Splish Splash, Taking A Deep Breath

bowhead_tex_0600Whales live in the water. It is hard to miss that fact, and animating whales moving through water is actually something of a comfort. Our animator does not have to worry about the creatures trying to balance believably on two or four or six legs, moving under the constant threat of gravity, having nothing to do with their hands, squinting under bright lights… Everything is more comfortable, in water. Buoyancy and typically slow moving, gliding, water creatures can make the production process go a lot easier.

Be kind to your animator. Set your film underwater.

But at some point, whales like all mammals need to breathe, and that’s when things get interesting. Building a realistic ocean surface is straightforward enough. However, at about two dozen places in the script, someone (the director) has been nice enough to indicate that we should have a whale come through that surface, whether gently to take a quick breath, breaking through sea ice, dramatically breaching, or cruising on their sides, mouths open in a chevron formation, hunting for krill just below the waves.

But why just break the water’s surface artificially, as if we’re cutting it with a knife, when we can seriously disturb it with mass displacement, splashes, mist, sea foam, and swirling currents, all driven by some genuine, serious fluid dynamics. This is what computers are for. We don’t have to remember the college math; we just have to wait for the computers to crank through the equations on their eighth, thirteenth, twenty-first attempt to get it right.

This week, we’ve been taking the first animation pass of Hannah’s whale and running it through a variety of fluid simulation processes to see what happens: what looks good, what seems easy enough to set-up, and what doesn’t take too many computers too long to process.


The shots shown here are part of a ten second sequence that took an i7 machine 17 hours to process first the core fluid and surface mesh, the some 1.2 million splash particles, and the some 1.3 million foam particles – what amounts to a low-resolution experiment. Once we’re sure this data doesn’t break the software down the pipeline (here’s hoping), we’ll do two things: 1. crank up the quality and resolution until we do break something (including but not stopping with our patience) and 2. tone down the splash!


The animation seemed benign enough at first, but by the end of the sequence, I’m not sure the whale has time to breathe with all that surface disturbance. I think the director’s note to our whale/actor/friend should be: “Relax. This is good, very promising, but let’s back up a little bit. Let’s take it down a notch. We’ll get to the drama soon enough. For now, just chill, come gently to this wonderfully excitable ocean surface and just take a deep breath.” We’ll move forward from there. Very promising.

– Roger Topp (UAMN Head of Production)

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