VFX: 'Shark Nights 3D'
Issue: September 1, 2011

VFX: 'Shark Nights 3D'

SAN FRANCISCO — Reliance Media Works and a handful of vendors from around the globe createded 100 complex water and shark shots for the new horror flick Shark Nights 3D. Directed by David Ellis and released through Relativity Media, the film was shot in Shreveport, LA, and production out on the water in difficult conditions made for particularly challenging stereo VFX shots.

Gregor Lakner served as VFX supervisor on the film and led a team of digital artists tasked with production designing and animating six different shark species, which infest the area’s fresh water lakes and threaten a group of partying kids on an isolated island. 

“We were constantly straddling the need to create utterly realistic-looking sharks, while at the same time knowing that they had to behave and do things that real sharks are seldom seen doing,” explains Lakner. 

The computer generated Mako, Bull-shark, Great White, Hammerhead, Tiger and Cookie-cutters were modeled, textured and rigged (including a complete muscle system) in such a way that artists from various studios were able to work on shots simultaneously and exchange shot-related data of whenever needed. A customized version of Tactic was the backbone assets management system used to maintain good data organization on the film and within some of the vendors. In terms of software, the film relied on Maya, Renderman and Nuke. 

And while much of the action involved sharks, the team was challenged with many above-water shots. “Because of all the floating debris, caustics and often extreme close-ups, needed the underwater shots detailed attention in all steps of shot execution. But they were relatively easy compared to 20 or so shots in which sharks breach the water surface,” recalls Lakner.  The complexity of these shots required that a separate workflow be created, which spanned across multiple facilities in the US and Europe.

Camera match-moving and animation originated in Maya. Approved animation files were imported into Exotic Matter’s Naiad fluid dynamics system, at the time, the only commercially-available software that proved sophisticated and robust enough to handle water simulations of the scale required for the project, he notes.

“The simulation for the most complex slow-motion shot, in which an 18-foot-long Mako shark, in a spectacular jump, knocks off a moving Waverunner [with] one of the lead characters, took over a week of continuous machine crunch on a 92GByte computer to complete.” 

Generally, for simulation purposes alone, the production had available two 92GByte machines, one at Reliance Media Works in San Francisco , where the overall production hub was, and one at Crater Studios in Serbia. Water was also simulated at Lightstream Animation Studios in Petaluma, CA, and Shadow FX in Serbia. 

Naiad generated large amounts of data, which, for speed and memory optimization purposes, had to be rendered with Arnold. At the time that Shark Nights’ post production started, Arnold’s integration with Maya was still in the early stages. Therefore the team decided to use Softimage|XSI, which already had a good integration of the Arnold renderer, as the main lighting platform for these shots. The ins and outs of all different software platforms were connected and supported by a number of in-house plug-ins and scripts, a crucial step in making the pipeline work.