Rodeo FX recreated 19th-century Nantucket for Ron Howard’s latest film, In the Heart of the Sea, including concept art, seamlessly interwoven set extensions, and evocative matte painting for a total of over 260 visual effects shots. Inspired by the myth of Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea introduces the audience to the whaling industry that spurred its phenomenal growth from the early 1800s through to the middle of the century.
Ron Howard’s team chose Rodeo FX to help bring the whaling era to life through the combination of practical assets, CG set extensions, and digital matte painting. A team of 65 artists worked for over a year to create a total of 27 minutes of visual effects, which include the sequences in Nantucket Harbour, taking place at three distinct periods from 1819 to 1850. To be faithful to each era, Rodeo FX had to adjust the look of the city by altering its CG asset and digital matte paintings.
The Rodeo FX team also contributed to the sequences of the Essex sailing on open water. The scenes of the Essex were shot with a full-scale replica of the actual boat in a tank as well as at sea. The artists had to ensure continuity between the two types of shots, for which they used a combination of practical footage from the production, together with their CG water assets, creating waves and the look of wind on water.
The VFX studio’s work demonstrates the power and impact of visual effects, not only for bringing period films to life, but also expanding the storytelling pallet by conveying drama and atmosphere in support of the unfolding narrative.
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, In the Heart of the Sea was directed by Ron Howard and stars Chris Hemsworth, Ben Whishaw, and Cillian Murphy. The film saw theatrical release on Dec. 11.