Most coverage of James Cameron’s history-making solo dive to the deepest spot in the oceans focused on his role as explorer, as if the undertaking was separate from his filmmaking efforts.
In a way, that undercuts full appreciation of Cameron’s achievement, because throughout prep for the dive and testing of the Deepsea Challenger submersible, which he co-designed, he never stopped being a working filmmaker.
Cameron, who is “explorer-in-residence” for the National Geographic Society, not only shot 3D footage of the Challenger Deep for a documentary, he continued to approve footage for the 3D conversion of “Titanic” during his prep for the voyage.
The stereoscopic images he shot of the deep ocean floor are valuable for science as well as moviemaking, Cameron said in an interview on the National Geographic website, because they can be used to determine the size and distance of objects in the frame.
Cameron called the depths he visited “very lunar, very desolate,” adding, “I felt like I literally in the space of one day have gone to another planet and come back.”
Preparations for the dive began seven years ago, and Cameron has been in Australia full-time since December, even as preparation for “Titanic’s” re-release was moving ahead full bore on other continents.
In short, work on “Titanic” had to come to him. Geoff Burdick, head of post for Lightstorm, Cameron’s production company, contacted DVS, which manufactures high-end post tech. DVS’s plant in Germany was able to custom-build a Clipster system, which let Cameron view and edit footage in any file format — including digital cinema packages, which aren’t typically used for post, but are small enough to fit on a thumb drive and have high-end encryption for security.
Building a Clipster normally takes weeks, but the DVS plant in Germany was able to build one in days and ship it to Fox Australia, where it was installed for Cameron’s use.
“That’s one of the challenges we have dealing with A-list clients,” says Daniel Germain, head of pre-sales at DVS. “When they decide to do something, they want it done very, very quickly.
The original camera negatives were scanned at 4K and restored, then put through digital intermediate instead of the photochemical color timing used on the original release — all this in addition to the 3D conversion, which entailed some digital adjustments to the footage. Cameron had to approve everything.
“We had to have something in place that would enable us to just take all of these shots in quantity, to review them with Jim,” Burdick says. “Jim is very hands-on.”
As “Titanic” producer Jon Landau puts it: “Jim is an explorer. He explores in his movies. He’s an explorer in his life. We’re never going to change that.”