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UNDERWATER

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 room.

"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 that moment."

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 Award–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 ocean."

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 Davis.

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 "Underwater" bad-asses."

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 depth.

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 unto himself."

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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