Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

When you make a film that everyone will call "that big shark movie," it’s important that the fish be satisfyingly enormous. So the team behind a new film called The Meg brought on a software company that specializes in creatures.

The big picture: Computer-generated imagery has long been a staple of big-budget films, but computer animation is expensive and time consuming. By contrast, the AI-powered system that created the megalodon made it easy to tweak the shark in ways small and large once a model has been created.

The bottom line: Great shark, awful plotting. If you want to watch a good, thoughtful movie about the human condition, you’re looking in the wrong place. The Meg’s shark is cool, and the action scenes are fairly exciting, but the storyline is tired and the dialogue extremely canned.

On the other hand: Who ever went to a shark movie for the dialogue?

The details: After the film was shot, it became clear that the story was going to be changed, and that there would be a lot of back-and-forth with the director about the shark animations, said Mohsen Mousavi, the visual effects supervisor at Scanline, the company behind the movie’s effects.

  • Scanline brought in Ziva, an animation company that specializes in creating virtual characters that move realistically. Its software uses AI to compile a creature model that can be animated quickly and automatically, with the help of some heavy compute power in the form of 2,500 Intel Xeon processors.
  • Consulting anatomy books to understand the properties of a great white shark’s body, the animators created a skeleton and a muscle system, layered it with fat, and wrapped it in sharkskin.
  • Ziva uses a physics engine that models how each of these elements' physical properties interact, so that animators don’t have to make its virtual muscles fire manually.

The biggest challenge was getting across the megalodon’s immensity. It can be difficult to make it clear that the shark is 75 feet long — especially in scenes with no other objects for scale, like a ship or a human.

  • Helping solve that problem, Zeva’s animations reflect the size of the creature: The muscles and fat on a seven-story tall creature will wobble and jiggle much more than a mouse’s musculature.
  • "If we just show the animation without the muscle dynamics, it's really hard to sell the scale," said Michael Smit, Zeva’s chief commercial officer.
  • To test the animation, the team scaled the shark back down to real-life size, and played a 3D animation next to real footage of a great white shark. The crew couldn’t tell the difference, Mousavi said.

In a few shots, the director asked the animators to make the shark as much as one-third bigger, for added effect. But the team had to make sure the muscles and fat behaved just like they did for the default 75-foot shark — otherwise, the physics would scale up with the creature and be inconsistent throughout the movie.

The director's favorite scene: "Zeva is usually used to bring creatures to life," said Smit. But in one scene, the animators did the opposite: They created virtual skin and blood to simulate a dead whale with a giant, fresh shark bite taken out of its side.

Go deeper: Wired digs into the rabid fanbase that for decades kept the dream of making this movie afloat.

Go deeper

Banks cash in as Wall Street blows out Main Street

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America’s big banks capped off a winning year, led by soaring Wall Street-facing business lines.

Why it matters: Banks cashed in on the white-hot IPO market, record debt issuance, and sky-high trading volume — all of which played out as economic peril softened the consumer side of their businesses.

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to attempt "emergency economic relief" by executive order

President Biden. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden will continue his executive action blitz on Friday, issuing two more orders in an attempt to provide immediate relief to struggling families without waiting for Congress.

Why it matters: In his second full day in office, Biden is again resorting to executive actions as he tries to increase payments for nutritional assistance and protect workers' rights during the pandemic.

27 mins ago - Economy & Business

What Biden's EV push could mean for jobs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's swift effort to re-establish stricter fuel efficiency mandates, along with his broader push toward vehicle electrification, is as much about creating new jobs as it is protecting the environment.

Why it matters: The U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world in electric vehicle adoption. Catching up will require big investments in EV production — including battery cell manufacturing and mining of raw materials — to avoid dependence on imports and foreign supply chains.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!