Creating VFX Waves for Tom Hanks’ Battle at Sea in ‘Greyhound’

An unrelenting cold Atlantic Ocean, huge waves and overcast weather were the elements for the Tom Hanks drama “Greyhound.”
While much of the film was built on soundstages in Louisiana and on the decommissioned USS Kidd, visual effects came into play for the film’s main battle sequence. Hanks plays Commander Krause, the officer who has to defend his ship and its convoy of vessels as it comes under attack from U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.

“This shot perfectly encompasses everything we were trying to achieve in the recreation of the North Atlantic for “Greyhound,” say DNEG visual-effects supervisors Nathan McGuinness and Pete Bebb. “The first challenge was to determine the look of the ocean — this is essentially another character in the narrative that had to be developed. The ocean is determined by weather so capturing the correct weather was imperative.”

The U.K. winter helped both McGuinness and Bebb imagine those North Atlantic weather conditions since it was cold and miserable. Using a bespoke 10-camera system called Sky Capture, they photographed a full hemisphere in HDR for time-lapse footage at the coastline so they could gain perspective of the horizon.

That time-lapse was critical in the development of the environment and thus the resulting look of the ocean.

Director Aaron Schneider and producer Gary Goetzman had accrued a mass of library material from the period for reference. That material was heavily relied on and matched to ensure authenticity.

McGuinness and Bebb add: “The water FX was critical. The sheer amount and totality of coverage it required was exactly what we saw in the reference footage.

“The entire bow of these Fletcher class destroyers would go underwater in high Beaufort Sea conditions. There was no artistic direction in the water simulations, we calculated the ocean scale, we calculated the ship displacement and speed and then we set the simulation in motion. It is as physically true as it can be.”

When it came to their inspiration for the ship itself, since they were in the U.K., the HMS Belfast in London served as an idea for how to create their visualizations. The size and scale of the former World War II battleship helped set the mood when taking on the wartime action film.

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