Pearl Harbor follows the story of two best friends, Rafe and Danny, and their love lives as they go off to join the war.
The focus of ILM’s work for this film was on the creation of panoramic battle scenes that tied together computer graphics, miniatures, and practical effects with first-unit footage. These scenes were unlike many of the fantasy-oriented projects ILM was used to dealing with because Pearl Harbor called for a seamless blend of visual effects with a familiar historical reality. The resultant scenes contained thousands of elements. The complexity of any one shot was equal to the work that would typically go into 10 isolated event shots.
A “sailor management” tool was created to help insert computer-generated people developed from motion-capture performances. Wherever a sailor was missing in a frame, the VFX artists would use this tool to select an actor and an appropriate uniform to put the CG character right where they needed to be. By the end of the development of this sequence, not even Michael Bay could tell the difference between the real and CG sailors.
Part of recreating such an important historical event is accurately depicting reality. ILM researched the movement of aircrafts and ships in reference footage so they could create models of real battleships and CG airplanes from the World War II era. When it came time to film the battle scenes, ILM utilized advances in dynamic simulation techniques to realistically portray airplane crashes and other explosions at sea.