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Filmmakers Turn To Innovative Technology
"The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.”  Jacques Yves Cousteau

Perrin and Cluzaud set out to achieve famed oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau's ideal of "becoming the fish,” going beyond mere spectacle and immersing the audience in a strange new world. The filmmakers' ambitious demands necessitated finding methods that would allow them to break down the barriers between audience and subject to foster a strong emotional connection. Ironically, their artistic goals would lead them to develop groundbreaking new technologies for use both underwater and at the surface. After consulting with specialists in the animal world, as well as pioneers in aquatic cinematography, Perrin and Cluzaud worked with an armada of experts to develop or modify innovative technologies that achieved the cinematic quality and maneuverability required to realize their vision.

Equipping camera operators with rebreathers made it possible to approach even the shyest sea creatures with minimal disruption. Developed for military use, rebreathers recycle exhaled air, eliminating the trail of bubbles left by conventional scuba gear.

"One of the other challenges was how to film the animals close up without disturbing their natural behavior,” says Don Hahn, executive producer for Disneynature. "The idea was to go in and leave as small a footprint as possible.”

To capture the feeling of swimming alongside a school of tuna, cameras were mounted in "torpedoes” drawn by boats. Known as "Jonas,” the torpedo housed a camera lens and sensor in its nosecone. It could be towed behind a boat by a fiberoptic cable and "swim” along with schools of dolphins or fish traveling at full speed. "The challenge was getting stable high-quality imagery at high speeds, not mediocre footage,” says Perrin. "It took two years of hydrodynamic calculations and trial and error to create.”

Thetys, a unique device designed and built by engineers Jacques-Fernand Perrin and Alexander Bügel, allowed the camera operators to maintain a level horizon as the boats carrying them raced through the waves.

Filmmakers also used a camera that fixed onto a pole and tied along the vessel's hull to film lateral traveling shots. In one exhilarating sequence, the camera slides along the water at top speed, in the midst of a pod of leaping spinner dolphins.

In addition to the conventional helicopters used for aerial and storm shots, the filmmakers brought in a tiny, remote-controlled helicopter nicknamed "Birdyfly.” Outfitted with a wide-angle lens, Birdyfly was nimble and quiet enough to discreetly film the most skittish whales without alarming them. A marine scooter served the same purpose in underwater settings. A custom-made "mid-air/mid-water” machine filmed both above and below the surface, making it ideal for following a seal swimming with its head above water.

The filmmakers leveraged the differing strengths of both 35mm film and digital cameras. Film provided more nuanced visuals, but digital storage technology afforded them more time underwater: 48 minutes as opposed to a maximum of six minutes with film. They elected to use digital cameras for the underwater shoots, and had watertight, hydrodynamic boxes custom-built to protect them. Created by the Swiss company Subspace Technology, the housings have now become the standard for underwater photography. External and aerial shots used conventional 35mm film.

A soundtrack for the ocean was built layer upon layer, including bird calls, whale songs and the violent thrashing of an ocean storm, as well as underwater sounds. "The more oceanographers research the ocean, the more they understand how much communication is going on,” says Hahn. "That becomes especially true with mammals. We worked with Skywalker Ranch on the sound design to make it as scientifically accurate a

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