Unleashing A Storm

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No feat, of course, rivaled ILM's waterworks. During the film's research and development stage, another associate effects supervisor, Habib Zargarpour, studied how waves break and froth by leaning out of a helicopter and sailing on choppy seas with a video camera. "First we found out it's all about foam," says Zargarpour. "Then we found out it's all about mist." Reality was then simulated by ILM's software creators, fluid-dynamics expert John Anderson and programmer Masi Oka. Given variables like wind velocity, for example, the program could determine the size of a wave or the magnitude of a splash. ILM artists would often test hundreds of variables for a single shot, and Zargarpour's team would provide "shaders" to simulate texture and reflection of light.

"On top of that," says Fangmeier, "you have the texture of the water and the white stuff, then you have a boat going through it, then you have a wave that breaks and has its own foam." Since the systems governing the individual elements could not be run simultaneously, mist, foam, splash, wake and currents had to be integrated for each shot. To do so, f/x artists manipulated the foam with more tiny white particles, each one with its own marching orders. By the end, The Perfect Storm's 336 detail-intensive f/x shots consumed more computer memory than the nearly 2,000 shots in The Phantom Menace. "Everybody has gone to the beach and looked at the waves and seen them crashing," says Fangmeier. "You get a sense of what that looks like. We had to get to the point where nothing pops out and you say, 'Wait a minute.'"

That was Petersen's job, as in, wait a minute, that wave should be bigger. "You learn all the sciences," says Fangmeier, "but we did break some of the scientific rules when it came to those Hollywood moments." If you've seen the trailer, you've already seen the film's most impressive Hollywood moment--the Andrea Gail's scaling a mountainous wave that threatens to fold her into its crest. "I said, 'Wolfgang, that's a 200-plus-ft. wave. That's impossible, certainly not recorded in this storm,'" Fangmeier recalls. "So we did scale it down a little bit. A little bit."

And so, little bit by little bit, it was done.

Now we come to the last paragraph, where we answer the Big Question: Does the storm make the grade? Let's see: Its performance is over the top. It pulls focus from the actors. (Even Fangmeier believes that Wahlberg "was a little under-utilized.") And in rare moments, if you look closely, it even lacks sincerity. But even so, it's a wonder to behold, a rocking testament to places moviemaking can take us. So let's give it an A-. Call it nearly perfect.

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