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MASTER AND COMMANDER

Creating The Most Realistic Storm
Peter Weir's mandate for the film's state-of-the-art visual effects work, comprising some 750 shots, was that they be "invisible" – no matter the amount of research and development, artistry and man-hours that went into creating the effects. "Peter insisted that MASTER AND COMMANDER not look like an effects film," says visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier of ILM. "If you don't recognize the effects – if audiences just are in the moment and enjoy the spectacle and Peter's personal vision – then we've done our job."

Fangmeier and ILM embraced the notion of creating visual effects for a period film. "It's a breath of fresh air to work on a personal piece grounded in reality," he says. "Audiences are so used to laser blasts, space battles and the like. With MASTER AND COMMANDER we had the opportunity to enhance a world many of us have forgotten about. It's a lot richer in many ways than any outer space galactic battle."

MASTER AND COMMANDER's "invisible" effects contribute to the creation of an epic typhoon sequence, the likes of which have never been experienced on film. In the story, Jack Aubrey pursues the Acheron, the Surprise rounds the Cape, the weather worsens, the seas and winds grow merciless – and the biggest challenge Jack has ever faced lies ahead: the full fury of a massive storm – on a 120-foot square-rigger.

State of the art visual effects merged with massive physical effects and, for the first time ever, real life footage of an actual storm captured on film at Cape Horn to create a typhoon as real as it is big.

"For the storm sequence we had to prep all the camera equipment for the storm sequence for getting absolutely soaked," says director of photography Russell Boyd. "We used Hydroflex water bags and we completely encased the camera, but which still allowed it to be operational. We were able to shoot even with the millions of gallons of water that the special effects guys dumped on us."

After cast and crew were positioned on the ship, the filmmakers brought the storm to life. First, they activated the gimbal, which put the ship in motion. Then wave and wind machines were switched on and water was pumped in front of two enormous jet engines, which broke down the water into a fog/mist effect. Four fans set up behind rainheads produced heavier rain, and, finally, massive dump tanks unleashed 8,000 gallons of water that cascaded across the deck of the ship, completely soaking cast and crew. The jet engines, wave and wind machines, fans and dump tanks combined to produce a deafening cacophony for on-set cast and crew.

While these physical effects played a key role in creating these epic scenes, important contributions were also made by footage of a real storm captured months earlier by Paul Atkins, aboard the Endeavor as it rounded Cape Horn. This is the first time actual storm footage has been integrated into such a sequence – it makes it look bigger, more realistic, and lends a critical "you-are-there" feel to the epic scene.

Integrating the Endeavor footage with the CG and physical effects was the biggest challenge facing Asylum. "We were blessed to have such a great element – the Endeavor storm footage – to begin with," says visual effects supervisor Nathan McGuinness of Asylum. "Peter's directive to us was to make it all very organic; to have all these elements, including physical and CG models of the Surprise, interact in a believable fashion."

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