Disney’s The Finest Hours is based on the true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. As you can imagine, the film, which stars Casey Affleck and Chris Pine, is chock full of visual effects shots — 900 of which were supplied by London’s MPC. Over a 10-month period, MPC VFX supervisor Seth Maury and producer Felix Crawshaw worked closely with the film’s director Craig Gillespie and production VFX supervisor Kevin Hahn
MPC’s work primarily consisted of recreating an immersive nor’easter storm, including ocean swells, turbulent seas, blowing rain and snow, and a sequence where a 36-foot Coast Guard boat must cross a digital version of Chatham bar, with 30- to 50-foot waves rolling, swelling and crashing around them.
Shooting began in the fall of 2014 in a 120-by-80-foot-by- 12-foot-deep water-tank built for the shoot at a warehouse in Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. The filmmakers built a large gimbal set of the Coast Guard CG36500 rescue boat, a full-size mock-up of the Pendleton hull and a replica of the Pendleton engine room that could be flooded with 6ft of water. A number of scenes were also filmed at various locations in Cape Cod and four period rescue boats were restored for production.
The visual effects work started early on in production with the team creating some full CG shots in order to understand what would be required to create a storm of the magnitude required to tell the story.
MPC’s team completed around 300 large-scale water simulation shots (using Flowline), 300 weather and environment shots and 300 shots of the ocean behind actors shot on bluescreen. Digital doubles of the crew members, as well as digital versions of the Pendleton T2 tanker and CG36500 Coast Guard boat were also built by MPC’s team.
For the large-scale full CG water simulation shots, MPC built a library of FX elements and CG renders that were needed to create the ocean, consisting of the base ocean, a foam pass, a mist pass, a fine spray pass, a bubble pass, a water texture pass and refraction and reflection passes for water surfaces. A constantly blowing CG mist pass that the filmmakers named Speed Mist was added to the real footage shot on location in Cape Cod and on set in Quincy to accentuate the storm. For the shots that were panoramic enough to show interaction between the practical or CG boat and the water surface, there was also a suite of elements rendered to connect the boat and water, such as splashes, sprays, bow wakes, tail wakes, an engine wash of bubbles, turbulent water, foam and spray.
Simulations were created in Maya, Flowline and Houdini (including Houdini-Engine). Houdini was used for streaming water and environmental effects such as rain, snow and blowing mist effects — it was chosen because of its strength in handling many shots procedurally. Most of the shots were cached using the Houdini Engine plug-in within Maya. MPC built custom interfaces to simplify their workflow, manage assets and enable artists to handle multiple layers and shots together. They called on VRay and PRMan (Katana) for rendering.
The most challenging work involved a sequence where the CG36500 Coast Guard boat crosses the Chatham Bar in 30-50ft waves. The waves were in various state of swelling, crashing, dumping and spilling. MPC developed systems for creating each of these waves, and additional systems for adding layers of waves into the same scene. Many shots in this sequence were crafted as single-solution waves, such as looking down the barrel of a crashing wave, or being pushed along and backwards by a wave that had already crashed. Maya was used for wave rigs, layout, animation, geometry preparation and some of the FX work. MPC built a complex (and quite flexible) wave rig used by the animation department to prototype and design waves. Once size, speed and shape were locked in animation/layout, the FX department was bringing caches into Flowline for dynamic simulations, sprays, etc.