Way back in 1991, director James Cameron gave us “Terminator Vision,” the augmented reality view that showed us how a cyborg (played by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger) saw the world. That vision proved to be very inspiring, and many years later, some artists have gotten together to re-create the view from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Marti Romances, creative director and cofounder of special effects firm Territory Studio, teamed up with Adobe to use its Adobe XD tool to create a modern user interface for AR technology, which isn’t so futuristic anymore as lots of visionaries are trying to turn it into a practical reality for tomorrow’s AR glasses. I interviewed Romances and Talin Wadsworth, lead product designer at Adobe XD, about the project.
Territory Studio is known for its futuristic design work on films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade Runner 2049, The Martian, Ex Machina, Avengers: Infinity War, and other blockbusters. But bringing to life some of the user interfaces from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a unique challenge even for them, especially using software they hadn’t worked with before. Adobe partnered with them to showcase the power of XD and to demonstrate the potential of user interface design beyond app and website design.
When the film came out 27 years ago, the head-up display graphics that were displayed from the Terminator’s point of view were visualizations of the future. The Terminator would scan an object, like a gun or motorcycle for example, and viewers could see information as the Terminator processed it.
Those visualizations required a lot of computer graphics animation technology. But now designers are trying to reproduce these effects in real time.
“The core thing was for a machine to identify what it is seeing through machine learning,” Romances said. “It involved machine learning, robotics, and AR. It was a colored overlay on reality, and it was impressive to see how they did it so many years ago, given the special effects we had then.”
The result is an homage to the film layered with the technology and practices of today. When Adobe set out to create XD, the goal was to create a prototyping platform specifically for the UX/UI designers of today, many of whom work on prototypes for user interfaces and web/mobile applications.
“We think of helping designers create great interactive experiences,” said Wadsworth. “We wanted to work on a project with Territory to reimagine the classic sci-fi vision of the future.”
The Territory team had to learn how to use the tool on the fly.
“We were inspired by the original machine vision and did not want to lose what the director wanted to see,” Romances said. “Our goal was get out of comfort zone. Use the tool. Do multiple designs by changing a global aspect. Explore different assets and update it through all designs.”
One of the project’s greatest effects was its ability to showcase the role designers play in imagining the future of technology, including what it looks like, how it functions, and what it’s capable of.
Wadsworth grew up with formative sci-fi experiences like Star Trek, Terminator, and Aliens and has since become an advocate for the role designers, artists, filmmakers, and writers play in dreaming about what our society, culture, and technology might look like in the future.
“A lot of UI work is inspired by sci-fi visions of the past,” Wadsworth said. “We wanted to push the limits and work with a studio like Territory.”
He has no doubt the things we see in science fiction movies affect and shape the technology we have today. But in doing these collaborative projects, Wadsworth’s biggest takeaway is how much there is left to be explored for new designers and experienced professionals alike.
“The challenge for Marti was to take a tool and add knowledge to reimagine the image,” Wadsworth said. “How do we think about what that scene was trying to show? The context is different for everyone. How do you serve that info in real time? We are still not there. Know what someone wants — that’s storytelling at its core.”
Adobe is unveiling a T2-themed UI kit made with and for Adobe XD available to download for free. Artists will be able to create their own versions and upload the results for the community to see.
“Being able to reinvent that old film today with the new technology we have today is amazing,” Romances said. “And doing it with a new tool that Adobe is putting out there for everyone shows what you can do.”