How to film movies underwater? – Movie Stories – Movie Stories | Episode Movies

With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the coming Avatar: The Way of Water Both shoot extensively underwater, it seems wet filming is the new dry. But how does filmmaker do it, and with modern special effects technology, why even bother to take the plunge?


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Anyone who’s tried drying a phone in a bowl of rice knows that submerging sensitive technology in water rarely ends well. And yet for almost as long as we’ve been making film cameras, we’ve been trying to point them at things underwater. It’s also quite difficult as it sounds. Aside from the obvious technical issues, shooting in the wet is usually a logistical nightmare, and an expensive one at that.

How do these crazy cats do it?

Well, the first problem with filming underwater is that cameras are inevitably just crammed with electricity, which doesn’t work so well in humid environments. They must be tight against high pressure and remain operable with a diving mask even in poor light conditions.

The first filmmakers to circumvent this problem were the Williamson brothers, who pioneered the first commercial use of underwater film with a silent film adaptation of Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea all the way back to 1916. Your innovation? A large metal tube with a house at the end or, to use the technical term, a “photosphere”.

This tube hung on the side of a barge, then a cameraman had to climb down into a 5ft observation chamber and film. It sounds like a lot of effort, but the footage of tropical fish and divers walking the seabed is pretty stunning for something that was taken over 100 years ago.


The Williamsons Photosphere in action (Source: public domain)

The next proper water theater wouldn’t see the light of day until 1954 (be nice, it was busy), when Walt Disney Studios happened to be Also adapted Verne’s masterpiece for the big screen in their first live-action film. There’s a fantastic behind-the-scenes documentary of this film on YouTube, but long story short, it wasn’t the easiest image to shoot. By this point, camera technology had advanced enough for the crew to use fairly standard-looking gear (with a bunch of extra housing and waterproofing, of course). Technical aspects aside, the crew still had to contend with moray eels, sharks, experimental scuba equipment and, bizarrely, a lack of sunlight at their location in the Bahamas.

It’s hard enough filming underwater when the cast is wearing wet suits, but while acquiring gills through a genetic mutation is fairly convenient for a character in a movie, it turns the entire filming process into a nightmare. Even today, actors overwhelmingly prefer lungs, and they tend to be a bit valuable if they can breathe, thank you.

There’s a reason Water world accidentally became the highest-priced film of all time upon its release in 1995, and it wasn’t to persuade Kevin Costner to drink his own pee. With hurricane warnings, wrecked sets and Costner’s stunt double nearly lost at sea, filming on Water was dangerous enough, let alone under it. And that was before the film’s stunt coordinator, Norman Howell, suffered from compression sickness from the film’s few underwater shots and had to be taken to a hospital in Honolulu for a few days.

Water world

Kevin and Jeanne just heard that it’s time to film the underwater scenes

With Water world‘s notoriously choppy production, it’s a wonder anyone has suggested filming underwater since. But even if everything goes according to plan, photographing in the wet is no easy task. The fourth part of the Potter franchise, Goblet of Firewas considered almost unfilmable before Mike Nichols took over directing, not least because of the extended underwater sequence in the middle.

Perhaps because a Scottish lake looks a lot less inviting than the Hawaiian coast, the Potter producers chose not to immerse their young cast in an actual lake and instead built a lovely indoor lake for them to use. But huge, purpose-built pools don’t come cheap, and at sixty square meters and holding up to two million liters (the largest of its kind in Europe), this one was more expensive than most.

And that’s before you even start spinning the thing. In a recent interview with GQ, Daniel Radcliffe revealed that while filming task two, the crew produced an average of seven seconds of usable footage each day, stopping constantly to troubleshoot technical issues or administer that bane of fast filmmaking, oxygen.

Why bother? It all seems a bit fishy, ​​doesn’t it? And since modern CGI is getting pretty sophisticated (it’s amazing what they can do with computers these days), who can blame a movie like James Wan’s Aquaman for giving up the underwater camera body for a blue screen and a squid playing drums?

Well, the results seem to speak for themselves. Although it came out in 2005, something like Goblet of Fire holds up impressively well by fusing underwater photography with CGI. And it’s no coincidence that Ryan is Coogler’s latest Black Panther Flick apparently broke Marvel’s line of dodgy special effects by filming its underwater sequences in an aquarium. 1954 20,000 miles and 1995s Water worldstill look incredible, even without much of the processing power of later films.

Which brings us straight to modern day and James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water.

From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like much of the film will take place where it’s wetter (Zoe Saldana recently revealed that she held her breath for almost five minutes to get the water scenes right ). Last but not least, Cameron seems to be flexing his VFX muscles again by tackling a water-based film, and the combination of CG with a real tank of water is arguably a key element of that.

So what’s the takeaway? I suppose the most important thing is that filming underwater is pretty darn difficult. But maybe that’s one of the reasons filmmakers keep coming back to it. It’s the ‘how the hell did they do that?’ Effect, the same thrill we get when we see Tom Cruise strap himself into a jet or throw himself off a cliff.

If it’s not too grandiose, we could paraphrase JFK here: We don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they’re tough. And sometimes wet.

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