Kon-Tiki | VFX breakdowns | Storm Studios

This year’s most anticipated Norwegian film Kon-Tiki has now been released, and Storm Studios is proud to be part of the adventure. Along with directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning we created images of a 1946 New York. This was achieved by using a combination of footage from the set in Bulgaria, Matte Paintings, actors shot on green screen, CG cars and CG smoke.


Storm Studios has also replaced much of the pacific ocean with digital simulated water – one of the most challenging tasks in visual effects. Effects Supervisor Magnus Pettersson worked several months on developing the water pipeline. According to Magnus one of the most challenging tasks was to handle all the data that the water simulations created. Each version produced 1TB of data that needed to be processed and rendered. When our simulation machine with 96GB of RAM ran out of memory, we knew we were in for a treat.

We are very excited about our raging seas in broad daylight for the film’s big climax, and Mode Steinkjer from Dagsavisen Newspaper says “the special effects are impressive, whether they represent the actual events or contribute to the metaphysical buildup of the crew’s psychological state of mind”.

The critics and directors say it all:

“We are delighted by the scenography and the staging. All of the technique and craftsmanship is a true pleasure to behold. In terms of film rhetoric this movie totally flows”. Aftenposten Newspaper, Per Haddal

“Rønning and Sandberg have burned trough 93 million Norwegian kroner on this nautical voyage – they luckily ditched filming in or converting to 3D and saved 40 mill. In return 150 people worked on the special effects which is found in about a third of the movie, yet weave seamlessly into the clear southern pacific colors”. Dagbladet Newspaper, Mikael Godø

“A lot of people worked on this film for over a year, and we would not have been able to make it had they charged full price. We’re talking about people who have a passion for what they do – and you can guarantee that when the film releases this will get noticed even outside Norway!”. VG Newspaper, Joachim Rønning.

Micro Interview with Effects Supervisor Magnus Pettersson

What software did you use?
For the water simulations we used mostly Naiad and to some extent Houdini. We did some post processing of meshes in Houdini too and also secondary simulations there like underwater volume/bubbles and all the oceans were also done with Houdini, so the core CG tool for this production was Houdini. We also used Maya+Renderman on some set extension shots.

And what can you tell us about the rendering, what was your pipeline for it? 
We rendered almost all the shots with Mantra. Because of the large data sets we needed to split up some renders into layers and on some shots we had to post process the water meshes to lower the poly-count so the render didn’t eat up all the RAM on our renderfarm.

What was the most challenging in this project?
The biggest technical challenge was without a doubt the “Reef” sequence where we created a variety of water ranging from calmer seas to water crashing against the reef around Raroia. For this production we delivered a total of 55 shots of water, both over and underwater. The most challenging part when we created the digital water for Kon-Tiki was to handle the long simulation times and the huge data the simulations produced. For one version of one simulation patch we could have 1TB of data to process and render.

Did you have to develop new tools for the film?
We developed an ocean toolkit that uses HOT (Houdini ocean toolkit) as a base to be able to create realistic oceans and waves. Our FX trainee, Markus Bruland, did an amazing job at developing it further to add cusps and artists controllable waves. Our shader artist, Hans Joergen Kjaernet, developed new shaders to optimize the rendering times and to get a look of the water that we were happy with. Other than that we mostly used of the shelf software and tools.