VFX studios Engine Room in Hollywood and Fusion CI Studios in Santa Monica pooled talents recently to create innovative CG ocean for the season launch of Discovery Channel's Emmy nominated series, DEADLIEST CATCH.
The network promo included 3D CG shots of photoreal stormy ocean surfaces interacting with Discovery Channel's floating logo as it's pounded by ocean waves. Using proprietary methodologies and fluid dynamic algorithms, Fusion Studios created the ocean surface simulations and Engine Room handled the rest, from animation to compositing, including an underwater shot.
By combining their unique talents, Engine Room & Fusion created highly advanced ocean vfx not yet seen outside feature film. "It was a perfect working model for us," said exec producer Lauren Millar from Fusion CI Studios. "We specialize in fluid & particle fx exclusively and therefore don't compete with other vfx studios; rather, we combine our expertise to create technologically advanced fx that neither studio would accomplish alone within certain timeframes and budgets. And it was a great experience working with Engine Room, we knew there would be absolutely no compromise in quality."
"Without time for an R&D period, we had to develop aspects of our ocean surface technology during a tight production timeline," added Mark Stasiuk co-founder of Fusion CIS. "It was a great technological challenge, but we've devised a few tricks that allowed us to pull it off. We've developed proprietary methods to quickly tune-up results to hit a look, responding to the creative needs or technical limitations that our partner studios run into. For this project, each stage of the simulations took only a few hours per iteration."
Realistic looking stormy ocean effects continue to be immensely challenging, usually requiring lengthy R&D and massive rendering capabilities because they're huge-scale and dynamically complex with multiple vfx occurring simultaneously: a moving ocean surface, cresting waves, spray and mist, surface foam and interactions with geometry. And on top of all that, for this project the director needed to choreograph nature, creating wave swells & crests in specific places: a major challenge for physical simulation software. So Fusion combined a physically simulated stormy ocean surface with mathematically defined directable wave forms, creating a phenomenal ocean surface that was both oceanographically accurate and completely controllable -- a major achievement.
"We knew going into this project that the technical challenges would be immense" added Engine Room founder Dan Schmit. "Especially for a television promo, this level of 3D is quite unheard of. Engine Room being a collaborative company knew that the only way to pull it off would be by assembling the right team. Mark and Lauren were our first and right choice to provide our in-house artists with the high level ocean simulations that were necessary, they worked with us very closely all the way through the rendering and compositing process to insure that the look was being realized correctly."
Although the two companies have never worked together before, they found the experience to be extremely rewarding. "Mark's high level technical background proved to be the magic bullet needed to get this project done while in the process delivering a feature quality we needed," added Schmit. "Engine Room's business model is all about assembling the right team and more often than not this is achieved by bringing specialized 3D artists in-house. This, however, would never fly with the Discovery project because of the tight deadline and bringing in Fusion CI was the only way we could have ever made it work. The final spot is the proof."
"This project was quite a technological accomplishment -- we dramatically improved the quality of the ocean surface and wave crest sims over what we've previously done for feature film in projects like THE GUARDIAN," added Stasiuk. "And it was a fantastic experience working with the guys at Engine Room, they do great work."