INTERVIEW: Under the Sea 3D – IMAX
By Tony Sheppard
Last week, I sat down with producing partners Howard and Michelle Hall and asked them a few questions about their new film "Under the Sea 3D," shooting underwater with huge IMAX equipment, and global climate change. Howard previously directed "Deep Sea" and "Into the Deep 3D."
The film is both entertaining and educational – was there a specific demographic you had in mind?
HH: The most important demographic would be kids – these films play to schools and school groups – but we also want to make the films enjoyable for adults and as many people as possible.
Some of the background music, like the song that plays during the mating ritual of the cuttlefish, seemed like it might appeal more to adults.
MH: Doris Day! I think that was the genius of our editor that she came up with that cue … it's just a perfect match for that sequence. And then of course you have "Octopus's Garden" which adults will remember and kids may pick up on as well, so it's just universal.
Can you describe the nature of the equipment you were using?
The camera uses 70mm film, the largest film size in the world and larger even than Hollywood style 70mm film. It's a massive negative [Note: It is 10x the area of a 35mm frame as it also runs horizontally] and when you shoot in 3D you're shooting with two cameras simultaneously, one for each eye. The camera is loaded with 2,000 feet of film and that goes through the camera in three minutes. The cameras in the underwater housing weigh 1,300 pounds – it's a real beast – 3 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet.
Like shooting a film with a camera the size of a washing machine that's half the weight of a Mini Cooper!
MH: And I could climb inside of it – we often joked about being sure we didn't trap the producer inside.
Is there a temptation when shooting to seek out the shots that will look best in 3D – are you always hoping things will swim towards you?
HH: It's not a temptation, it's a mandate. Everything that is shot in 3D was chosen to work well with the story and also to look good in 3D. There aren't many shots of dolphins and whales … the 3D works best when the subject is within arm's reach.
I think the highlight for me was the sea snakes – I kept having to remind myself that they weren't really in my lap.
MH: (Laughs) There was a boy [in the audience] with one of those glow-in-the-dark rings, and he was holding it so it looked as though the snakes were going through the ring.
One of the recurring themes in the film is climate change and habitat loss – but you do make a special point that there have been many rounds of climate change in the history of the planet. What is it about this period that is different from those previous times?
HH: Well, certainly part of it is that we're influencing the climate change – we're obviously affecting it and making it worse. It's argumentative whether we're actually causing it or not, but it doesn't really matter – the climate change that is happening now is going to be really bad for us. The planet's not going to be bothered by it, there will be different fish and different birds and different mammals, but we're designed to live on this planet within a fairly narrow range of conditions and if those change, we're in trouble. The other thing that is happening, which is a very direct affect caused by humans, is called ocean acidification – where the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide going into the sea water is actually affecting the ocean chemistry and that's a great concern.
But if people want to be concerned, they should be concerned about what it's going to do to us because it's not as if we're just going to move and change the agricultural regions where we grow our foods. It could be very serious for people and for food resources on a worldwide level – it's a big concern for us, not just for the animals.
So for those who say it would happen anyway, the answer is that it wouldn't happen as quickly and even the species that could adapt to gradual change can't necessarily adapt to rapid change.
HH: Exactly. But the other thing is that the ocean acidification is something we're entirely responsible for. If you think of all the animals in the ocean that use calcium carbonate, from the coral reefs, to all the mollusks, to a pretty measurable part of the plankton layer – if all of those were to disappear because they can't make calcium carbonate anymore, that would be catastrophic and it would be something we were directly responsible for. And reducing carbon dioxide levels is the only way we're going to prevent that. That may not entirely mitigate climate change but it can stop ocean acidification, and that's a good enough reason to do it.
For more information about the film, including behind the scenes footage, visit www.imax.com/underthesea – and it's well worth checking out the online videos. (Opens February 13th)