Exclusive: The Look of Terminator Salvation with Martin Laing

The Production Designer takes us through his visuals for the film.

by | May 15, 2009 | Comments

Terminator Salvation

Production Designer Martin Laing has worked with James Cameron on True Lies, Titanic and Ghosts of the Abyss and has served on films like The Haunting, City of Ember and the upcoming Clash of the Titans. Terminator Salvation, with its bleak view of the future, is easily his most ambitious project to date. On the eve of the film’s worldwide rollout, he sits down exclusively with RT to take us through concept art for the film and explain his approach…

Terminator Salvation

“Our Terminator world is quite different from the films you’ve seen before. In the same way that Warner Bros. took the Batman movies and turned them on their head, in design terms as well as the story, and turned that world into something very dark and really really cool, we’re going to be doing the same thing with Terminator. But we’re obviously taking a lot of the history that’s already been laid down in the first three movies and growing with that. So our Terminators are black in colour, they’re very sort of machine orientated. We loved the T-800 which was the silver Arnold figure which you see in the first movie, but we’re before all that. We’re in a post-apocalyptic world, after the bombs have gone off. Obviously the T-800 is where we end up at the end of the movie, but prior to that we get to see the T-600 and the T-700.”

Terminator Salvation

“We’ve tried to get the reality of these early machines. If you look at a wonderful old steam engine it’s black, it’s oily, it’s greasy. That’s the kind of world we’re trying to go with here. We’ve taken quite a few elements from the T-800 which we’ve already seen. The same shoulder joints, knees that pivot and all that stuff. But we’ve made him a little bit more brutal. I was with James Cameron for many many years doing Titanic and True Lies and Avatar, and I used to have to stick together the T-800 he had in his office because it was always breaking. So I know all the parts very very well!”

Terminator Salvation

“The Hydrobot is a Terminator that actually goes through the water. Although it actually has the fluid movements of an eel or a fish and it has this ability to swim quite quickly we’ve tried to keep it real again. It’s all mechanical, with a rhyme and a reason behind each element of the design. We did the final design, blew it up to full size and then gave it to the guys at Stan Winston Studios who made it as a 3D model. It’s about eight and a half feet long. They puppeteered it on set a few days ago and it really looks very exciting. They move it around like a Jim Henson puppet with green sticks which we’ll remove digitally. That reality of actual mechanical parts, that really would work, is what we’ve been chasing with all the design. There’s no kind of science-fiction silliness that’s going on. We started with Mother Nature, really, looking at various aquatic life, eels and so on. Then we worked on several different designs, honing it down each time. We’re trying to establish a reality here. McG has been very clear about the fact that this is a real, grimy, dirty and dangerous world.”

Terminator Salvation

“You’ve seen the Hunter-Killer before in the first three movies. So in the same way that we’re coming back as it were from the T-800 to the T-600, we’re doing the same thing with the Hunter-Killer. It’s a little bit more brutal in its shape. It still has the vertical take off and landing design that was established in the previous films. But the shape and the colouring is very different. We were really lucky to have so many great designs to start with in the original Terminator movies and then we’re working backwards to give it more of a brutal, basic feel. In the very early conversations I had with McG he was pushing an idea of a kind of cool silver look, then we came up with the idea of doing everything in black, and it all really started gelling.”

Terminator Salvation

“Again this was very influenced by the original design of the Terminator. The spine of it is really taken from the spine of a Terminator and the struts are taken from a Terminator leg. We started with a Ducati, because Ducati gave us some bikes, and then we just built on top of them. So what we really wanted to communicate here is the idea that everything is made at the same factory — the same machines are building the Moto-Terminator as are building all the other Terminators. We have a very cool chase scene where two of these Moto-Terminators are shot out of a Harvester and have this spectacular cat and mouse chase.”

Terminator Salvation

“What’s happening in this movie is that Terminators are going out and they’re either wiping out humans or they’re capturing them and bringing them back for their skin and their hair. If you listen to the dialogue in the first movie you can hear Kyle Reese say to Sarah Connor, while they’re in the car, that they’re harvesting humans. So we really are trying to stick to the mythology that’s been established before. The ultimate goal of Skynet is to create one of the T-800s that you see in the original movies. So we have a Transporter which is based very much on the way that cattle are transported on the freeways of the world. Those sort of very scary trucks where you can only see the eyes of the cattle as they go by. We’ve done the same kind of thing for humans, and ours fly. They’re designed to take humans to Skynet for processing.”

Terminator Salvation

“This is a Harvester, and we also have the Aerostats which are a kind of medium-size Terminator. Again, we’ve gone for as much of a sense of realism in this really dark world as we can. Cameron said to me with Battle Angel that the important thing is that the designs always are able to do the jobs they’re designed for and it’s the same with this movie. The Aerostat’s job is to go out and they search for humans, they fly over the landscape, and when they spot humans they send out for one of the Harvesters who come in, very much like a big storm-trooping soldier, and load the living humans into the Transporters.”

Terminator Salvation

“Marcus (played by Sam Worthington), is our hybrid. He is half-human and half-Terminator. He has the endoskeleton of all the other Terminators. But he also has the brain and heart of a human. The heart is simply left there to pump oxygen through his brain to keep it alive. The other guys have batteries at their centre he has a human heart. He bleeds and has nerve endings and so on. So he’s a true hybrid. Obviously we have several different designs because as he goes through the film he gets more and more battered and you see more of what’s underneath. He starts out pretty untouched in his black knickers, but then he gets roughed up quite a bit!”

Terminator Salvation is released in the US on 21st May, the UK on 3rd June and Australia on 4th June.

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