Sony Pictures Imageworks teamed up with Director Jon Turtletaub, overall VFX Supervisor Adrian de Wet, Producer Steve Garrard, and the team at Warner Bros. to take a ferocious bite out of the third act of the science fiction action thriller “The Meg.” Imageworks VFX Supervisor Sue Rowe and her team were responsible for creating over 300 CG shots, characters and underwater environments.
The Underwater Environment
We built the geography of the underwater environment in a modular way – only 15 types of rocks, an undulating sandy surface and sand banks. We covered the environment with hundreds of corals and kelp using our in-house tool called Sprout. Sprout provides fast, interactive workflow and allowed us to easily art direct and populate the environments using very few assets.
"The Meg is often seen in silhouette or with a simple rim light. In the scenes where she is chasing the main actors through underwater canyons, we added silt and sediment and broken chunks of coral to the shots to keep the environment real."
-VFX Supervisor Sue Rowe
Animating The Shark
Small submersibles called "gliders" were built on set to scale. They were on top of a 5-axis motion base so they could tilt and move. This especially helped with photography. When the actor maneuvers the glider around it looked really physical.
As the glider was on a motion base it could not travel, so all movement was achieved in camera, with a 50’ technocrane on 60’ of track. This was a challenge for the match-move and layout teams. They had to take the movement off the camera and add it to the glider to make it feel as if it was speeding through the environment.
Cavitation is the term used for the bubbles that are ejected from the propeller of a gliders. The blades spin so fast it actually boils the water. We added this simulated effect to all of the shots where you see the glider.
"Camera moves had water resistance added to them so you felt that they could have been shot in real life."
- CG Supervisor Jason Greenblum
The Shiver of Sharks
We used Massive for the shots where you see hundreds of sharks attacking the Meg. Our team created seven shark varieties and multiplied them into a huge shoal of sharks for the iconic moment there the sharks turn on the Meg.
The shots are very complex as they involve hero animation on the foreground sharks, Massive AI for the mid to distant sharks, plus water sims and viscous blood sims. The CFX team simulated the Meg’s flesh getting torn as the sharks attack her.
On set we shot at 96fps, slow-motion. We simulated the CG shark and the water at 96fps. It became apparent, however, that many of the forces needed to be faked due to camera movement. As often happens in FX, if it looks good, it’s right. You can’t always mathematically predict. This is where FX becomes an art. The water ran from the Meg’s nose to her tail and interacted with the Blood (which was simmed at a different viscosity).
Jason Statham performed a portion of the stunt himself. He was an Olympic diver and is very happy in the water. We used our digi double to affect the water as it runs off the Meg over Jonas. We also used the digi double at the start and end of the shot for safety. There is a moment when we see the Meg hit the water on her back; blood flowing. The FX, comp and look dev teams made this shot look spectacular. It was the first shot in and last shot out!