That time Emily Blunt met pink dolphins

The visual effects behind those scenes in ‘Jungle Cruise’.

Working in conjunction with production VFX supervisors Jake Morrison and Jim Berney, Rodeo FX created the dolphin sequences in Jungle Cruise. Rodeo VFX supe Ara Khanikian breaks it down.

b&a: Where did you start with these dolphins?

Ara Khanikian: The dolphins were really fun to do. We spent a fair amount of time in the beginning just designing those dolphins, because those pink Amazon dolphins do exist. They look horrible, but they do exist. They’re a blend between the classic gray dolphins and belugas. Very wrinkled, and they’re almost blind because the visibility in the Amazonian river is almost zero. We ended up with this design of somewhere in the middle of the cute, gray dolphins that we know and those pink dolphins.

The challenge was really about animating them in a way that enforces Lily’s reaction to them, like the enchantment of seeing those amazing creatures. It was really about making them look very happy and excited, and just having fun in the water. The almost do a show, but we had to make it not look staged. Which was a really fine line, because we had dolphins jumping up and doing flips, and doing a lot of cool stuff.

b&a: Was there something particularly challenging about integrating them with the water?

Ara Khanikian: Well, there’s a couple of shots—that main shot, where they all come towards the boat and another one later with Prince Joachim and the submarine in a sunset—where you have all these dolphins in the water. I mean, those shots had a little bit over 20 CG dolphins in there. Which, mission-wise, was a lot of work, because every single one had to have its own personality, a bit of character. You’re only seeing them a little bit at a time, but you still need to animate them fully from start to beginning, even when they’re under the water, because then you’re doing all of these water sims as well. Even if you’re not seeing the performance of the dolphin, it still needs to be properly animated because it’s going through water, and going back in, and you have to run all of these water sims, and they need to be coherent with what’s going on. They were very, very render and RAM intensive, these shots, in terms of animation, and especially water sims.

b&a: Tell me about the water sims.

Ara Khanikian: Every single shot had water sims. We ended up coming up with ways to drive the sim based on proximity of camera and level of detail. We would look at shots and go, ‘Okay, based on the focus of these lenses in these shots, these groups of shots we can run with a very low-res sim and it’s going to be okay. It’s background stuff, and it’s all good.’ But every single shot had to have that sim. It was all Houdini water sims. The only things we did shoot in our studio were just the breath elements of the water from the dolphins. Anytime they would come out of the water, they would just release some mist from their blowhole. For all of those, we decided to just shoot elements we had in our studio instead of running sims specifically for those. Those were handled in comp, but the rest of the water sims were all Houdini sims.

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