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HomeGearCamera Support-Underwater Update

Camera Support-Underwater Update

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Take a look at movie history and you’ll find that many of the most entertaining films have involved water—lots of it. Titanic, the most successful feature film of all time, comes to mind, but who can forget The Poseidon Adventure, The Perfect Storm or The Abyss?Yet with great results come great challenges, as water-prone filmmakers are faced with lighting sets without electrocuting anyone, making sure actors don’t drown and ensuring all persons involved in underwater work have a proper oxygen flow. Thankfully, numerous businesses in the industry can help filmmakers keep their productions afloat, at prices that will keep them from drowning in red ink.Six companies in Southern California—Hydroflex, Shock Block, Aqua Adventures, Pace Technologies, and American Diving, as well as New York-based Air Sea Land Productions—spoke with Below the Line to spread the word on how to work safely in a sometimes risky business.“We’re a full-service dive shop, but have worked in the capacity of water safety, medic, and special effects for different companies. I’ve even picked up a camera once or twice,” says Steve Dinapoli, owner and manager of American Diving. “I do mostly water safety, with several of us available as in-water lifeguards.”Dinapoli’s team has worked on water-based films like Godzilla, The Perfect Storm, Cast Away, and What Lies Beneath, as well the upcoming Poseidon and the two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. He said he and his staff try to work out the logistics of “how best to remain anonymous and off-camera while providing them with the means of how to keep most comfortable.”Key to his work is the 20-second rule, which means Dinapoli tries to have his people get out of a shot for 20 seconds during close-ups of facial expressions before sending them back in with an air supply for actors and underwater crew. The reason for the timeframe is that actors normally start revealing their own personal anxieties in their faces after 20 seconds, and such appearances can ruin a shot if a character is supposed to look smooth, calm and collected.Dinapoli also notes that his supply of air cylinders is important, as a large production can use up over 100 scuba tanks per day and it takes a crew to rotate those. On-screen talents get to use what is called a hookah—an oxygen regulator with a 50-foot hose that is normally used if on-screen talent is not coming to the surface between takes.While the special needs of filming with water can shock producers by adding millions to the cost of a shoot, there’s no reason for anyone on a film set to be in danger of electrocution. That’s why businesses like Shock Block, which specializes in ground fault interrupters, are key to working with electricity and water.Pete Davidian, a rental agent for the North Hollywood office of the Dallas-based company, notes that monitoring the volts and amps of any electrical source is critical to a production’s success.“In the human protection area, we have SB 100, which is a 120-volt, 100 amp; SB 250, which is a 240 volt, 100 amp; and SB 300, which handles 120 volts to 208 volts,” says Davidian, describing his gear. “We also have a 200-amp, 400-amp and 800-amp three-phase unit.” Davidian improved protective devices to handle more than 20 amps after working on the film Alien Resurrection. “It’s for protecting cable, dimmers, stuff like that. These go to a distribution box or electrical panel, where you plug these in as well as your unit of what you want to protect as well. It reduces electrical shocks to humans.”With 40 years of diving experience and 25 years of teaching how to dive under his belt, Greg Tash is a man who’s seen it all. He’s operated Aqua Adventures from its Burbank location for the past 22 years, and is proud to offer technical, coordinating and training services to productions—areas in which he believes his “water savvy” pays off.While he notes that Sony and Canon seem to be at the forefront of producing cameras for underwater shoots, he says that the newest trend is having full HD filming capabilities below the surface. However, as the diving teacher to stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and William Shatner, he points out the vital importance of ample preparation time—such as the five weeks he had for rehearsals and practising shots and scenes on the forthcoming Wolfgang Petersen thriller Poseidon—as key to everyone’s safety and survival.“True wisdom on a production in water is being given the opportunity to work with individuals, sometimes including stunt people, to do a dry run of what the shot is going to require,” says Tash. “I’ll work with the stunt coordinator in a coordinating role, along with the DP, and we’ll do the shot. There’s safety aspects too, like being out of camera range but close enough to grab talent and bring them to buoyancy on the surface or to make sure they get a flow of compressed air. You can never assume it’s going to be a piece of cake.”Anthony Lenzo, owner of Astoria, NY-based Air Sea Land Productions since 1994 and a diver since 1987, has had some recent experience with complex filming and large water-based crews. As an underwater technician and second underwater operator for Lakeshore Entertainment’s The Cave, he found himself 1,100 feet under the “topside” with a 15-person crew after being brought in by his fellow lensman, Florida-based Wes Skiles.Air Land Sea specializes in single- or multicamera underwater camera integration, and Lenzo particularly recommends the Sony HDC-950 with Amphibico HD housing. Through the use of fiber optics run to the topside, or earth surface, the camera was able to be powered and have its tapes changed topside; there was no need to send the actual camera up and down the 1,100-foot distance.“We saved a lot of time that way and were able to shoot six to seven hours a day; we also used Auga masks to relay communications to the topside, and then back down to the crew,” says Lenzo. “And we used two housings for the Sony HDW F900 and F950 cameras that Amphibico built, with me on board to consult on and test the products.”For his money, Vince Pace of Pace Technologies recommends the Aqua Advantage, a 4:4:4 RGB high-definition system for shooting underwater. He’s been in business since 1988 and as a specialist in underwater, 3D HD, and DP work and has worked on Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, and was Emmy-nominated for the TV film Bismarck.“Diving to the decks of both the Titanic and Bismarck with stereo 3D cameras capturing the first stereo images of the famous wrecks has to be my favorite experience so far,” says Pace. “My father started his machine shop business right next door to the dive shop owned by [underwater film pioneer] Al Giddings. While Giddings was working on The Deep, he asked my father to help build the underwater housings. My dad then traded work for diving lessons for the family and I got the bug.”Yet it is HydroFlex that appears to offer the most services and equipment across the board. Whether creating splash bags to protect cameras that are operating around water without being submerged, housings for submerged cameras of all types and sizes, or renting lighting fixtures and underwater HD cameras, the company has been a key player in manufacturing and rentals for over two decades.“Pete Romano, our owner, has been making housings and splash bags with the HydroFlex name on them since the mid ’80s, and The Abyss put us on the map in ’88,” says HydroFlex general manager Matt Brown. “Before The Abyss, HydroFlex equipment was rented through other companies, but that was one of the first movies we started renting out directly. We also built a bunch of equipment for that film, including a special housing for a 65mm Panavision camera.”The prim
ary camera at that time was the 35-3 Deep Water. HydroFlex has recently worked with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, providing an Arriflex 435 Deep Water housing and an Arriflex 435 Remote AquaCam in combination with the HydroHead. The company also built housings for the 35-3 Deep Water and the HydroHead. All These devices were also used by War of the Worlds and Mission: Impossible 3.“We have nearly 200 Splash Bags for when you’re not going underwater, but in boat work or rain situations and surface splashes,” says Brown. “We develop and evolve them. We take a plastic bag with aluminum framework and protect the camera with a waterproof zipper, and include matte boxes with integral spray deflector systems. There’s also interior air systems to avoid condensation, and we have 20 different configurations for bags and cameras.”As an example, Brown notes that Panavision cameras can use a prime lens, zoom lens, top load or back load magazine, so HydroFlex carries bags for each one of those. It tries to create bags for any situation, including cameras on cranes or in studio mode, or related to the size of the camera, with a perfect example being its work for the Pirates sequels.“We developed a bag for the Arri 235 specifically for [Pirates camera assistant] Trevor Loomis. But we’ve rented it to other productions too, including [Clint Eastwood’s next directorial effort] Flags of Our Fathers,” says Brown. “I worked very hard with [1st AC] Brad Peterman to develop bags for Poseidon,” which housed the Steadicam and a Panavision XL, as well as 435 Deep Waters and Remote AquaCams.”As more productions turn to HD technology, including this summer’s Superman Returns, the race to keep up continues. That film is using a Sony F950 for its underwater shots along with Hydroflex’s housing unit custom-designed just for that camera.But Brown and the HydroFlex crew also relish the challenges of lighting. They’ve used more than 1,000 HydroFlo lighting fixtures to provide softer fluorescent lighting on the latest Harry Potter film to help it achieve the softer look that was essential to the picture’s extensive blue-screen work at London’s Pinewood Studios.“We’ve always tried to respond to camera assistants and DPs’ needs. We listen closely to the market. That’s how splash bags came about,” says Brown. “We really tried to make all the toys that are available above water, available underwater. The best way to improve the equipment is to listen to those who use it out there.”

Written by Carl Kozlowski

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