Building a Better Shark: A VFX Breakdown of The Shallows

By  · Published on December 19th, 2016

How they made the real star of Jaume Collect-Serra’s survival thriller.

If you’ve seen Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows, then you know that for most of the movie it’s just Blake Lively and the shark, a massive Carcharodon carcharias, the dreaded great white. While the film’s plot isn’t much different from every other shark movie in existence – person goes in the water, shark’s in the water, person for some reason can’t stop going in/can’t get out of the water, nature runs its course – The Shallows should get some much-deserved credit for its VFX, which are among the best ever seen in the genre.

Said effects came courtesy of Important Looking Pirates, a visual effects and digital animation studio operating out of Stockholm, Sweden, and in the following three-minute video they pull back the curtain on their movie magic. The whole process is revealed here, from shot sculpts to the various tests for such miniscule but imperative details like air bubbles expelled from gills, wrinkles on the shark’s skin, and jaw protrusion, to the various levels of rendering, each inching the computer-generated design towards a verisimilitude that had audiences worldwide shrieking and watching through their fingers.

It’s never easy to make a shark movie, as pretty much every one except Jaws is considered B-level at best. Thanks to an onslaught over the last decade that has seen literally everything thrown at the genre from multiple heads to meteorological assistance, shark movies nowadays are mostly considered campy, schlocky, and narrative bait for beautiful women in bikinis. Fair enough, but if you are going to attempt to make a legitimate, thrilling, theater-worthy shark film, rule number one? The shark’s the star. Everything depends on it, and the more believable it and its actions are, the more those watching are hooked (unlike the schlocky stuff, where less believable and indeed outlandish VFX are the currency). ILP gave The Shallows that believability, and in return audiences made it one of the surprise hits of 2016. This is how they pulled it off.

Warning – SPOILERS.

UPDATE: Because of privacy issues, you’ll need to watch this one on Vimeo, right here.

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