Terminator - The evolution of Machine Vision


The Terminator series provides us with some good examples of how robots could potentially view the world. With each new installment the look of the Terminators’ HUD (“machine vision”) vary slightly but mostly stays true to the overall approach of the original movie. Machine vision presents the world from the machines’ point of view and showcases a mix of calculations, data readouts, status updates and tracking animations.

It’s important to note that most of these sequences are integral to the continuation of the plot. Since the machines themselves are characters in the movie, they rely on these shots to articulate or communicate their intentions. The challenge for these sequences would be to present the plot point obviously to allow the story to progress, while also giving the machines a persona or personality.

1. The Terminator

The design of the machine vision in The Terminator is very striking and raw. It’s heavily saturated in red with high contrast and heavy blacks. This gives the Terminator personality, making it feel very calculative, detached and sinister. It also reinforces the iconic image of the blinking red eye of the unrelenting machines.

The movie was made in 1984, and it’s interesting to see that the data readouts, although may have looked fast at the time, now look almost comparable to when we think of dial-up speed. One of my favourite parts would be when the Terminator is able to recognise handwriting and it was a nice touch to see that it was a heavily scripted type, one that even I would have probably had trouble reading. The other would have to be when the Terminator chooses from a list of possible responses when answering the door. It kind of reminds me of those old adventure games like Sam & Max or Day of the Tentacle. If I was to be picky, I would say that the list was probably a little limited, and that the Terminator’s responses seem to be pre-programmed, making the machine appear less intelligent and intuitive. On the flip side, it kind of adds to the mechanical nature of the machines.

2. Judgment Day

The visuals in Judgment Day elaborate on the look established from the first movie. The contrast has been toned down dramatically making the images much clearer and there’s less distortion in the audio. It’s like the same system from the first Terminator but with upgrades. There’s also a lot more machine vision shots in this movie than the original, and it showcases a lot of new features to the Terminator, like its ability to analyse smoke and recognise shapes and 3d forms.

The shots where the video playback gets distorted are particularly nice, and I love how they’ve explored what it looks like when a Terminator gets damaged or shuts down. It really helps the audience empathise with Arnie.

3. Rise of the machines

Rise of the machines is probably the most different of the series. Although the machine vision from the Arnie (T-850) Terminator model is relatively similar to the previous movies, they’ve opted for a blue tinted view for the female (T-X) model. The Arnie model itself has been upgraded slightly, the screens are a lot cleaner and display less background calculations. Overall it’s like a simplified version of the ones seen in the previous two movies.

The blue version however, is a much newer model of Terminator and comes with newer features. Firstly, the picture is much clearer with some colour occasionally coming through the image. Secondly, it’s much more graphical, the screens are often sectioned off into panels and the information is displayed more visually and a lot faster. The xray vision seemed a bit out of place for me and a little unbelievable, but then again, we’re talking about time travelling robots here.

4. Salvation

The machine vision in Salvation is stunning. Salvation sticks to the original colour scheme of red, white and black but plays around with the ordering of the them depending on the situation. Perhaps paying homage to the original design, the visuals in Salvation are again a mix of data readouts, status updates, and tracking points but with more advanced 3D spacial recognition. The design style is very different though, and now uses more modern military style reticles and meters. The animation style is quick and precise and shows a very exacting analysis of the environment. The readouts also appear faster and overall makes the machines look much more sophisticated than previous models.

My favourite addition is the tracking dots and the artifacts that appears in most of the shots. They look like the building blocks that collect the spacial data for the readouts or some left over artifacts from calculations. It’s such a lovely subtle inclusion that adds an extra level of believability to the shots. Visually it’s also very attractive as a decorative element.

Watch these

The Terminator clip here
Judgment Day clip here
Rise of the machines clip here
Salvation clip here
(courtesy of www.imaginaryforces.com)
Salvation 'making of' (courtesy of www.imaginaryforces.com)