Photo-realistic CG Ships You Might Have Missed On Discovery's Mighty Ships!

Kerosene Visual Effects has provided many types of CG shots for Discovery Channel's hit series Mighty Ships, and it's spin off Mighty Cruise Ships. From map animations, to diagrammatic internal structure reveals, to extremely dynamic water interaction shots, we always deliver high quality VFX shots for the shows. But when the producers of the series asked us if we could help them by creating CG aerial footage of their ships – we immediately accepted the challenge!

When extreme weather conditions on location won't allow for helicopter fly-by photography of the vessels, then the producers turn to Kerosene to recreate those shots for them. However, unlike the usual VFX shots for the series, the audience can't know that they are looking at a computer generated ship. To make this work, Kerosene has developed effective solutions to recreate these enormous ships “photo-realisticly”, out on the high seas.

To begin the process, the producers provide our VFX team with B-roll aerial footage from other episodes of the series. By analyzing this source footage and looking for a hull that has a similar size and color, we try to find a “best-fit” match for the ship that is to be replaced. From there we make selects of the potential footage which have the best qualities for 3D tracking. Running these shots through our 3D tracking software, we then obtain point cloud information, that locks on to key positions of the original ship. A replicated 3D camera, that matches the exact movements of the original camera, can then be successfully generated.

After extensive testing with the generated 3D camera and point cloud data, we then layer our 3D model on top of the original ship footage. Since no two Mighty Ships are exactly alike, discrepancies between the shapes of the hulls and decks become obvious, and we have to compensate for those differences. This requires digitally painting out those sections of the original ship not covered by its replacement. The resulting paint work is a blank canvas of ocean, which becomes the base footage for the completed shot.

To create a photo-realistc replacement ship, we take extra care to texture our high resolution model with real-world imagery and physically accurate shader networks. This allows us to generate believable simulated materials (like painted hulls and rusty decks) by adjusting their “look and feel” using interactive lighting techniques.

Kerosene has developed a physical based sun and sky lighting rig in Autodesk's Maya software, which recreates time of day lighting scenarios. This setup casts realistic sunlight and sky reflections onto the textured CG ship. Additional global illumination setups are then applied, where simulated light bounces in and around every detail the 3D model. Once rendered, the replacement ship will have acquired a look and feel that approaches true photo-realistism.

Now that the replacement ship model has been matched to the selected footage, we render out multiple passes of isolated lighting features; allowing us to tweak and adjust every last detail in compositing. Combining these render passes in compositing allows for individual color correction of shadows and highlights, and gives the artist the ability to tweak the reflections on the hull and windows. We even have lighting control right down to every small detail, like the tiny lifeboats on the decks of the ship!

The end result is a shot that is indistinguishable from the real life footage. This helps the producers tell their stories of these massive vessels, regardless of the weather. So when you watch Mighty Ships, you'll need to have a sharp eye to catch our VFX handiwork!


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