Ocean Flyover – Behind the Scenes

Every time I thought I was done with this shot, I found something that could be improved.

I started off wanting an effect that would utilize the Fog setting in HitFilm, where layers grow more faded the further away from the camera they get. The shot had to be of a large scale, with the ability to see into the distance. I figured the ocean would give me plenty of space, so I created a test video to see if I could generate a moving water texture using Caustics.


The base water effect that made it into the final shot is available for download on the Preset Marketplace, and was the #1 most downloaded preset of May 2016. After setting it up I knew I wanted some sort of island background that could demonstrate the Fog. I found several pictures, cut out the land in Photoshop, and placed them in my 3D scene. They all required some tweaking to look like they belonged in the same space: curves, tint, light wrap, etc. One thing that I found really helped sell the idea of distance was obscuring the top portion of the island with even more fog (a simple masked colored Plane).


The combat jet was a model available on TurboSquid for $25. It took me a while to set up the material properties so that it would look realistic, and went through many iterations before I found something that worked. I found that a Cook-Torrance lighting model with the Fresnal set to Silver worked best. The movement of the jet itself was also tricky. Too much, and it looked like a leaf being blown by the wind. Too little, and it looked like it was a model being held on a string. The glass canopy gave me a hard time as well; it didn’t look right until I set the Environment Map to the Clouds layer.


The Grade at the top of the final composite shot had numerous effects to bring the whole thing together. It included:

  • Curves
  • Crush Blacks & Whites
  • Lens Dirt
  • Diffuse
  • Bleach Bypass
  • Shake
  • Glow
  • Anamorphic Lens Flares


The use of proxies in my project file significantly increased the speed at which I could edit. I had separate composite shots for: the island/cloud background, the ocean, the water mist and jet, and for the fog that covers the space between the islands and the water. The render time for the jet comp was around 40 minutes, everything else combined was maybe 15 minutes.

What I Learned

Splashing water is very difficult to execute without a dedicated fluid simulation. The Cook-Torrance lighting models provide a much more realistic look for metallic objects, and using three-point lighting really helps give it visual interest. A low contrast, almost washed out sky looks more real than one with dark shadows and bright highlights. And while the built-in lens dirt effect works very well at generating the appropriate light spots, using a custom texture looks even better.

Until next time, don’t forget to turn on motion blur! Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

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