Deep-sea rig puts lensers beside 'Dolphins'

Viewers of an upcoming Imax RideFilm will find themselves cruising ocean depths at unprecedented speed, thanks to a new submersible camera rig developed by underwater photography innovator Graham Hawkes.

“Dolphins: The Ride,” slated to open at aquariums and other museum-type venues this summer, is the first production to utilize a rig called Wet Flight. The vehicle, which transports the camera and “Dolphins” cinematographer Bob Talbot, moves at a speed of about 7 knots — which inventor Hawkes said translates to around 8 mph. That may not sound like breakneck speed, but Hawkes said the footage lensed by a cinematographer looks like it was shot from an airplane moving at 300 mph.

Hawkes has developed a number of submersible photography rigs, but this one, said execs at New Wave International, the company that created and developed the project, gives cameramen more flexibility than ever before. “Dolphins” producer Charlotte Huggins said she and her crew “talked to every marine specialist and ended up with Graham, the only person who could build this rig.”

Model sub

Hawkes built a model sub that’s being lensed as part of the story in Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Sphere.” Equipment from Hawkes’ Northern California company, Hawkes Ocean Technologies, was used in the 1981 James Bond installment, “For Your Eyes Only.”

Since that time, Hawkes’ underwater gear has been used to lense footage for NBC, Canal Plus and National Geographic. Hawkes said he’s open to re-establishing his credentials in the feature film world, something exec producer Huggins believes shouldn’t be a problem.

The underwater shots on “Dolphins,” she said, are the fastest ever lensed.

“We changed the nature of underwater filming with this rig,” Huggins maintained. “We’re recreating the movement and agility of a dolphin on this project. It allows audience members to become participants instead of observers. It’s like being in a videogame, but it’s real.”

Huggins said the film’s overall budget is about $1 million, putting it on the high end of ride simulation films.

“It’s an expensive film to make because of the complexity of shooting underwater,” she explained.

“When Charlotte came to me with this project,” lenser Talbot said, “I realized the key is to make the camera move as fast as possible in water.”

No more drag

What’s prevented inventors from developing a high-speed rig is “a whole lot of drag,” says Talbot. To overcome that, “you need a small hydrodynamic vehicle with the juice necessary to propel you through water.”

Talbot, who specializes in marine photography, has lensed features including “Free Willy 2” and “Flipper.”

Huggins says Wet Flight was tested off the shore of Catalina Island in Southern California. The actual footage for “Dolphins” will be shot off Honduras.

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