In Blue Sky Studio's presentation as part of the Wild Rides
presentation at SIGGRAPH 2012 they demonstrated several novel
approaches to creating their open ocean environment in Ice Age:
Continental Drift, for a sequence in which the characters sail a small
iceberg across the sea. Some challenges were technological and others
aesthetic but all served the goal of turning what can be the arduous
and expensive process of water animation into a manageable package.
At the base of their solution is a library of wave animation based on
mathematical descriptions of open ocean wave forms. These were
collected into look libraries that could be classified, for instance
calm or stormy, and easily called into the pre-vis artists Maya
Once in Maya these libraries could be easily "scouted" by the PreVis
department for ideal locations and appropriate animation layout paths
could be derived and pushed out to the Animation department.
Even before handing the the scene data off to animation, Blue Sky made
sure that a lot of visual detail could be added that helped to set the
tone of the shots early on. They included environmental elements, sky,
sea foam, as well as hero wave splashes. These details allowed for
creative decisions and approvals to happen early on in the process
when changes are easier to accommodate.
Hero shot specific elements, like the giant tsunami wave, could be
added into the ocean look library and handled as though they were any
other shot, thereby limiting the costs that usually accompany large
On a technical note, because the FX Department used Houdini they were
able to leverage the point based water look libraries, and then blend
new library elements from existing ones, for instance to smoothly
transition from open ocean to calmer shoreline water. In addition the
encoding of all of that data allowed the FX Department to derive
visual details like foam and ripples on the water.