London-based VFX facility MPC recently completed approximately 900 VFX shots for Disney’s The Finest Hours – the remarkable true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. VFX supervisor Seth Maury and producer Felix Crawshaw worked closely with director Craig Gillespie and production VFX supervisor Kevin Hahn over the course of 10 months.
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 30-50 ft waves rolling, swelling and crashing around them.
Shooting began in the fall of 2014 in a 120 ft by 80 ft and 12 ft deep water-tank built for the shoot at a warehouse in Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass. 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 6 feet 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, 300 weather and environment shots and 300 shots of the ocean behind actors shot on bluescreen. Digital doubles of the crewmembers, 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, and engine wash of bubbles, turbulent water, foam and spray.
The most challenging work involved a sequence where the CG36500 Coast Guard boat crosses the Chatham Bar in 30-50 ft 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.