The Making of The Vietnam War Sequence From “The Last 3 Minutes”
We are going to give you a special treat on this blog. When I travel around the world, many people come up and ask me about the one-shot helicopter crash in Terminator: Salvation. So I thought this was a fitting place to talk about all-in-one-shot sequences and draw parallels with the behind-the-scenes Vietnam sequence because it is a small version of that concept.
Episode II “Vietnam War” was the most difficult of William’s memories to deliver. When you design shots that play all out as one shot everything has to work. The camera has to be in sync with the explosions, the performance has to work, the smoke level has to be just right, the focus must be sharp, and I could go on and on.
If you have not watched Part 1: The Janitor sequence yet, don’t forget to give it a watch to glean how the filmmakers pulled it off!
When McG and I designed the helicopter crash at the beginning of Terminator: Salvation it played as one shot but it was a series of hook-ups as we call them that seamlessly go together to give the viewer the appearance of one complete uninterrupted shot.
Click here to view Helicopter Sequence from Terminator Salvation
Breaking down the Terminator Sequence
Here is how we did it:
Handheld: Millennium XL: John Connor climbs up out of the hole and we see him look camera left. The camera pans over to see his commander shot in the head. We pan back to reveal John Connor readying his gun, he looks up and we whip pan.
50’ Technocrane, we whip pan to see a helicopter and a Skynet transporter taking off in the B.G. John Connor runs into frame and we push in with him.
Now, this Helicopter is on a large gimbal which lifts the chopper up into the air and spins it around to make it seem like John Connor is piloting it.
Behind the chopper is a huge Blue Screen 100’ x 60’ that we painted on the North-facing wall at Albuquerque Studios. We continue to move in with John Connor, he jumps into the cargo bay and tells the pilot to take off and follow that transport, he touches him and the pilot falls out of the seat, DEAD.
John then hops into the seat and starts to take off, we boom up with the crane so that it feels like he is taking off. The gimbal also booms up and banks to the side and the crane continues to rotate around to be in more of a profile so we now see the huge Satellite dishes in the F.G.
Moving past the doors of the chopper. THEN IT HAPPENS, an explosion from underground blows the camera back, the technocrane swings back rapidly to reveal all of the chopper as it spins out of control from the blast.
Dust and debris are added in post. The tail spins around and the camera then pushes into the cargo bay and lands in an over-the-shoulder of both seats in the cockpit.
Handheld w/ Arri 235 in chopper.
The gimbal has now moved to another location where were able to build a 360-degree blue screen to spin the chopper on the gimbal.
I used the shadow of Stage One to give soft ambient daylight to illuminate the blue screen so we did not have hard, harsh sunlight on the screen.
Kent Baker my brilliant rigging Key Grip had to add small 12’ x 12’ blue screen frames for the small windows that were on the floor of the chopper, which was attached to the gimbal. You should have seen this rig. It looked ridiculous but it did the trick. The screens had to be lit with 1200 HMI par lights that we had to wind up so that the gimbal could spin approximately 12 times before it sheared our cable in half.
The camera moves into the cargo bay just like the Technocrane did in the previous shot. We move in and wrap around to see John Connor in profile, then down to the stick and then back up to his face.
While all this is happening I am in the chopper spinning around. We mounted a 3-18ks on a condor that poked over the top of the blue screen to give the rotation more speed so he is constantly moving in and out of the sunlight. Then our camera moves back to the over-the-shoulder as John braces for impact.
Arri III mounted in a tube crash housing. Hard mounted in the exact place that our last frame of the Arri 235 handheld shot left off.
We mount the chaise of the helicopter to a huge construction crane. It will now sling this into the air like a pendulum. At its highest swing Mike Meinardus, our Special EFX genius releases the chopper it flies through the air with an articulated dummy in John’s seat.
The camera impacts the earth and dust debris fills the cabin.
Arri 235 Handheld in the same place that the hard-mounted crash camera was and now we add a stuntman to unclip himself in the upside-down cockpit.
My camera is also upside down when this is happening, so the viewer’s world is upside down. Dust and debris are blown into the chopper’s cockpit to help mend the shots.
The stuntman impacts his head and body onto the roof of the chopper.
Arri 235 Handheld still in the same place but now Christian Bale gets into the pilot’s seat and acts like he just unclipped out of the seat, falls, and hits the ceiling of the chopper. John Connor is dazed and starts to crawl towards the camera, we pan with him as he exits the cargo bay.
In this pan, Chris Mosley, my A camera operator, starts to spin so the viewer sees their world rotate as the upside-down camera now rights itself. It moves with John Connor out of the helicopter and lands in an over-the-shoulder shot.
We take in the Nuclear cloud in the deep background and then we wrap around him to reveal the emotion on his face when John Connor discovers that all his unit is gone; the resistance has been wiped out.
Then, all of a sudden a T-600 grabs his shoulder and throws him out of shot.
End of the sequence.
This was a huge collaboration with Charlie Gibson and Ben Snow, our Visual EFX Gurus, Adolfo Martinez Perez, our storyboard artist, PLF’s pre-vis team, and my amazing camera, lighting, and grip teams to pull off the impossible, seamless sequence.
From Terminator Salvation to The Last 3 Minutes
Now, our little short did not have the luxury of this time and money. Yet, we had the expertise of a visionary crew that was determined to make it happen. The Terminator sequence could be repeated several times to get it exactly right. On The Last 3 Minutes, we could rehearse but we still had only 6 takes with explosions. Dan Cangemi and Al Di Sarro, the SPEFX’s team from Act of Valor, were nice enough to come and make an ordinary scene extraordinary.
The Vietnam War Sequence
We ran it many times to get all the departments in sync: actors, camera, effects, smoke, explosions, etc. Much of this was a dance in showing the director, Po Chan what it would be like and then adjusting so that her vision came to life.
The explosion, in the beginning, was not big enough. So, we first had to make sure that worked because that was our transition element from William’s wife in the ocean splashing around to the mortar going off. We finally got the blast to wipe the frame, so now we needed to make it feel like there was a battle going on.
I asked Al if we could add another mortar to assist in my lighting. This is something I did on Terminator a lot. I would use trapezoid mortars to blow debris, dirt, and dust into the air to diffuse the sunlight. Al loaded in the second one that we blew right as Bodie Orman, my Helmet Cam operator, crawls to his friend.
It worked very well because you feel the weight of the explosion. It takes out the sun and lowers the light so that it becomes very dark. I wanted that mood to assist the emotion, as a foreshadowing of his upcoming death when the world goes dark.
Then, when the soldier actually dies, the dust clears and bright sunlight basks his face, like a sun ray from heaven. But, there was still something missing. We all decided that a 3rd mortar was needed and that one needed fire to cut through all the smoke and dust that was in the air.
Playing with Fire
The fire marshall’s ears perked up and he came over and said “Now, what do you want to do?” Al explained that we were lacking something in our scene to really make the audience feel like they were there experiencing it. So, we scoped out a safe position behind William’s friend that was not going to light the forest on fire. It was awesome because, with each take, Al increased the gasoline amount to the level that you see on the screen, 2.5 gallons that get ignited inside a trapezoid mortar.
Schedule 1-on-1 Video Call with Shane Hurlbut, ASC
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
I´m refreshing my browser like a crazy on your blog because each a every post are so darn interesting and entertaining. Thank you for taking us through some of the things you do on a daily basic.
Now with the terminator and the vietnam scene it takes it to another level.
When is Act of Valor comming out?
Tobias Hjorth, Thank you again for your kind words and support, I am so psyched that you are enjoying them. One more is on the way. Act of Valor will be coming out in the Fall of 2011.
Got To Love It!!!
Your The Man Shane…
Kuwan, thank you for those kind words and support.
Behind the scenes features like this really sparked my interest in film. Thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s great to hear your rationale regarding the contrast in smoke/timing of the cloud. What wireless video system did you use?
Bill, you are so welcome. Thank for you support. I used this system out of Canada called dynawave. It is incredibly small and lightweight. Then the directors monitor is the Camos 7″.
Dear Shane – these are priceless – thanks so much for the awesome time & energy you put into this web site for us….
Luke Davies, you are very welcome. I love what I do and I want to pass that passion onto all of you.
I love this series of “Behind the Lights & Camera”. I always watch the Behind the Scenes on DVDs and have to constantly be pausing the video to spot the gear and rigs that they show in cutaways. With your series that stuff is the focus. Thank you for providing such valuable instruction and insight.
Just wondering, what is the lens you have on the helmet cam?
Adrian Jackson, Thank yo so much for your kind words, my mission was to inspire and educate. So that you could see problem solving and the gear in action and how I specifically use it. The lens was a 24mm Canon L series.
Awesome! Thanks so much, Shane!
Tony Reale, You are so welcome.
So awesome. This is one of your best posts ever! Thank you for sharing
Anthony Quesada, thank you so much for your support.
Thank you for letting us into this world. That was a great eye opener into what is possible. I honestly thought much of it was cg, especially when the camera flew back into the chopper! Great job!
Sloan Inns, you are very welcome. Thank you for your kind words.
Thanks for the extra work and walkthrough. Appreciate the time spend in the edit and your detailed explanations! Excellent post!
Ryan Prouty, you are very welcome, I feel like I do take the time and thank you for noticing.
What is it the the guys in the last picture are spring
“Al Di Sarro and HV Elite Team Member Darin Necessary”
Omar, That is a dust gun, it spays fullers earth that is a very eco friendly dirt that is the film industry. Darin Necessary has a Bartech remote follow focus device in his hand.
Another great post. I don’t know when do you get time to write such a well written post. Did you have to get a permit to shoot on this location?
Bipul, Thank you for those kind words and support. You all rock. Yes, we did a permit to shoot in these locations.
This is the reason DVDs/Blu Rays and all the extras that you cram into them (in Behind the Scenes) is filled with so much knowledge to help others in their production. Even IF there was nothing new to learn (and that is hardly the case), just being “on the set” with you guys makes it a great experience.
Thanks for all your giving to us Shane. Inspiring stuff!!
Darren, thank you so much for those kind words and we will continue to educate and inspire. You are welcome.
Shane, first off, I’m very glad I got turned onto your Web site/blog as it’s been both informational and inspirational. Many thanks for sharing this valuable information with all of us, its really helped as I continue to seek ways of improving as a DP. The learning never stops does it?
One thing I was curious about was the way you are using different picture profiles for setting exposure and then for acquisition, sounds pretty smart. I get the neutral settings, but I was wondering if you could go into more detail about the RAW setting you use (if it’s your secret sauce, no worries mate!).
BTW, unbelievably cool that you used lights from Grainger and other MacGyver solutions that we low budget indie guys have to find and use.
JW Lee, I am glad you liked it. I try my very best with my busy schedule to inspire and educate. Yes, I use a picture style to light with, that is whatever way I see the final color correction looking and then right before we go I slap on my neutral -4 contrast -1 saturation picture style and away we go. Thanks, I love using practical lights, that is what I have always done, the light quality cannot be matched by movie lights, just not possible. Thank you for your support.
Great post, thanks for all the in-depth info. One thing I can’t figure out: How do you match the “hook-ups” perfectly between each set-up so that the final image is totally seamless? It seems that no matter how precise and careful you are there’s bound to be some minor deviations once the shot is all stitched together. Is this something that is done in post? If so, then how do you know when you are, shall we say “close enough,” to move on?
Kip Hewitt, thank you so much for your nice words, I have to say that we took the time to get it very close, but it will always be off, so that is where VFX SUpervisors Charlie Gibson and Ben Snow came in to finesse and make it seamless. They were the gauge on how close I needed to get because they knew what there limitations would be.
Excellent post. Your blog is at the top of my list of sites I check daily. Very informative, insightful, and interesting. I cannot thank you enough.
In Terminator: Salvation, how precise were your measurements when preparing a new camera setup? Does your frame have to be spot on to match with your previous shot that you’re transition from in the faux-long shot, or do you have some room for error?
How exactly did camera operator Chris Mosley rotate the upside handheld shot inside the helicopter crash? Did you use any other tricks; e.g. place a wide angle lens, stabilize and push in the image in post to eliminate the shakiness?
You said in your video that your crew used a regular lawn mower to produce some of the smoke in the Vietnam sequence. Could you elaborate a little on this; is this a regular lawn mower that your team modified to produce more smoke? Do you use regular mower fuel?
In the video it appears during the takes that the lawn mower is still creating smoke while behind the actors, but the smoke moves away from them. Why leave the mower running?
Every time I read your blog I’m inspired. Your knowledge and love for this art seeps through your written words. Thank you and don’t stop writing.
p.s. In my opinion, the only reason to watch Terminator: Salvation is for the cinematography.
Dorian, thank you so much for your kind words and support. Hurlbut visuals is here to inspire and educate. My measurements were using the same lens and getting it fairly close, you do not have to anal. Chris Mosley did it all by hand. We took the Arri 235 and turned it upside down John Connor fell out of his seat, special effects blew some dust through frame to blur the cut and as John moved towards camera Chris started to rotate and move the camera. No need for stabilization or a push in. No that is not a regular lawn mower it is a lawn mower fogger. That is what they call it in the industry. It is specifically made. We wanted to leave it running to continue to obscure the background because it was so brown and not jungle green. You are so welcome and thanks for the props on Terminator, I feel the same way.
Thanks for answering my questions. I have two more about T:S if you don’t mind answering.
1. How many takes did you get with each shot, or were there any problem shots that you had to go after a few more times than expected?
2. Did you get the shots off chronologically?
Dorian, it all depended on the stunt, throwing the thing through the air with the articulated dummy was one take, going into the helicopter I think we did 9 takes. Having John Connor fall on his head, 5 takes. No we did all the shots out of order the schedule would not let us do it in order. You are welcome.
First of all, I would like to really thank you for your truly selfless sharing and the fact that you reply individually to each comment…amazing! Thank you very much!
The Last 3 Minutes is totally awesome….it has blown away everything I have seen from the DSLRs but it also proves that cinematography (light) comes first as I personally feel that many DSLR shooters leave out the lights thinking they can get away with the higher ISOs. They just forget that light improves the aesthetic quality of the film and provides modelling.
That said, I was wondering (when I saw holes being dug and explosives going off) the real purpose of shooting films like this (which I am sure was detrimental to the env in at least a very small way). The planet is in pretty bad shape as it is and we filmmakers (majority of us) are really just adding to the mess by building sets, throwing them away, setting of pyros and adding to every piece of crap in the air, etc. Yes, I respect the passion of every filmmaker, amateur or professional and I love watching all the end products but it is just starting to get to me everytime I throw the generator up for the big HMIs and for what? Fictional films about love, etc.
No mistake, I do films myself but I sometimes take a step back and shake my head at the guy driving a Porsche (ever wondered how much gas that piece of metal drinks up?) and then I look at what I am doing and I feel like Im in a Ferrari…I would love to hear how u think about all this and of course, filmmaking out of passion will never stop but I guess there can be at time when filmmakers out there can start taking a step towards going a bit more green?
Im sure I will be taking flak badly for this but I believe that every step we take to reduce our impact on the env, is going to help somehow.
This is not a personal attack on you but rather, I would love to hear your professional and unbiased opinion on this.
Thank you very much once again for being the selfless person that you are. You are an inspiration to more people than you can imagine. :)
Weehan, I want to thank you so much for those kind words and your support. I share because that is all I know. My Mom and Dad were both educators, it is in my blood. I completely understand you point of view on the environment. Read my blog about responsible filmmaking. It is my mission statement for this industry. I want a planet for my two children to enjoy. You are very welcome.
hey shane, thanks for your message on vimeo. nice blog here.
What kind of wireless video tap and wireless followfocus did you use in it(the last 3 minutes)? Im looking for devices that arent so heavy. it looks really good in that making of.
greets from berlin
Mantas, You are very welcome. Thanks. I used the Bartech remote follow focus system, it is very light and the only one that will work with the Canon Lenses. The wireless video device is a Dynawave from Canada and the monitor is a Camos. I just flew through Frankfurt on my way to Dubai to shoot this massive commercial campaign on the 5D. Thanks
I am need of the technical procedure to enable my lawnmower to smoke for an upcoming short I am filming. 2 cycle oil in the tank of a 4 cycle machine? What is the technique without ruining the mower? Great blog btw!