The Abyss (1989)

The Abyss (1989)


First photorealistic fluid morphing, first rereleased film with new CGI elements

The Abyss
Original Poster

Video (4K) - First photorealistic fluid morphing

Video (HD) (First rereleased film with new CGI elements) - added CGI Wave scene

CGI making of video


1) ILM  designed a program to produce surface waves of differing sizes and kinetic properties for the film water creature - pseudopod, including reflection, refraction and a morphing sequence. Although short, this successful blend of CGI and live action is widely considered a milestone in setting the direction for further future development in the field.

2) For the moment where it mimics Bud and Lindsey's faces, Ed Harris had eight of his facial expressions scanned while twelve of Mastrantonio's were scanned via software used to create computer-generated sculptures. The set was photographed from every angle and digitally recreated so that the pseudopod could be accurately composited into the live-action footage. The company spent six months to create 75 seconds of computer graphics needed for the creature. The film was to have opened on July 4, 1989, but its release was delayed for more than a month by production and special effects problems

3) The scene with the water tentacle coming up through the moon pool was written so that it could be removed without interfering with the story, because no one knew how the effect would come out. The actors were interacting with a length of heater hose being held up by the crewmen. When the effects were completed, though, they exceeded everyone's expectations and wildest hopes, paving the way for increased use of computer-generated special effects in films. 

3) The animated water effects would be put to use in James Cameron's next film Terminator 2, to create the liquid Terminator, the T-1000. 

4) Special edition of the film (added CGI effects) - Even as the film was in the first weeks of its 1989 theatrical release, rumors were circulating of a wave sequence missing from the film's end. As chronicled in the 1993 LaserDisc Special Edition release and later in the 2000 DVD, the pressure to cut the film's running time stemmed from both distribution concerns and Industrial Light & Magic's then inability to complete the required sequences. From the distributor's perspective, the looming three-hour length limited the number of times the film could be shown each day, assuming that audiences would be willing to sit through the entire film, though 1990's Dances with Wolves would shatter both industry-held notions. Further, test audience screenings revealed a surprisingly mixed reaction to the sequences as they appeared in their unfinished form; in post-screening surveys, they dominated both the "Scenes I liked most" and "Scenes I liked least" fields. Contrary to speculation, studio meddling was not the cause of the shortened length; Cameron held final cut as long as the film met a running time of roughly two hours and 15 minutes. He later noted, "Ironically, the studio brass were horrified when I said I was cutting the wave." With the tremendous success of Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, Lightstorm Entertainment secured a five-year, $500 million financing deal with 20th Century Fox for films produced, directed or written by Cameron.The contract allocated roughly $500,000 of the amount to complete The Abyss. ILM was commissioned to finish the work they had started three years earlier, with many of the same people who had worked on it originally. The CGI tools developed for Terminator 2 allowed ILM to complete the rumored tidal wave sequence, as well as correcting flaws in rendering for all their other work done for the film. The tidal wave sequence had originally been designed by ILM as a physical effect, using a plastic wave, but Cameron was dissatisfied with the end result, and the sequence was scrapped. By the time Cameron was ready to revisit The Abyss, ILM's CGI prowess had finally progressed to an appropriate level, and the wave was rendered as a CGI effect. (second rereleased film with new CGI elements was thew first Star Wars film in 1997).