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Interview with Raffael Dickreuter Previsualization Designer on Terminator Salvation

By: On August 11th, 2010

Terminator Salvation had very high expectations and took the series in a different direction (that of McG) although the film lacked a strong storyline it was a summer action movie and that was what movie producers set out to do.

Although some people on the team of Salvation are not welcomed for a return some are and one of those people is Raffael Dickreuter one of the talents behind the visuals of Terminator Salvation. Raffael was responsible for previsualising sequences in the movie including the harvester and Moto-Terminator chase. Raffael has worked on numerous big budget Hollywood movies including Terminator Salvation, Iron Man, AVP2 Requiem, Superman Returns and more …. Let the questions begin!

Raffael Dickreuter with Endoskeleton

How did you get the job on Terminator Salvation?

I have been working for a previsualization/visual effects company called Pixel Liberation Front and the the movie hired the company to provide previs and postvis for the movie. I worked on the Warner Bros. lot for several months under previs supervisor Chris Batty and VFX Supervisor Charlie Gibson, who was also the 2nd unit director of the film.

Pixel Liberation Front Visual EffectsCan you tell us more about your experience working with the Pixel Liberation Front?

Pixel Liberation Front, or short PLF, has been a great place to work at over the years that has given me many opportunities I might not have had otherwise, working with very talented people and working on great projects such as T4, Superman Returns, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and others. I will forever be greatful for the opportunities I was given at PLF.

What was it like to find out that you would be working on the next installment to the Terminator saga?

That was an amazing moment that seemed beyond real. The Terminator movies were the reason why I had wanted to work in this business and if somebody had asked me which movie It was my dream to work on ever, my answer would have been to work on the Terminator movie that shows the future, which was only hinted at in the first two movies.
Meeting Christian Bale but also Conrad Buff, who was the editor on T2 and edited T4 was a thrill.

Raffael DickreuterFor the laymen among us, who aren’t educated in the field of visual effects, can you tell us a little bit more about pre-visualization and how it contributes to the overall visual style of the movie… ?

Pre-visualization is the creative process that happens before shooting. You create filmsets and characters that don’t exist yet in the computer and you can animate and design entire sequences much like a Pixar film and by that you can try out different versions in a fast and cost efficient way, before you go out and shoot them. Moviegoers are mostly familiar with storyboards, think of it as animated storyboards that have the right timing, look and music too it, but that dont look photoreal, but they will sell you the idea of what will happen and by that you can judge if it will end up working in the real film or not and you can make creative decisions based on that as well as technical planning on how to shoot the sequence for real.

If you could stick two fingers up to the now defunct Halcyon co. which direction would you have liked to take your interpretation/visual style in the Terminator universe?

following the footsteps of James Cameron and two such great films that he made is a big challenge, when on top of that you don’t have Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the lead as well. I feel a lot of the original intentions were right, to make a gritty dark film. It would have been cool to see more of the war and maybe a Terminator factory that is super active that builds heavy machines.

Terminator Salvation Visual EffectsWhat was it like to work with such an iconic vehicle such as the flying HK?

Getting to work on shots with the HK flying around was great. I thought many times back to the time when I was a teenager and was blown away seeing T1 and T2 and would have never believed this could happen one day.

In Salvation you also had to help bring never-before-seen models of the Terminator to our screens, was this a hard task to undertake?

Making something new and exciting is always very challenging. The Moto-Terminators and the harvester were all new and so was the Marcus character. What is hard to judge when you work on a movie is that you can’t always see things in context. When you see a movie on the big screen you see it all in context of each other, with sound, music etc. In the process of working on the movie you don’t so you can’t always judge that easily what the visual impact will be in the final movie.

What was your favorite “new” Terminator model?

I like the idea of the T-600, having a more crude and older model of the T-800 that is not as refined yet yet carries heavy weapons with it.

What is your all time favorite model of Terminator, from any installment of the saga… ?

The T-800 no doubt , that iconic endoskeleton which simply has a great design, as well as the T-1000 whom just seemed unstoppable in T2. That is characteristic of a great villain, he seems intimidating and unstoppable.

Which was your favorite scene/scenes to work on?

The Moto-Terminator chase was definitely exciting to work on as you could feel the influence of the other movies as well as it all ending up on that giant bridge with an HK attacking. The moment were John Connor takes down an HK was a more slow paced sequence but interesting to work on too. You can can see some clips here

Is there any of your work which did not make it into the final cut of Terminator Salvation?

The second part after the Moto-Terminator, where they get captured into a transporter was originally much longer with planes chasing it and trying to stop it. But that is the reality of movie making, you explore ideas and you have to make things work in story, context and budget.

What are the tools you use on a day-to-day basis in your job?

In previs you use 3d animation software such as Maya or Softimage and After Effects.

Which is your favorite Terminator movie and why?

T2 no doubt. The movie has everything from great story, great acting, great sound, visual effects and above all a great pace and great atmosphere that you just get sucked into no matter how many times you watch it.

Terminator Salvation… your honest opinion?

I feel Salvation turned out to be a good fast paced action movie with many elements that work great as a movie by itself. I missed the Terminator music and sound feeling of T2 which would have helped unifie it more. But if you have a new director you will see that they will try to add their own mark and don’t want to be seen as simply copying, which of course is a big burden if you need to follow the footsteps of maybe the best director there is,- James Cameron.

Where do you feel, as a fan, that the franchise went wrong?

T3 definitely took a different route than the first two, I always felt that John Connor changed too much. From the super confident teenager he turned into a sort of loser guy which I didn’t find believable for the future leader of the resistance.

Terminator 3 Parody

Bill Wisher (James Cameron’s co-writer on T1 and T2) is working on treatments for a fifth and sixth picture in a bid to end the franchise with a “story”, tying up loose ends, as a sequel to Salvation. Would you ever consider jumping on board if it became a possibility for you to do so again?

If I had given the chance again to work on a Terminator movie I would love to do it, there is tons more to explore as long as they play in the future.

People must come to you with fully-formed ideas as to what they’d like you to create, how much of you work is about your imagination?

As a previs designer you have to understand that your job is to serve the director and his vision. You can present ideas but ultimately you need to help the director to be able realize his idea of the film. You can create your own film if you are the director 😉

You’re a webdesigner, photographer, you specialize in motion capture, you’ve developed a realtime virtual camera… you’re a jack of all trades, is there anything you’d like to master in the future?

I like filmmaking and the creative process of making them as well as designing. At the same time I am also fascinated by technology so I try to merge different elements together which can become useful since technologies merge together more and more these days. Your cell phone now can be a camera too and you can shoot movies and edit them right there in half HD. I definitely want to learn more about cameras and learn as much as I can in the future of all the great things you can do with them.

We’ve seen images of the Moto-Terminators both before and after the technological wizardry, how did you achieve the smooth removal of the stunt riders?

The Moto-Terminators were removed by ILM as far as I know in their compositing process which usually involves painting them our or replacing them with other elements to simply cover them up. To get the exact way would be best to ask them directly. The stunt riders were there for visual reference during the filming.

Moto-Terminator Ducati Bikes

Have you ever been presented with a challenge at work and thought to yourself “this is impossible!” ?

My whole story started out that way. Being a teenager and watching Terminator 2 and thinking: “this is it, this is what I want to do, one day I want to work on a Terminator movie!” trust me it felt pretty impossible and I consider myself very lucky that I have managed to make my dream come true.

If you could describe the Terminator in three words, what would they be?

“he absolutely never stops”. four words, but that’s what defines Terminator for me and great dark atmosphere, a world you are being sucked into.

You had the chance to interview one of the all time greats Stan Winston, especially in respect to Terminator about his book “The Winston Effect” what was that like talking to one of your idols we guess?

I always wanted to meet Stan Winston personally. A few times I was given the chance to visit the studio and seeing all these amazing characters, but it took quite a while and some luck to make it happen, which also was due to friends working at the studio. I was interviewing him on his book which describes his legacy and it was in all about an hour or so I got to speak to him in his office. It was quite intimidating, you see all the awards lined up, from Oscars, Baftas, Saturn etc not to speak about all the amazing artwork and that you try to grasp the fact where you are sitting right now while actually listening and asking good questions. Overall he was a very nice and answered my questions with patience and signed my book. He wrote “Raffael, enjoy the book and write a great story”.
Little did I know that only about a year later he passed away. And when AintItCoolNews announced his death and all the greats such as James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and others commented on it, they ended up posting my interview. I will always remember this moment when I was there and meeting my main inspiration for my career, it was a thrill.

you can read the interview here

Raffael Dickreuter and Stan Winston

Find out what we thought of The Winston Effect Here

You have also rubbed shoulders with industrial light and magic over the years (interview with past members and studio connections etc) just how did the visual effects on Terminator 2 Judgment Day and the pioneering effects created by ILM in 1990-91 change the industry (in your opinion)?

I ran into Dennis Muren a few times whom helped pioneer the effects of T2 and so many other movies. It definitely is one of the most important movies regarding effects as it pushed the limit by so much and opened the door for many other movies following in it footsteps. Jurassic Park was another one like that, as were later The Matrix, Lord of the Rings or Avatar now this year. I am curious to see which will be the next movie now that will have that impact. To answer the question; T2 did change the movie industry forever as it brought in computers that now dominate the visual effects industry at a time where everything was done practical or with optical printers. It opened up a whole new world but it also marked the beginning of an end. Back then you walked on a movie set and the characters were real. You see the real Terminator in it’s full scale on set, same as the huge Jurassic Park dinosaurs. Today you will see a person in a suit with markers that will be replaced later by a digital double. Having it all real definitely was a big part of “making magic” as Stan Winston loved to call it. But now more people around the world can use their imagination and with the help of computers, create their own magic worlds and tell stories in a way that wasn’t easily possible back then.

Dennis Muren ILM with Raffael Dickreuter

You have your own online community in offering advice to fellow artists, interviews with professionals and more, what is the best advice you can give to someone wanting to follow in your career footsteps?

I founded the community site when I was a student, a portal for 3d artists and visual effects animators that use Softimage, which has been a great way to connect to artists around the globe.
My advice would be that you should talk to people who have done it what you want to do. If you have a dream many people in your hometown might tell you that it is not possible and that you should rather go for that job at the store around the corner. But those people are the wrong ones to give you advice, they have not done it. Once you talk to people in the industry they might tell you: get an education, look up information online, go to trade shows and meet like minded people, and suddenly you are surrounded by people and you might start your first gig in the industry and start working towards your goal. Use the internet, it’s an incredibly powerful tool that lets you connect to people with the same interests, but also lets you publish your own work that can get you recognition, connections etc. Just go for it.

What was your all time favorite movie to work on?

T4 and Iron Man. But every movie has its interesting parts, be it a great crew, great challenges etc.

What are your all time favorite movies to watch?

T2 followed by Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Do you have any upcoming releases we should keep an eye out for?

For the past year I have worked on the movie “Green Lantern” directed by Martin Campbell, which will hit theaters in Summer 2011.

Thanks for the great interview Raffael! –

Find some cool links below:


Categories: Arnold SchwarzeneggerBehind The ScenesDennis MurenFlying HKHarvesterILMJames CameronMoto-TerminatorRaffael DickreuterStan WinstonTerminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)Terminator Salvation (2009)The Halcyon CompanyThe Terminator (1984)VFX


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