Director James Cameron may be best known for his use of cutting edge technology in telling monumental stories. When Terminator 2: Judgement Day debuted on July 3, 1991, people could not believe how a computer generated character could be seamlessly blended in with the live action characters. This was something never done on this scale before. The movie was a smash hit and it changed the film industry. For the team at Universal, the Terminator trilogy seemed like the perfect intellectual property to base a show on that pushed the outer limits for theatrical presentations. One thing for certain, this would not be a show you would find at Disney.

In the fall of 1992, Gary Goddard of Landmark Entertainment began development on ideas for a Terminator show that could be duplicated at every Universal theme park. By December, Goddard was ready to talk with James Cameron about their plans. He found Cameron was a willing, excited, and engaged partner.

During 1993 and 1994, Landmark Entertainment and Universal Creative collaborated with James Cameron’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment and Digital Domain, his special effects team, to develop the technology for the show. Digital Domain was responsible for the digital composite imagery and had worked on films such as Jurassic Park and Apollo 13. The project was given the formal green light in March 1995.


Terminator 2:3D Battle Across Time was a breakthrough attraction. The show used state-of-the-art 3D camera technology combined with a custom built projection system, a specially outfitted theater, and computer technology to create an environment where characters on the movie screen come to life and for the first time enter the theater as live actors. the result was a blurring of the line between what is real and what is movie magic. Everything was perfectly synchronized. Adding to the spectacle were audio-animatronics robot warriors and plenty of in theater special effects.

The show was basically a mini-sequel to Terminator 2. During the pre-show a live actor playing Kimberley Duncan, head of the fictional Cyberdyne Corporation’s public relations and media control department, introduces the defense and technology company using a slickly produced video. When the video begins to describe Skynet, a defense program, it is interrupted by two fugitives from history, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and John Connor (Edward Furlong) from the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. After some panic, Duncan gains back control and ushers the audience into the  Miles Bennet Dyson Memorial Auditorium. Once seated, she introduces a new product; the T-70 warrior robot.


While the show was under development, the plan called for audio-animatronic T-800 Endoskeleton soldiers to surround the audience. Cameron corrected the team and reminded them that the T-800’s were from the future (about 2029) and would not appropriate for the show. So he designed a more primitive version called the T-70. The robots were eight feet tall and more than four feet wide. They were made of a high carbon steel sub-structure and covered with a fireproof polyresin/glass fiber. They were controlled by a sophisticated computer control system and were driven by a hydraulic plumbing system operating at over 3,000 psi fluid pressure.

Once again, Kimberley Duncan is interrupted by Sarah and John Connor, this time played by live actors rappelling from the ceiling. The actors were carefully choreographed to lip sync with the audio tracks and to be in the right spot at the right time so that the special effects could be enabled.


For many, the most spectacular effect was when the Terminator rides his motorcycle off the screen and directly on to the stage. Production Resource Group (PRG) was hired to create the in-theater effect that would allow for the characters to move from screen to stage and back again. The patented system was quite ingenious. When the Terminator character made his entrance, he is on the screen riding a Harley-Davison Fat Boy motorcycle. Suddenly, he turns toward the screen and in a flash a look alike live actor enters the theater through the screen on the same motorcycle. To achieve this effect, a stage manager backstage along with another stage manager in the production booth enable the giant screen to lift at lightning speed revealing a hidden door on the lower portion of the screen. The door is hidden from the audience using lighting effects and fog. The actor rides on stage via a replica motorcycle attached to a track. The motorcycle was launched at precisely the right moment through the door. Once safely through, the screen quickly lowered back into position. All of this action took place in less than three seconds.


The patent document stated that the technology created the illusion of “a live action show, actors, stage sets, and show action equipment [to] appear to interact with the three dimensional film. The filmed set blends with the stage sets to give dimension and a feeling of depth to the viewing audience. The audience cannot easily distinguish between the real elements and filmed elements ethereally intensifying the theater experience.”

A mock up of the theater was built in a hanger at the Van Nuys Airport in 1995 and rehearsals began with the actors. Video footage of the rehearsals were used to sync up the live action with the films in post-production.


Principal photography for the project began in May 1995 at a deserted steel mill in Desert Center, California. It took two weeks of all-night shooting to capture the action. The attraction involved getting together almost the entire original film crew, which was a first time in movie history that this had been done for a non-theatrical release. James Cameron was responsible for the overall production and directed the first section of the film. Once the Terminator and John Connor enter the parking structure and are pursued by the flying robots, mechanical effects specialist Stan Winston took over. Finally, when the two characters enter Skynet and all three screens are revealed, visual effects supervisor John Bruno was put in charge.

The 12-minute short was shot on 65mm 3D movie stock that ran at 40 frames per second instead of the conventional 24 frames per second to increase the resolution of the film image. At a reported cost of $24 million for the film and another $36 million for the venue, Terminator 2:3D was considered, frame for frame, the most expensive movie ever made. It took another six months after photography and forty-seven computer graphics artists and eight compositors working full time to integrate all of the digital imagery.


A custom projection system was designed for the show. To achieve the 180-degree field of vision, six fully automated “Iwerks” 70mm projectors were aimed at three screens. Although the film was shot on 65mm film, it was printed on 70mm stock so that it can be fed through the projectors in the theater. The 23-foot high by 50-foot long screens were treated with a layer of ultra-high-gain material to produce a superior 3D image. Dr. Ken Jones, a specialist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California was hired to perfect the interlocking of the three images.

The theaters were outfitted with the most sophisticated audio system ever installed in a theme park attraction at that time. The 45,620 Watt audio system surrounded the audience with more than 159 speakers. A new musical score was composed by Brad Fiedel. Sound effects by Gary Rydstrom from the original Terminator 2 film were reused.

The show opened at Universal Studios Florida on April 27, 1996 in an unmarked theater that was hidden behind an Art Deco facade in the Hollywood section. A Cyberdyne Systems logo and pillar sign were added later. Once inside the auditorium, visitors were confronted by six T-70 robots instead of four in Hollywood. Visitors exited through a gift shop behind a Kress Five & Dime facade.

In Hollywood, placing the show building was much more of a challenge. In 1993, Morris Architects was hired to design the structure. Unlike most theme park show buildings, Terminator would be prominently perched on top of a parking structure and seen from all sides. The 37,000 square foot building was designed so that it could be used as a large screening room. Architect Jim Pope said that Universal Creative’s Mark Woodbury challenged the team “to rethink the guest’s experience of an attraction from start to finish or ‘curb to retail shop,’ and from the perspective of the architect and guest who may not be familiar with the storyline.”

The theater’s exterior carried a pattern of ‘pixels’ abstracted from the visuals used for the Terminator’s computer screen visual field and was punctuated by biomorphic curves of silvergray: Cyberdyne’s “morphing liquid metal.”

Before Terminator 2:3D, the project site was being used as an outdoor theater. To compensate for the added loads from both the new show building and the show’s climax where the audience’s seats drop several inches, the parking structure had to be reinforced. Construction started on the Hollywood version on January 2, 1997.


On April 13, 1999, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was joined by musician George Thorogood for the press grand opening while a stuntman rappelled from a helicopter. The show opened to the public on May 6, 1999. The Hollywood version was basically the same as the attraction in Florida. Just like Florida, the show exited into a gift shop with arcade games. Just outside was a Harley-Davison motorcycle like the one in the show available for guest photos. The Cyber Grill, a fast food restaurant, was placed nearby.

The Hollywood version closed on December 31, 2012 to make way for a new child friendly ride based on the Despicable Me animated films.


Presented by the Los Angeles Region Planning History Group
Saturday, October 5, 2013

Continental Breakfast and Registration:  9:00-9:30 a.m. 
Colloquium:  9:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., including guided walking tour
Event is $50.00 and $35 for students

Location: Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc)
350 Merrick Street (between Alameda and Santa Fe, just north of E. 4th St.); free parking provided in lot adjacent

Description: Although Los Angeles is associated internationally with glitz and glamour, it has always been a working city, with a rich industrial heritage. Even today, Los Angeles County is the largest manufacturing center in the United States, accounting for over 365,000 jobs in 2012.  But many industrial properties are in transition, with recent market pressures for residential development and dramatic changes in the workplace creating new demand for flexible industrial space and green technology.  All of these changes are most visible on the ground in downtown Los Angeles, in the Arts District community and adjacent industrial lands along the Los Angeles River.

Join us for a look at Los Angeles’ industrial legacy and future planning policies for industrial land, as seen close-up, through the prism of one of the city’s most fascinating and rapidly-changing neighborhoods. The colloquium will include a presentation on Downtown’s industrial heritage, a walking tour of the Arts District, and a lively panel discussion on present and future policy challenges.  Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner for Policy Planning and Historic Resources, Los Angeles Department of City Planning, will moderate the panel.

Panelists and Tour Guides to Include:

Greg Fischer,  historian and principal of LA1781, Inc. a real estate research consulting firm,  and former Planning/Transportation Deputy, Councilmember Jan Perry

Alan Bell, Deputy Director of Planning, City of Los Angeles, overseeing policies for industrial land and preparation of Los Angeles’ new zoning code

Yuval Bar-Zemer, Principal, Linear City Development, developers of transformative projects in the Arts District

Donald Spivack, former Deputy Administrator and Deputy Chief of Operations for the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), where he oversaw policy for key downtown industrial lands

Event Fee is $50; for students with valid student IDs, $35
Fee includes Continental Breakfast and Lunch
Seating is limited to 110 attendees; please confirm your attendance to:
Alice Lepis, Secretary [email protected] (preferred) or call 818.769.4179 on or before Noon, Wednesday, October 2, 2013

You may pay either of two ways:
Pay Pal which is accessible through the LARPHG website:
Check payable to:  “Los Angeles Region Planning History Group” with completed registration form sent to:

Los Angeles Region Planning History Group
C/o Alice Lepis, Secretary
11227 Acama Street
North Hollywood, CA 91602
Please include a copy of your student ID if you are registering as a student. 


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