SOUL SURFER is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion. The film, directed by Sean McNamara, features an all-star cast including AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood and Dennis Quaid. Amazing surfing, moving performances and photoreal effects all contribute to this inspirational film experience.
Bethany Hamilton’s transformation from shark attack victim to top surfing pro makes her nothing short of a real life superhero. But for the story to translate to a film’s retelling, audiences have to accept AnnaSophia’s physical loss as real. To accomplish this challenge, Director Sean McNamara turned to longtime collaborator VFX Supervisor Dan Schmit and Engine Room to lead what would ultimately become 750 intensive effects shots.
“Dan and I have collaborated for many years and have a shorthand that was key to this complex undertaking,” says Director McNamara. “His team was integral to making this inspirational story of a true champion. They solved all of the visual puzzles beautifully.”
Dan and Engine Room EP Michael Caplan provided on set VFX supervision in Hawaii, returning to the Hollywood studio to oversee their core creative team and offsite artist group of highly vetted remote individuals. Working closely with artists from all over the US and as far away as Macedonia, Engine Room tapped expert effects practitioners best suited for each shot including the hundreds of arm removals, torso and background replacements, surfboard color changes, face replacements and more.
Engine Room’s in house artist team, headed by Compositing Supervisors Eric Heavens, Dave Piedra, Paddy Culham and Mary Dowd, tackled the most challenging shots and engineered solutions for the technical challenges inherent in shooting water scenes with moving cameras, multiple surfers and a prosthetic-clad lead. VFX editors Adam Simpson and Ian Shulman kept the massive show organized and the filmmakers constantly up to date with temp effects shots for screenings throughout a long six month editing process.
“To gloriously overcome her disability required amazing reserves of discipline, strength and courage; the fact that they were summoned by a thirteen year-old is truly inspirational,” says Dan Schmit. “We are proud help Sean and his team portray such an incredible example of triumph.”