Adrift is based on the true story of two avid sailors who set out on a journey across the ocean in 1983. Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp didn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins, and must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved.

Cinesite created 64 invisible visual effects for this survival drama, produced by STX Entertainment and directed by Baltasar Kormákur.  Cinesite’s VFX Supervisor was Salvador Zalvidea.  The work encompassed the creation of CG oceans, CG birds and fish, sky enhancements and stitching multiple plates together.

Creating realistic expanses of open ocean was a key challenge. In one particular shot the camera pulls back across a windswept open ocean, we follow a lone dove as it flies past us revealing the Hazana, a 40ft luxury yacht, with Tami, the hero of the story standing on deck as the Hazana cuts through the wind battered ocean. Throughout the shot the ocean is a fully cg simulation, featuring a highly detailed water surface, with breaking waves, spray and surface/subsurface foam. The dove is a fully cg Barbary dove, built with a specific wet-feather look to match the trained bird used on-set in close-ups seen later in the sequence. The yacht was filmed against greenscreen, dry for wet, with no on-set spray or interactive elements for this shot.

The boat was mounted on a gimbal which generated basic overall movements for the yacht. However, due to limitations to the physical speed and reach of the onset camera crane, a new cg camera move needed to be built. Further CG simulated effects were added to increase the realism, such as splashes and spray to the impact of the Hazana bow, and minute particles of water in the air as the camera tracks across the water.

After weeks at sea, one night our hero Tami is awoken by a rumbling sound. Surrounded by fog, sleep deprived and malnourished, she is astonished to see a gigantic container ship appear out of the fog. She fires a series of distress flares in an attempt to attract attention.

This sequence was a great challenge due to the limitations of what could actually be shot on set. The Hazana was again shot dry for wet against green screen, with slight movements given to the yacht by a gimbal rig. Dump tanks allowed for splashes to be dumped onto the set and allowed this water to interact with the Hazana itself and the actors on deck. However, the ocean, cargo ship, fog and sky were entirely cg – essentially everything except for the yacht and actors.

In another sequence, Tami is diving underwater to try and catch mahi-mahi fish.  Reference pictures and videos were used to achieve realistic fish movement with the CG fish, as well as the way scales on the mahi-mahi react to light with a beautiful, natural iridescent pattern.

Another long and beautiful shot from an early sequence in the film, the gorge jump, shows the couple jumping excitedly from a cliff edge into a river at the bottom of a gorge in one continuous movement as the camera follows their motion.  The team stitched three separate plates together, which had been filmed with two different cameras and lenses, hiding the subtle lens shifts and matching the look of one camera.

Cinesite’s team completed work on Adrift over a nine-month period, from Summer 2017.

  • Release date: 1st June 2018
  • Studio: STX Entertainment
  • Director: Baltasar Kormákur