How Industrial Light and Magic Works

How Water Works

Water, it turns out, is an extremely complicated substance. Go down to the beach one day and really look at the water, and you can quickly understand how complicated it is. Watch a wave curl up onto the beach. You will see, among other things:


  • The swells, well away from shore, that will become waves
  • The waves forming and curling forward
  • The wave's color and translucence as the water thins toward the top
  • The foam at the top of the wave
  • The receding foam that follows the wave and dissipates
  • The foam forming in front of the wave
  • The bubbles in the water that form part of the foam, and the way that further changes the color of the wave
  • The water churning as the wave falls
  • The movement of the water in the wave as it hits obstacles
  • The interactions between multiple waves
  • The water that splashes away in the wave's crest and as the wave falls
  • Changes to the wave -- different foams, and water splashing away -- caused by the wind


ILM's job was to simulate all of those effects so closely that ILM's artificial water could be integrated into real water from live shots and you would be completely convinced that it was all real!

A big element of "The Perfect Storm's" planning process involved researching the water and other objects that the team needed to emulate with CG effects. In "The Perfect Storm," the team was creating an entire ocean environment along with simulated boats, actors, buoys and so on. The sheer amount of knowledge required is amazing! Here are some of the things that Habib Zargarpour and fellow ILMer John Anderson researched:

  • All of the water effects discussed above
  • The various types of waves
  • Mist
  • Hull shapes
  • Buoyancy characteristics
  • Wind
  • Water density and surface tension


A good understanding of how wind and water and solid objects interact with each other was essential to the creation of a realistic sea. In addition to the physics of the objects, the team carefully observed and noted how light affected the appearance of the water and mist. All of this knowledge was put to the test when they began to create their virtual ocean.