Oceans enlivened by digital water, oil, fire

“Poseidon” visual effects supervisors Boyd Shermis and Chas Jarrett worked long months to give audiences that sinking feeling.

“(Helmer) Wolfgang Petersen told me he wanted to outdo himself,” says Shermis, overall visual effects supervisor for the film. “He wanted the water effects to be better than ‘The Perfect Storm’ and better than James Cameron’s work in ‘Titanic,’ so we had to take it to the next level. That meant nine months of working with ILM and a Stanford research team to get things looking the way we wanted them to look.”

Jarrett, visual effects supervisor for London-based MPC, agrees. “We learned from everything that came before us, so we were able to go even further and we had to for this to be something audiences would really remember,” Jarrett says. “We joined forces with Scanline VFX in Germany and spent eight or nine months working with them and their Flowline software (the company’s proprietary fluid technology) to get it right.”

The high point for Jarrett was a scene in which oil dripped into water, then burst into flames and shot up a shaft. “Without these new technologies, we could never take two different liquids with different viscosities and have them interact like this,” he says.

For Shermis, getting it right meant three things: Dealing with the displacement of water as the ship rolls over; simulating the generation of foam when water hits hard surfaces; and creating the luminescence of the ocean.

“The interaction of all these things is what makes it so difficult,” says Shermis. “Before this point, computers weren’t fast enough to make this cost-effective enough — or even time-effective enough — to accomplish something like this.”

Shermis, Jarrett, Kim Libreri and John Frazier are all nominated for the visual effects on “Poseidon.”

Working with water requires a subtle touch according to Frank Losasso Petterson, part of the Stanford research team that helped develop water effects for “Poseidon” at ILM.

“The more you control the water, the less real it will look,” says Petterson. “The viewer is very good at picking up when water is doing the wrong thing, so you have to simulate what actually happens in the real world.”

“One of the great things in visual effects is not knowing exactly how you’re going to find the solution to a problem,” says Shermis. “You’re living on the bleeding edge, and that’s what makes working with effects so much fun.”

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