In the movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004), there is a city (much like a modern day city) and during a natural disaster; there is a Tsunami that crashed through the city, destroyed buildings, killed many people on the run, overturned cars etc.

I believe it may be some form of CGI, but I am not sure because buildings and stuff are being destroyed by it. So I am not sure.

  • 12
    Ask yourself - what is the alternative to this being CGI?
    – iandotkelly
    Sep 14, 2017 at 23:58
  • 11
    @iandotkelly Miniatures and a flood tank. It's likely to be a mix of the two.
    – Tim
    Sep 15, 2017 at 2:09
  • 17
    The fact that entire buildings are being destroyed led you to think that it might not be CGI? wat Sep 15, 2017 at 11:34
  • 7
    @iandotkelly Hire a bunch of disposable actors?
    – user55752
    Sep 15, 2017 at 13:57
  • 1
    "there is a city (much like a modern day city)" — I haven't seen the movie in a while, but isn't that New York City? A mere thirteen years ago?
    – jwodder
    Sep 15, 2017 at 20:24

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure how they did it exactly. But I can guess how they probably did it: with 3 kinds of shots.

The first kind of shot is entirely CGI:

enter image description here

The second kind of shot is actors on a controlled set, running through water, climbing over submerged cars, etc:

enter image description here

And the third kind of shot is actors on a controlled set, but with CGI water behind them and occasionally covering over them:

enter image description here

If you look at the whole sequence shot by shot, you'll see that each of the shots fits into one of these three categories. That even applies to the ones inside the library; when the water crashes through the windows, it looks very real, but I bet that the actors were just standing in front of a green screen and everything behind them (the interior walls and windows as well as the water) was added in months later by a computer artist.

  • 1
    Do you remember the Tsunami scene from Deep Impact? I used to think that it was so awesome, but after watching it quite a few times more recently, there were a lot of details that were just bizarre. One thing I remembered was an old man sitting in the park just reading the newspaper like it's not a big deal and then he gets completely wiped out by the wave. So...you knew that this thing was coming for over a year and you're going to sit in the park reading the paper right when it hits. LOL. Sep 15, 2017 at 15:50
  • 8
    @steelersquirrel - climate denial is REAL!!!! :-) Sep 15, 2017 at 18:21

I'll add to BrettFromLA's answer, elaborating on how the virtual worlds, in this case cities and buildings, are made.

VFX in movies. To get a computer generated frame for your movie, you need a 3D model of the scene you want to have and a piece of software that will visualize/"render" the scene. I'll only talk about the 3D models.

3D models. The 3D models can be modelled manually or (semi-)automatically. Typically, you get a mixture of both approaches, e.g. a character's face would be modelled manually by an artist, but the hair will be generated semi-automatically, with the artist setting the hair density, type, and others, the modelling software then generating the hair, and the artist then in turn styling/brushing the hair as needed. Ideally, the artist retain the required artistic control while having the software do all of the hard work (imagine modelling thousands of hairs).

In a similar fashion, one can semi-automatically create and then manually adjust trees and plants, terrains, flowing water, buildings, cities, or other. Typically, the process is called Procedural Modelling (you model something using a pre-defined algorithm/procedure). The software packages available for these different domains differ, as do the controls and parameters available to the artist.

Buildings and Cities. For cities, the goal is to have the computer generate a city layout and a large number of buildings in a similar style or set of styles. The one piece of software that I know that can do this is CityEngine.

I'd say that for a movie, the city layout is typically hand-made, as the area covered and the shots don't warrant the use of an procedural algorithm. However, if an algorithm were to be used, it would typically start from a point and grow streets and major roads in one or more patterns (e.g. Manhattan grid or more unstructured, old European city center style, city radials/belt roads).

Buildings are generated from a set of rules that tell CityEngine how to generate the structure/composition of your building. For example, one would start with a building foot-print, which would get extruded to get a 3D object (say a cube). The rules would then ask CityEngine to split this cube into the roof and the vertical walls. For each of them, the artist would write a further rule, for example to split each wall into floors, each floor into windows and non-windows, and so on, until they have the building's structure down. Then, they'd instruct CityEngine to use a 3D model or a texture/image for each piece of the wall that was generated. There are some more visual examples in CityEngine's documentation.

While I cannot say what software was used for The Day After Tomorrow (2004), I know CityEngine was used for Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), as per this YouTube video, which contains more details.

Tsunami. - For the water/tsunami, I'd wager a fluid simulation of some sort was used. Jos Stam is a good starting point for the more curious.

Papers.. I'll list three relevant papers, if anyone is super-courious. These are all fairly old and probably not state-of-the art anymore, but you can look up other, newer papers that cited them on Google Scholar.

Disclosure: I was an intern at the company that develops CityEngine a couple of years ago.

  • 13
    In general, you shouldn't post comments as answers, period. However, this is basically it's own answer, so please expand it into one!
    – anon
    Sep 15, 2017 at 16:21
  • 2
    This interesting video on Youtube could be gone tomorrow. Sep 16, 2017 at 14:18

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