July 1, 2010
By Melody Uy
Off the west coast of Mexico,David Reichert waits withother cinematographers todive and film the elusive blue whalefor the movie Oceans. Aided by ateam of scientists from Cascadia,the crew had been lying in waitfor six weeks. Finally, baleen whaleenters the survey area – the waitinghas paid off. Using a customized SonyHDW-F900/3, Reichert shoots closeand wide as the blue whale lungesat schools of krill, ballooning toalmost twice its size before thewater is squeezed out through itsbaleen plates. It was the first timesuch a scene had been captured on film. “There was a feeling of elation,”Reichert said in an interview withAsia Image. “This was a once-in-alifetimeexperience for us.” Part nature documentary andpart “wildlife opera”, Oceans isa look into the human footprinton wildlife. It was a labor of lovefor co-directors Jacques Perrinand Jacques Cluzaud, who hadpreviously collaborated on WingedMigrants. The film took seven years to make,four of which were spent filmingin 50 locations all over the world,most of it underwater. “Four years shooting led us to veryspecific places in our planet thatone could classify in two widecategories: those where life appearsto express itself as it has donefor thousands, if not millions, ofyears and those where obviouslythe natural order has seriously changed,” said Cluzaud. Right from the start, the Perrinand Cluzaud decided instead of acut-and-dried documentary, Oceanswas going to be something else.“Oceans was not going to attemptto explain behaviour, would not giveinformation about the species, norsearch to teach. [It would serve] toarouse our feelings,” said Cluzaud. This decision took the team towaters from the Arctic to Antarctic,from protected locales such as theGalápagos Islands to the coasts of South Australia. “We had all accepted to sail into the unknown, convinced that this film would draw its strength not through a forced march but in a quest that would lead us to a revelation, a renewed view and way of listening to this world we knew to be mysterious,” said Nicolas Mauvernay, one of the producers of the film. The crew’s adventure ended up in500 hours of raw footage. It tookthe post-production team an entireyear to cut, add the effects, gradeand score the final 103-minute fi lm.Reichert was one of the nineunderwater cinematographers whojoined the Oceans crew. “One ofthe things Jacques (Perrin) saidwas, ‘I want our audience to bea fish among fishes, to be able tomove and swim and be in oceanlike a fish or be down like a crabat the bottom of the ocean, bemoving like a crab with a crab’seye view of the world down there.’”Reichert said. To accomplish this,the film’s underwater directors of photography used modifi ed camerasand custom-built gear. Three Sony cameras were used forthe 75 diving expeditions it tookto film the underwater scenes forOceans – the HDW-F900/3, HDC950 and F23. Sony France workedwith director of photographyPhilippe Ros and Galatee to designa special HyperGamma for filmingOceans, with an enhanced dynamicrange, capable of reconstitutingall the shades of blue in thesubmarine universe. It includeddual 5 digital process controls – 2x 5 position encoders to selectfive user gamma settings and 5details for compatibility with 4Kpost production. It also came withcolorimetry settings and controlsoftware. The modifications were done withthe help of Christian Mourier fromConsultimage and Olivier Garciafrom HDSystems. However, there was still the problem of handling all that gearunderwater. The directors wantedto be able to track both underwaterand surface movements of themarine creatures, whatever theirspeed and their acrobatics. “Thechallenge was to combine qualityand manoeuvrability, said StephaneDurand, the scientific advisor forOceans. “we had to reduce size andweight to the minimum.” “We had to reduce size andweight to the minimum.”The team approached Jean-ClaudeProtta from the Swiss companySubspace Pictures, who helpedthe crew build a watertight,hydrodynamic box to contain themodified digital camera. The cameracan be fixed into the box, as well asinside torpedoes drawn at top speedbehind a boat to accompany tunaand dolphins, preceding them. “We also built a ‘mid-air mid-water’machine which can film both aboveand below the surface, ideal forfollowing a seal swimming with itshead above water,” said Durand.Finally the camera was attached toa submarine scooter. For topside shots, which used theARRI 435, it was the methods offilming, the machinery, that wastruly original. Apart from theusual helicopters, they also useda mini helicopter BIRDFLY, remotecontrolled by Fred Jacquemin.Silent and minute, it can discreetlyapproach the largest cetaceanswhen they are on the surface. According to Durand, to allow thecamera to slide along the water attop speed, in the midst of a pod ofleaping dolphins, the camera wasgyro-stabilised and fixed on the end of a crane installed on a zodiac. This is the ‘Thetys’ designed andbuilt by Jacques Fernand Perrin andAlexander Bùgel. The gear keeps thehorizon straight while racing andleaping among the waves. “Finally, we also travelled in a dropof ocean by way of a digital cameraequipped with an original turntablethat allowed extremely small, gentlemovements,” Durand added. “It’s missile technology is what itis,” Reichert said of Thetys.For the night shots, Philippe Ros supervised the special lighting used for the underwater shoots. “A lot of that stuff was done in New Caledonia, in Australia,” Reichert said. “They built this gigantic barge, with thousands and thousands of specialty lighting that would move like moonlight. They actually have dolly systems and track systems that could put that lens right down there with the sea creatures in the bottom of the ocean to get those smooth tracks where we crawled around the bottom with them.” Oceans captures the “intimate moments” of over 80 species in what director Jacques Perrin calls “a hymn to the sea.” From the spider crab mating scene shot in South Australia reminiscent of the Gladiator opening battle scene, to the hatchling Galapagos Green Turtles making their way into the sea amidst the kamikaze feeding frenzy of Great Frigate Birds, the juxtaposition with a shot of seals swimming in oil spills and a walk walkthrough in the extinct species section of a museum, the film underscores that “the ocean is in peril,” and “the balance of nature we thought was immutable has been transformed”. However, the natural history of thespecies concealed in the depthsof the seas still make a wonderfulliving story, and an unforgettableexperience for those involved inmaking the film. Going to the Canadian Arctic tofilm a mother walrus and its calfturned out to be one of the mostmemorable moments for Reichert.“I remember when I went in thewater, I was very very nervous.”Reichert said. “I was probably about30 meters away, and I startedmoving closer to get the picture.But she didn’t see me, and shestarted swimming towards me. Ithought, okay, this is gonna get oneof two ways – I was either going toget smashed by this walrus, or I’mgoing to get a good picture.” As Reichert approached the pair hecould see the mother walrus helpingits newborn calf through the water.Then the mother turned and spottedthe cinematographer. “Instead ofattacking or panicking, she tookher flipper and she just grabbedher baby and cuddled him with herflippers and turned him around. Andthat was a pretty amazing momentfor me.” Building on the Jacques Cousteautradition of ocean exploration,Oceans takes advantage of moderntechnology to deliver a visuallystunning peek into the marineecosystem. Four years of patientfi lming has resulted in rare footagesof fauna in places rarely visitedby fi zzlmmakers and scientists,such as the extreme west of theGalapagos Islands, on the headlandof Fernandina Island, and the smallisland of Coburg in the northernArctic, where even most Inuitguides had never set foot.“It was mainly in these small,remote places in the world thatthe shots of the fi lm Océans werefi lmed… with the hope that this isnot the refl ection of a past diversitybut of tenacious life, alwaysrenewable, wild and free,” said Cluzaud.