How Terminator 2 Spent 75 Cents To Create A Special Effect

Director James Cameron's 1991 super-sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day is widely regarded as legendary action film that ups the ante of its predecessor to monumental proportions in both story and spectacle. Sporting a then-unheard-of budget of over $100 million, it was a groundbreaking effects extravaganza. However, it seems that one of its more indelible audio effects - the T-1000 moving through an asylum door - came at a cost that couldn’t even buy a soda today: 75 cents!

In a piece by Wired celebrating the history of the pioneering effects company Industrial Light & Magic, an interesting tidbit about a key scene in Terminator 2 surfaced. It turns out that the unforgettable scene where Robert Patrick’s T-1000 interrupts the main group’s institutional jailbreak of Sarah Connor by squeezing his liquid metal form through a barred door was supplemented by a seemingly futuristic smooth phasing sound effect. However, the audio was actually created on the cheap. As sound designer, Gary Rydstrom explains,

Turns out that if you hold a can of dog food upside down, the sound of that cylinder slowly coming out of the can is the perfect combination of mud, metal, and suction. That sound effect cost 75 cents.

Industrial Light & Magic? More like Industrial Light & Alpo! Kidding aside, this is an interesting revelation, though in retrospect, also makes a lot of sense. From a personal standpoint, I’ve always noticed that the suction sounds made from emptying any kind of solid canned foods, be it dog or human, created a uniquely smooth phasing sound that sounds similar to a movie effect. It’s actually fascinating to hear how such a thing could be implemented in an important film such as this. With that in mind, check out the scene in question embedded below at around the 1:45 mark, knowing that what you’re actually hearing was probably supplemented from the Purina company.

It may seem rather surprising that this almost iconic sound of the T-1000’s protean pulsations would actually come from such a source. However, as we’ve learned from the great popcorn pantheons like the Star Wars films, sometimes the most exotic, futuristic-sounding effects can come from the most unassuming of sources. It demonstrates that sound men are well served by observing everyday surroundings, looking for potential audio gold. Clearly, that unassumingly fateful can of dog food ended up playing quite the role in the advancement of the action/sci-fi film genre.

In the meantime, fans of the franchise should be quite sated with this summer’s Terminator Genisys. The timeline-resetting reboot of sorts will see Arnold Schwarzenegger return to as yet another time-traveling T-800 cyborg who butchers the enemies of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor as well as he does the English language. We’ll also be seeing a new version of the T-1000 played by Byung-hun Lee, who might even be sporting some more canned-food-sourced audio when the film hits theaters in gravy-infused processed chunks on July 1st.