When it comes to creating magic, Disney definitely knows a thing or two about bringing a princess, her story and world to life. But really, there are so many working pieces to complete the pixie dust filled puzzle, and every film has their own unique challenge. In the upcoming November 23rd release, “Moana”, that challenge presented itself in it’s visual effects, especially in the creation on water.
At an early press day for the film, we got a chance to be part of a presentation and Q&A with the effects department: Technical Supervisor Hank Driskill, Visual Effects Supervisor Kyle Odermatt, Co-Head of Effects Marlon West and Co-Head of Effects Dale Mayeda. Here’s what they had to say about creating the magic of the ocean for “Moana”
“An Ocean You Believe Existed”
Kyle Odermatt: When these stories begin development, there’s a number of artistic challenges outlined in the basic story. On this one, there were many. For us, those become technical challenges. We knew the film was going to be all about water – the ocean was going to be a huge component of this. We needed to have an ocean you believe existed – our characters spend a tremendous time there.
After talking with Pixar, the team created “Splash”
Hank Driskill: We’d then play creative one-upmanship and ask, ‘Can we do better?’ We wanted the bar to be really high. It’s a pervasive part of the movie. 80% of the shots in this movie have effects in them. We knew it was an important part of the culture and an important part of the mythology so we really wanted to do it right[…]We wanted to put as much thought into how we can make the simpiler water shots as easy as possible because we knew a lot of the shots in the movie, water isn’t doing big ambitious things. It’s a part of the scene. It’s the ground plain.
Multiple machines to run as one big machine to create all the ocean movements
Hank Driskill: We knew Splash could help us solve tens of millions of particles, but we knew we needed tens of billions of particles to get the look that we were after. We invested research to distributing computing so our water solver could run across multiple machines that would, in turn, act like it was one big machine so we could do bigger ambitious things – like big cresting waves.
Once the tech was worked out, it was time to make the ocean a character
Dale Mayeda: We knew we needed to make the water feel as interesting as the other characters. We knew it was going to have to interact with Moana and Maui, perform and convey ideas[…]We ended up creating this ocean rig that basically is a very simple shape and we created a rig in a sense that it’s almost like a puppet armature where you can deform a character. In this case, it’s a very ambiguous shape. The character animators would use this and be able to animate and set up the timing and composition and interaction. If you were to straight render this into the movie, it wouldn’t look believable so that’s where we come in and start adding different layers of things that are more physical in nature. We would take the surface that would come from animation and we’d run fluid simulations that would break up the edge and silhouette just a little bit to make it feel like water. When a character would move to the left or right, we’d accentuate the splashes. We also wanted the internal structure feel watery as well. We would run a fluid simulation on the interior of the surface, so you’d get the churning bubbles in there. When you take all these pieces and out them together, they’d give you a believable water character.
Pushing the limit but staying believable was key to creating magic
Marlon West: We’re limited to what everybody expects water and smoke to do, but clearly we’re making it act. We deal in believability – not necessarily reality. We have to really work to try to get as much storytelling and design in the effects that we do – we push in the same way character animation does.
MOANA opens November 23rd.