and delight, that the bullet impact effects were not CGI.

How was this accomplished? First of all, Winston and his team researched the correct “look” for the splash impacts by firing projectiles into mud and painstakingly working to duplicate the resulting shapes. These realistic-looking crater sculpts were then cast in some mixture of foam rubber, and given a chromed look by way of vacuum metallizing (also known as vacuum deposition) which is a way of depositing a thin layer of metal onto a surface. Vacuum deposition is similar to electroplating, but the process does not require the object being coated to have a conductive surface.

These foam rubber splash patterns — which look like metal but aren’t — were deployed using a simple mechanical system. A variety of splashes in different sizes get individually compressed into receptacles in a fiberglass chest plate. Covering each is a kind of trapdoor, each held closed by a single pin on a cable.

To trigger a bullet impact effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable, which pulls its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms forth in an instant, bursting through pre-scored fabric in the process. Sadly there are no photos of the device itself, but you can see it in action in the testing video shared by the Stan Winston School, embedded below.

When you’re done checking out the video, maybe take a peek at this fan’s effort to create a T-800’s arm.

25 thoughts on “Those Bullet Effects In Terminator 2 Weren’t CGI

  1. Ummm no shit. In the scene where he is running through the parking garage you can see them jingling around with his shirt and not moving with his body. I love what that movie was able to pull of when it was made but that was one effect that didn’t work (at least not when he was running).

    1. But IIRC the shirt is also formed out of the same liquid metal material. So it would make sense that if the shirt is kept separate from the body for natural look, the bullet entry hole would form out of the material in the shirt.

      1. But, the bullet would’ve penetrated deeper than just the front of the uniform, thus the extra mass of metal that wouldn’t be needed just to make the shirt. Going that deep, the metal that bloomed out would almost certainly still be attached to the t1000’s chest and would move as it did, not as the shirt might have. So while I think bort is being a bit too harsh, he’s not wrong either.

        1. But we don’t know how the T1000 is programmed. We know that the fabric of the shirt isn’t fabric, it’s simulating fabric, and we know the chest isn’t made of meat, it’s simulating meat, so maybe if material is moved from the chest simulation to the fabric simulation it just moves with the fabric simulation.

          1. Best point yet! The whole concept of the T-1000 capabilities lies in fantasy. Why did they feel the need to make these effects look so 1970’s Japanese monster-movie? Somebody had a fulfill a union job position’s expectations. “Hey you! Aren’t you trained in practical effects?! We can save a lot of money on this! Get busy!”

  2. “To trigger a bullet impact effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable, which pulls its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms forth in an instant, bursting through pre-scored fabric in the process.”

    Ah, inspiration for a Halloween gag. A chest-burster.

  3. I came here because I thought that there were bullet effects in Terminator version 2 and I’ve missed them. It seems this article is not about Linux terminals :D Still a fun read. thanks.

  4. Seriously, the way that the ‘liquid-metal’ T-1000 reforms into just about anything… every shot should have just disappeared into the body. I always thought that the chrome-mud ‘blooms’ were overdone, ridiculous looking effects for kids to gawk at. They should have appeared as no more than a ripple upon hitting the target. Lame waste of time/technology.

    1. The T-1000 is partially liquid and partially solid. He wasn’t always in his purely liquid state or purely solid state. In his liquid state he cannot simulate the color of skin or clothes and looks all shiny and he cannot punch or stab. He needs to turn solid to do that. The fact that you thought that hitting him would be like hitting gelatin pudding means you didn’t pay attention to the movie at all. Remember the scene where he walks through the metal bars at the mental hospital? He couldn’t liquefy the hand holding the gun so he forgot about that one.

  5. This is why this movie still looks good today. CGI was used in moderation. CGI just looks like CGI to me. But this movie looked real. I remember as a kid I was so fascinated by those bullet holes in the T-1000 I made T-1000 dolls from aluminum foil and blew holes in them with firecrackers.

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