Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Craig Henighan. Please note: Contains spoilers
He said, “I’ll be back.” And sure enough, Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 is back in Paramount Pictures Terminator: Dark Fate. And though the T-800 model is now sporting a bit of patina, he’s still the intimidating Terminator he always was, capable of taking out the sophisticated new time-traveling robo-opponent Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) with help from the one-and-only Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton.
Forget what you think you know about Skynet and John Connor. Director Tim Miller went a new direction following the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. His adoration for the franchise’s roots inspired him to create an alternate reality, one in which John is dead, Skynet is non-existent, and Sarah and the T-800 are teammates…kinda. They at least share squad goals.
Here, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Craig Henighan and sound designers David Grimaldi, Lee Gilmore, and Jack Whittaker talk about creating the thrilling truck chase scene (which brings back fond memories of the T2 truck chase), the massive mid-air collision of a military cargo plane and a refueling jet, the morphing metal skin of Rev-9, and much more!
Craig, you’ve worked on Deadpool with Director Tim Miller, and recently on Love, Death, & Robots series too. Is that when you started talking about Terminator: Dark Fate?
Craig Henighan (CH): Correct, I met Tim on Deadpool and from there we’ve forged a pretty good working relationship. Terminator came about even before Love, Death, & Robots. That series was multiple episodes and I worked on sound design for three of them.
What were Dir. Miller’s thoughts on sound for this long-lived Terminator franchise? Did he reference the past films for Terminator: Dark Fate?
CH: Tim was super excited and a huge fan of T1 and T2. Terminator: Dark Fate picks up right after T2 so there were references made to both films but mostly he would reference Judgment Day. The sound work in those films was led by Gary Rydstrom — an absolute legend and someone who I’ve looked up to and been inspired by countless times. Tim [Miller] and Editor Julian Clarke would discuss things in the early stages of design, saying, “This sound here needs to be more ‘terminatory!’” Which basically translated to, “Have a listen to T2 and use that as a reference.”
Tim [Miller] and Editor Julian Clarke would discuss things in the early stages of design, saying, “This sound here needs to be more ‘terminatory!’” Which basically translated to, “Have a listen to T2 and use that as a reference.”
What we really tried to do was get the same feel as those early films. We would reverse engineer the sounds and do the best we could to replicate the feel. The opening scene is a good example of harkening back to T2 but creating the HK (Hunter-Killer) Guns and the Ships from our own material.
That truck chase at the beginning was a really long action sequence. What were your sources for sounds there? What were your tactics for sustaining the momentum, keeping it exciting, and not letting it get repetitive?
CH: About six months before we officially started, I had recordist Rob Nokes and his team find an old Ford F250 pickup truck and a big International Truck that could be used as our main vehicle sounds. Rob and his team did a fantastic job of recording a wide variety of engine revs, bys, driving at high speeds, screeches, skids, etc. Sound Designer David Grimaldi was responsible for cutting that sequence and was very selective and specific with his cutting.
On this project, I had the creative talents of David [Grimaldi], Jack Whittaker and Lee Gilmore with me for the run of the project and we were able to work closely on the sound design. I created a mix template with all my tracks, VCA groups, plug-ins, Atmos tracks’ bussing and processing that would carry through from first day of sound editorial to the final mix. We would share these sessions back and forth. This allowed everyone to hear the evolution of the sound and edit in the main sessions. There was no waiting until we got to premixing to hear how things would work fit together. Each editor was in a 7.1 room running Pro Tools with 3 HDX cards to carry all the processing.
One trick is to keep everything moving and panning, to hit cuts hard and then back off a little so that you can dynamically control the sequence, dump the sounds when they’re not needed and bring them in hard when they need to be there.
That chase scene was refined over many weeks and as the music started to come in we could better shape our sounds and look for spots to feature music and then switch to feature effects. One trick is to keep everything moving and panning, to hit cuts hard and then back off a little so that you can dynamically control the sequence, dump the sounds when they’re not needed and bring them in hard when they need to be there.
What was your approach to Grace’s future world? What went into the sound of their troop transport plane? How about the little explosive bombs that attacked them? And their future weapons?
Lee Gilmore (LG): The troop transport was built using different hot rods and WWII fighters — anything that had that hot burble. The source sounds were processed in a way to get it weird enough that it sounded like something new, but also something familiar. We wanted it to sound like something that could eventually exist in real life.
CH: The little bombs were made from a combination of screechy bird vocals and a last minute addition from Jack [Whittaker]; he used recordings of a toy quad copter and then put them through some filters and added tremolo to them.
We had the future weapons sounding more “future” early on with some synth sounding elements but in the end peeled them away. That scene had a tremendous amount of filtering, reverbs, and delays. Dialogue/music re-recording mixer Andy Nelson and I did one version that was completely from Grace’s (Mackenzie Davis) point of view which sounded amazing so we tried to keep that sensibility and had the more aggressive sounds sit into the framework of Grace’s POV. That was a super fun scene to mix.
The plane battle was massive! Two planes — the huge C-5 and the KC-10 refueling plane — collide mid-air. Engines blow up; the characters experience low-gravity as they’re falling and everything is floating around the cargo hold. What’s your approach to making massive visuals sound massive? With so much happening in the frame, what are your techniques for getting ‘big’ sounds to attach to the proper things on-screen?
Jack Whittaker (JW): Layering non-conventional sounds with the on-screen events really helped achieve that size when we were working on the sequence. We blended crashes with metal groans, animal vocals, synth sounds and all kinds of different sonic textures that Craig then fine-tuned and revised in the mix against the music. We then continued to add, beat by beat, sounds that would cut through the mix and enhance the story telling.
Big sound after big sound can get overwhelming fast, so a lot of effort was put into carving holes on either side of the big moments.
LG: Big sound after big sound can get overwhelming fast, so a lot of effort was put into carving holes on either side of the big moments. We tried to create beats and give your ears some negative space to chill out in before getting hit with another big moment. It’s easy for a scene like that to build up on itself very quickly and get muddy. Jack [Whittaker] did an awesome job on this scene and was really smart about only cutting what we really needed to be hearing.
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I loved the slow-mo chain swing from Grace in the hydro-plant near the end. How did you make that sound?
CH: This was a fun one that Dave, Jack, Lee and myself all got in on. Various sword twirls and chain swishes were pitched and stretched. The slo-mo shot of Grace with the “helicopter” chain was a shot that came in super late so we used that classic helicopter thump sound; we put one stereo track in sync and then offset another track by 10 frames and then pitched down another track 24 semitones.
I rolled the top end off, added a slight delay and a healthy amount of sub to them. This allowed us to tunnel into that specific shot and bookend it with the sharper and higher end chain sounds when we come out of the slo-mo.
How did you make the sounds for the Rev-9, like his body morph sounds and reading digital info sounds (i.e., terminator vision)?
LG: It required tons of recording and trial and error. It’s a grab bag of numerous things and not one static sound. It might start with actual slime that my kids play with (ironically packaged as “Liquid Metal”), slowly morphing into refried beans, into sugar pours, into greased metal shavings being slid over a cookie sheet. We tried to keep the processing to a minimum so he never sounded overtly sci-fi.
His “terminator vision” was made using various static and feedback recordings, camera shutters, and hard drive ticks.
CH: Lee really ran with the Rev-9 sounds. Early-on “body horror” was mentioned a lot from Julian [Clarke] and Tim [Miller]. Lee came up with fantastic sounds. I wanted to add in my dying can of shaving cream sounds but I could only get them in a few places; Lee would always mute them out! Haha
The brittleness of the Rev-9 cooling off and flaking came from plastic tubing crinkles and peeling apart onions. The molten lava layer was a combo platter of pumpkins, seaweed, and various gore-type sounds to give it a wet feeling.
I loved Rev-9s melty, metal gooey drips before Dani [Natalia Reyes] tries to kill it with Grace’s power source. How did you make that sound?
LG: The majority of that came from recordings we did. The brittleness of the Rev-9 cooling off and flaking came from plastic tubing crinkles and peeling apart onions. The molten lava layer was a combo platter of pumpkins, seaweed, and various gore-type sounds to give it a wet feeling.
The EMP blast from Grace’s power source, how did you make that sound?
LG: That was a combination of custom-made risers and really chunky electricity, zaps, and lightning hits. We tied it all together with some swirling “energy fields” that had a lot of motion in them that we could pan around the room and act as the glue.
Want the story behind the score for the film? Composer Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) breaks down one of the cues here:
And here, he shares some of the instruments and ‘instruments’ used:
Favorite scene for sound? Why? What went into it?
LG: A highlight for me was the Rev-9 fighting Dani at the end of movie. It’s one of the few times we really get to stay with the endoskeleton, so a lot of new sounds are able to be introduced. It was a lot of fun coming up with his vocals and trying to make him as scary and intense as possible. Finding ways to make him emote was a blast.
I thought the truck chase was really exciting for sound. It had that classic gritty feel of T2 that we all loved so much, and was beautifully, sonically orchestrated on every cut.
JW: I thought the truck chase was really exciting for sound. It had that classic gritty feel of T2 that we all loved so much, and was beautifully, sonically orchestrated on every cut. Dave [Grimaldi] did a great job putting that scene together, combined with all the cool transformation sounds that Lee [Gilmore] came up with. And when Craig [Henighan] played back the predubs for us, we were blown away by his mix!
…my favorite sound was a simple metal punch that Jack [Whittaker] made during the “Turbine Fight” at the end of the movie. Arnold hits Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) and every time I heard Jack’s punch it made me smile.
Favorite single sound? How did you make it?
LG: With all the big moments in the movie, my favorite sound was a simple metal punch that Jack [Whittaker] made during the “Turbine Fight” at the end of the movie. Arnold hits Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) and every time I heard Jack’s punch it made me smile.
Any helpful sound gear on Terminator: Dark Fate? If so, what was it and how did you use it?
CH: I used Blue Cat’s Patchwork to set up parallel chains of plug-ins and string together Glitchmachines plugs like Subvert, Convex, Cryogen, etc. These plugs were useful in getting that “sci fi” sound without sounding too over processed.
Also, there were the usual suspects that I like — GRM, Waves, Cargo Cult’s Slapper, the Krotos stuff, Speakerphone, Altiverb, Soundtoys. Sampler-wise, my go to is Native Instruments Kontakt, and synth-wise I used NI Absynth and Reason Studios’ Reason.
It’s easy to overdo it on the sci-fi vibe, so it was great to have source recordings from real life items that we could manipulate and keep the design grounded in reality.
Did you do any field recordings? What did you capture and how were those sounds incorporated into your designs?
LG: We did a lot of recording. It was pretty invaluable to have new sources to go to. It’s easy to overdo it on the sci-fi vibe, so it was great to have source recordings from real life items that we could manipulate and keep the design grounded in reality. We recorded a lot of beans, slime, metal shavings, drill bits, metal ratchets, and compressed air.
JW: For the Dam scene, we did a water recording session with a power hose in a swimming pool, and against a truck. We used several rigs, both inside and outside the vehicle, and above and in the swimming pool. The recordings proved invaluable when cutting the scene and added a fresh sound and dimension to that location in the mix.
What is something surprising you’d want other sound pros to know about your work on Terminator: Dark Fate?
JW: It was a lot of fun to work on the Terminator movie and I’m super grateful for the thinking time and creative freedom that we had. Creating new original sounds take time, and we got the opportunity to experiment with new ideas every day. It was a real treat.
CH: I just want to thank the extended team, Dialogue/Music mixer Andy Nelson, Dialogue Supervisor Jim Brookshire, ADR Supervisor Kerry Williams, Dialogue Editors Julie Feiner and Milly Iatrou, Foley Artist Steve Baine, Sound Designers Dave [Grimaldi], Lee [Gilmore], Jack [Whittaker] and Derek Vanderhorst, First Assistant Skip Longfellow, Smokey Cloud and Craig Weintraub, and Additional Mixers Deb Adair, Dave Giamarrco, and Beau Borders. It was a team effort from start to finish!
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