These bullet effects in Terminator 2 were not CGI

Remember Terminator 2? Weapons were almost useless against the murderous T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Bullets fired at the “liquid metal” robot resulted only in a chrome-like bullet spray that momentarily displaced the killer machine. The effects were performed by Stan Winston, who died in 2008, but a video and a short brochure shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts revealed, to our surprise and delight, that the bullet effects were not CGI.

How was this implemented? First of all, Winston and his team investigated the correct “look” for the splash effects by firing projectiles into mud and painstaking work to duplicate the resulting shapes. These realistic-looking crater sculptures were then cast in a blend of foam rubber and given a chrome-plated appearance using vacuum metallization (also known as vacuum deposition), which is a way of depositing a thin layer of metal on a surface. Vacuum deposition is similar to galvanizing, but the process does not require the object to be coated to have a conductive surface.

These foam rubber splash patterns – which look like metal but are not – were implemented using a simple mechanical system. A series of splashes of different sizes are individually compressed into containers in a fiberglass chest plate. Each of them covers a kind of trapdoor, each held closed by a single pin on a cable.

To trigger a ball effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable that pulls on its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms in an instant, bursting through pre-cut fabric in the process. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the device itself, but you can see it in action in the test video shared by Stan Winston School, embedded below.

Once you’re done watching the video, you might want to take a look at this fan’s efforts to create a T-800’s arm.

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