Modeling Wind Generated Ocean Waves in Computer Graphics

by Komal Sethi and Larry Cutler

Ocean Waves

Ocean waves are a natural phenomenon that has always been able to produce breathtaking and beautiful scenes of nature. Pictures of waves, large crashing ones in particular, can often produce spectacular results. This wonderous beauty combined with the awesome destructive power of waves has prompted much study of waves and their behavior. Engineers have written volumes on the physical behavior of waves specifying in mathematical detail their behavior. At the same time photographers and artists have also paid much attention to waves. For this reason waves are of particular interest to computer graphics, as they provide a space in which one can combine the physical modeling of waves with the rendering abilities of computer graphics to generate images of waves through computer graphics.


For our project we decided to model ocean waves crashing on the shore. Here are some of our some of our goals:


In order to model the complex nature of waves we started with a physical model based on parametric equations that describe the surface of the waves. For a description of our modeling process go to our implementation page.


In order to design scenes of waves and quickly visualize our model we implemented an Open Inventor application in which we could quickly see what different types of waves look like. This interface allowed us to modulate parameters relating to each of the effects we had added to the waves. Allowing us for example to turn off variation or increase the amount of foam and spray generated.


To finally bring our model of ocean waves to life, or a sickly existence at least, we used Softimage's stand alone ray-tracer Mental Ray, complete with it's fabulous documentation. A discussion of our rendering methods is available.


Komal Sethi (
Larry Cutler (