About The Production
"Underwater" was filmed in New Orleans across three soundstages and a few
exterior sets, but the hurdles the
production faced were significant. "One of the most difficult aspects of this
production was that a majority of
the story had our characters traversing the ocean floor," says producer Jenno
Topping. "This meant we had to
figure out how to realistically convey that the characters were "Underwater".
To do this, we used a combination
of visual effects, placing the actors in water, and utilizing technology that
we created specifically for the shoot."
Director William Eubank worked closely with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and
production designer Naaman
Marshall to shape immersive environments that would help transport the actors
into the confining spaces in
which the story unfolds. Complicating matters for Marshall, most of the Kepler
sets-the hallways, the suit
rooms, the control rooms, the barracks quarters-had to be designed to shake or
to be flooded or to be set on
fire, and then they often needed to be completely redesigned, repainted and
restructured to function as suit
rooms for Roebuck, the decommissioned station that offers a last chance at
survival for the beleaguered crew. It
was important that both the Kepler and the Roebuck sets looked weathered and
worn, as though they had been
miles beneath the ocean for years.
Marshall describes the film's visual aesthetic as "future past," while
producer Tonia Davis adds, "Visually, there
are elements reminiscent of sci-fi , heavy metal and anarchy. The look and feel
of the movie were meant to
be utilitarian, lived in, a little punk rock, a little bit futuristic."
Marshall also wanted to amplify the sense of
claustrophobia and confined spaces by building sets with very low ceilings. "I
even put insulation on the walls
just to even bring it in further," he says. "It was all about not having these
big, vast spaces."
"Underwater"'s dynamic opening sequence quickly sets the tone for the film
in both pacing and style. Norah is
first glimpsed inside the crew locker room before disaster strikes-things are
eerily quiet, and there's a sense
of danger close by. "The locker room was really important for me to have a space
which, when we open up the
film in it, you don't know where you're at," says Marshall. "I liked the idea
that you could be in a locker room at
a high school or a college, or you could be in some sort of corporate building,
just playing with the muted colors
and opening on Norah in that environment."
Once the Kepler facility is breached and water comes rushing through, the
audience quickly has a chance to
understand the massive scale of the mining operation, which was designed to be
able to believably house
between 30 and 60 people, with crew quarters, a cafeteria and a command center
that serves as the control
"The control room started out as this really claustrophobic space that we
wanted super cramped, lots of
monitors," Marshall says. "I think we had over sixty monitors in the set, and
the set was no bigger than, you
know, 16' x 20'. We had super-low ceilings, and we put in a light box that
everybody could congregate around. It
was that moment where we actually meet everybody in the same room. We get to
know the characters within
The sets also were constructed and painted in such a way to accommodate a
"dry-for-wet" approach to filming.
Dry-for-wet, which was also used on such recent films as Guillermo del Toro's
Academy Awardâ€“winning period
fantasy "The Shape of Water" and the astronaut drama "Lucy in the Sky," sees the
production film scenes that
are meant to take place in water on dry stages rather than, say, filming the
action in enormous tanks. During
filming, specialized lighting effects help create the illusion of a
full-scale aquatic environment on soundstages,
which can be flooded with fog to enhance the effect. The actors (or their
stunt doubles) perform movements on
wires or in harnesses to appear as though they are floating.
In post-production, state-of-the-art visual effects are used to create the
appearance of the scenes unfolding
entirely "Underwater" with digital waves, bubbles and particulate matter.
"We're shooting a movie at the bottom
of the ocean, but we're not really at the bottom of an ocean, so we're using a
lot of technologies to get there,
both low-tech and high-tech-visual effects, digital effects, special effects,"
Eubank says. "Basically, if you can
think of it, we're probably using it to some degree."
For the scenes in which characters go from dry environments (like the
interior of the rig) to, say, the ocean floor,
the production team built a transitional wet-for-wet environment, constructing tanks that could hold tens of
thousands of gallons of water. One set known as the "moon pool" was rigged with
elevators on top of the tanks,
allowing the actors to be submerged into the water for specific shots. "It's a
room designed to take you from a
dry environment to the bottom of the ocean," Marshall says. "You go down this
elevator in a pressure chamber
and then, by the time you get to the bottom, the doors open up and you're able
to go out on the bottom of the
Throughout, lighting was critical. Cinematographer Bazelli and his crew
controlled the light and shadows seen
on the set remotely, adjusting every detail as needed. "Bojan was able to build
an atmosphere and a mood that
would both enhance the film, enhance the adrenaline and the performances," says
The dry-for-wet approach also greatly impacted the way the actors moved in
certain sequences and the way
that stunts were performed. Stunt coordinator Mark Rayner was responsible for
designing the rigging and other
devices designed to emulate the gravitational force and pull of walking
"Underwater". "When I first read the
script, I was super excited because there's a ton of action," says Rayner.
"When Will said we were going to shoot
a lot of it dry-for-wet, I was a little surprised. Stunt coordinating, you're
usually looking to do things with tons of
energy, tons of speed, but in this instance, trying to stage action
"Underwater", I was like, wow, we're going to
have to slow everything down, and that's going to be the challenge."
"Initially, we were going to have the actors wear knee and elbow braces to
slow down their movements to
replicate being "Underwater"," Rayner continues, "but once we got in the suit,
it was pretty authentic, just
naturally heavy and slow. Without any visual effects, when you watched the
monitors, it looked like they were
"Underwater" without any help there. We all had a love-hate relationship with
the suits. They look authentic,
but they were definitely a challenge for everyone, even the stunt performers.
It was tough hanging up on a wire
and waiting for camera or lighting and having a hundred pounds hanging off
your body and then, you know,
getting snatched through the air."
The Poseidon dive suits that the crew members wear when they are outside of
the pressurized environment of
the stations were designed and created by award-winning Legacy effects with
the understanding that they would
be dry in some scenes and submerged in water in others. "We were keeping an eye
to keeping them as light and
mobile as possible," says Legacy key mechanical designer Richard Landon of the
suits. "But we also had to make
them in such a way to where they could be fully immersed in actual water, and
then still be able to operate and
not pick up water."
That presented a challenge, as lighter-weight materials such as foamed
polyurethane or foam rubber absorb
water the same way sponges do. Landon and his team came up with a kind of
rigid-shell construction, like
an exoskeleton, inspired by various hard-shell spacesuits used by NASA. The
Legacy team made hard-plastic
versions of the suits using 3D printers; molds were made of the individual
pieces of the suits, and the costumes
were made using those molds. There were essentially two sizes-one for men, a
smaller version for women-
although each costume was tailored to suit the actors' bodies.
A total of nine suits were produced-one for each of the principal actors,
with stunt suits for Stewart and
Henwick and one extra utility stunt suit for the male cast members. The suits,
which weighed between 65 and
100 pounds, could withstand being submerged in water and strung up from the
ceiling. To help the cast shoulder
the weight, backpack-style supports were built into the interiors of the
costumes, and shoulder pads, straps and
harnesses also helped distribute the weight more evenly.
"I had a hundred pounds on my back every day," Stewart says. "I couldn't go
two steps without breaking a sweat.
It was so physical. But there were moments of this story that you couldn't
achieve without feeling as raw and
nervy as this environment made us feel, and so there that was something I
actually looked forward to. There
was no way to fake that. I didn't want to hyperventilate and pretend to look
afraid. I looked at it as a challenge."
"The first day that I put one on, my first thought was, I'm not going to be
able to finish the movie-I can't do
this," adds Smith actor John Gallagher, Jr. "Then we realized that we were all
feeling that way, and we had to
figure out ways to tough it out. There was a lot of improvisation on set, just
figuring out how we were going to
muscle through wearing these things. But then you see a shot on the monitor, you
see Kristen Stewart treading
through the water in this thing, and it looks so amazing. It's so striking that
you think, Okay, I have to tough it out
because if it looks that cool, then it's going to be worth it."
To illuminate the actors, the suits were wired with multiple lines of
circuitry, with six different channels of lighting
inside the helmet: two "cheek lights," two "brow lights" and one referred to as
the visor that had lights on both
the left and right sides. The suits also had small electronic displays on the
backs designed to look like oxygen/
CO2 percentage monitors.
The lights allowed the filmmakers to add subtle visual cues to scenes. "If
they wanted to add a little bit of green
if the water's murky, or add a little bit of red to make the scene look more
intense, they could," Landon says.
"And there are a couple of scenes where they have to turn all their lights off
because the bad guy's coming and
they're on the ocean floor."
For the sequences in which they come face-to-face with the creatures of the
deep and are forced to fight,
special wearable railguns were designed, which property master Ed Borasch, Jr.
describes as "a staple gun on
hyper-steroids. All of the departments have figured out ways to contribute that
basically just makes this crew
Following the wrap of principal photography in New Orleans, Eubank and visual
effects supervisor Blair Clark
began a lengthy and intensive process in Los Angeles working with top visual effects house MPC (Moving Picture
Company), which has produced award-winning work on such film as "The Jungle
Book," "Life of Pi" and "Harry
Po er and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." The visual effects team needed to
make it appear as though all the action
takes place "Underwater", whether it's ensuring that the movement of the water
itself is realistic or keeping the
characters' movements consistent with the motion of the body at that incredible
MPC also brought the film's terrifying creatures to life. The Clinger is
based on both squid and barnacles and
is fast-moving, grotesque and predatory, while the translucent Ghost, inspired
by a jellyfish, is more ethereal.
Finally, the enormous Behemoth, unseen until the film's dramatic end
sequences, combines elements of both
designs to become the ultimate sea monster.
"The Behemoth is essentially a nest or a host for hundreds and hundreds of
Clingers," says associate producer
Jared Purrington, who also served as a storyboard artist on "Underwater" and
who previously worked with
Eubank on his film "The Signal." "Because the thing is so massive, they attach
themselves. The Behemoth is like
ground zero for where this stuff is coming from. He's so big, he's an ecosystem
Adds producer Davis: "The creatures are the villains of our movie. There's no
making a movie like this unless you
are completely in love with-and I mean totally grossed out by-the monsters. So,
for us, how and when we
reveal the monsters is built on that notion of what is the most terrifying
thing at any moment. It's been a very
deliberate process of when do we mete out exactly what information."
The creatures are not only terrifying to behold, they also add to the larger
thematic weight of "Underwater".
"There's an element in the film that is a little bit about this theme that's
been kicking around for a long time, the
hubris of man and the feeling that we can just go and explore any part of nature
without any consequence," says
Gallagher, Jr. "These people are in a sense drilling too deep and going too far
and turning over all these stones.
There's no telling like what you might find down there."
"It's a gripping thriller about the repercussions of taking things that don't
belong to you because we are tapping
our Earth to a diminishing extent," offers Stewart of the film. "It's an action survival story about a group of people
who really don't know each other, but at the end of the day are connected by way
of just being human."
Concludes Eubank: "This movie has a lot of twists and turns and surprises around
every corner. Hopefully, we
blow people away."
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