Disney's film 'Moana' was released in November, but not before going through one and a half years of research into 3D water.
CGI water is nothing new for the visual effects industry. It has been used for many films before for both realistic examples such as tsunami's as well as more cartoonised animations.
The ocean in Moana needed to be different though. It is a character in itself, helping Moana on her journey. Giving water anthropomorphic qualities was no doubt going to be a difficullt task.
'The Atlantic' have a great piece going into lots of detail about research and development for the film. They also managed to talk with several artists from Disney to get there insight on what did and didn't work. Read it here.