Monday, July 12, 2010

Tortugas 3D Production Team

Back: John Roark, Brett Seymour, Jon, Adam Sarafian. Middle: Becky Schott, Maryann Keith, Susanna Pershern, Jim Koza. Front: Blue and Janie Douglas

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why 3D?

Dry Tortugas NP  - I guess I have not really explained why I have been so passionate about this 3D technology in these posts. Although I will be the first to admit I enjoy technology, for me its not about jumping on some marketing bandwagon as the term 3D has become. The simple number letter combo has become the latest cash cow for big business which ironically could sink the whole visual experience for the masses, but that is a whole other post. When I first saw what Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory at Woods Hole was doing with 3D several years ago I immediately began to relive my first experiences in the underwater world. Seeing it brought to life on a screen in an immersive visual experience was revolutionary for me as a photographer and filmmaker. This truly is the next best thing to being there. An visceral experience where the viewer engulfed in the submerged world but is not wet, cold or trying to stay alive. Also, these cameras tend to see much better than the human eye with a much wider perspective. To me, this was a personal holy grail as tool to share the underwater experience with the masses who will never be as fortunate to swim in this world for themselves. As I mentioned in previous blogs, this is exactly why I became an underwater photographer and work for the National Park Service. Years ago I saw the direct benefit to the NPS by developing a 3D capability to engage the public to the diversity and spectacular underwater environments in their national parks which have been set aside for the enjoyment and protection of this and future generations. Its not about replacing a personal experience of diving these reefs and wrecks in the Tortugas but engaging and exciting the public to come experience it for themselves. If they cant make the journey, they should not be excluded…we can bring it to them in 3D. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thats a Wrap!

Its kind of a cliché, but after a long filming project where everyone has worked so hard and on the last day, the last dive and even the last shot is one of the most spectacular of the entire production its very rewarding to actually say “that’s a wrap”. Today was phenomenal. We spent the majority of the day on the backside of an island called Loggerhead Key. If you can picture the most remote, uninhabited white sandy beaches with warm tropical water gently lapping the shore and vibrant coral reefs within snorkeling distance, you have only begun to image the beauty of Loggerhead. As Jimmy Buffett one wrote, for years it has been my “One Particular Harbor”

“I know I don't get there often enough but God knows I surely try it's a magic kind of medicine that no doctor could prescribe
But there's this one particular harbor so far but yet so near where I see the days as they fade away, and finally disappear”

After shooting in the coral reefs at Loggerhead we decided to follow up on a lead that Kelly Clark, a friend and fellow photographer who works at Fort Jefferson, gave us about the old coaling docks right next to the fort adjacent to the anchorage. Next to the moat walls surrounding the fort, this is the most popular destination for day trippers on the tourist ferries. With the entire 100 square miles of national park to shoot in, I found it hard to believe that something so close and easy would pay off. Of course, I was wrong. The coaling docks in the afternoon light were a paradise of corals and fish. Schooling bait fish by the millions pulsed in rhythm in front of the cameras creating highways of movement. Large barracudas, attracted by the reflection of the camera port swam within inches. Even the 5ft tarpon and snook, fish that don’t want anything to do with awkward humans underwater, swam gingerly past the cameras as if to pose because they knew how desperately we needed the footage. It was a spectacular day. It was a day in the Tortugas.

At the coaling dock everywhere I pointed the camera Maryann would yell into the diver communications from the boat topside “stop, stop, stop…this looks awesome”. The light was so good, the fish so cooperative and the coral so vibrant we stayed long enough to kill the batteries in the diver communications. Maryann and I were yelling camera moves back and forth to each other from the boat to the coaling docks because the camera monitor had also died. And for only the second time in thousands of dives, I drained my tank of every available breath. Literally when I could not breath anymore, I stood up, pulled my OTS full face mask off and said “that’s a wrap!” And yes, I was smiling!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Money Shot

The WHOI crew left today with most of the gear except for the bare essentials to keep the 3D rigs rolling (which would fill a pickup). The Woods Hole 3D all-star, Marryann also agreed to stay on a couple days. Either she saw the potential of this wonderful place and wanted to capture it in 3D when the sun was out…or she simply had pity for me and the bad weather we have been stuck under until now. Either way, I’m just pleased she is still here and we are still shooting.

We finally got the money shots for the Tortugas part of the documentary on a shipwreck site called the Windjammer. The visibility was better than I have seen in it in years and we were there rolling in the soft afternoon sun to capture it. This particular site is the iconic Tortugas shot. A steel hulled windjammer type vessel called the Avanti that sank in 1907. Because of its structure which spans the sea floor to just above the waters surface, the marine life, both corals and millions of fish, make it the most visited site in the park to those who have boat access. This is the shot I have seen in my minds eye for so long. I have to say, to see it in 3D for the first time was a reminder of my first dive on it 16 years ago. Finally, its only day 11 of a 10 day expedition.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Dry Tortugas NP - Today, the Tortugas finally returned to its hot muggy miserable summer self. I was smiling from ear to ear as I slathered myself in 45 weight sunscreen. Technically this is the last day of the shoot, however I have concocted a plan to keep the 3D cameras and Maryann Keith, the 3D specialist from Woods Hole, hostage through the weekend to pick up a couple more days of shooting. I kept telling the team that all the tape stock we have already burnt under the grey skies was merely scouting for these next couple days. This crew is far experienced to believe a word of it but I don’t care, at least the sun is shining and we are rolling!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Making It Look Good.

John Roark and Maryann Keith from the Woods Hole Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory below deck on our camera/dive boat.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating our Independence at a Civil War Prison…Sort of

Dry Tortugas NP - Today the grayness which has plagued this shoot continued, except we were also blessed with high winds and rain. The perfect mixture if you don’t want to shoot underwater. The production crew attended a small cookout hosted by the Park Service staff that reside and work on the island. There has always been a certain deserted island mentality to working here over the years. If you need it and I have it, its yours. Relying on a sense of community takes on a whole new meaning in the middle of the Gulf. Something that seems to be lacking in the typical US neighborhoods of today.

Here on a tiny rock 90 miles from Cuba surrounded by a very big ocean there were very few reminders of the 4th of July. When your working 12-14hrs a day, every day of the week you tend not to recall what month it is, much less what day. Holidays are something that happen somewhere far away with parades and family cookouts. Even here, I had two very brief reminders of independence. First I thought about how much it would have absolutely sucked to be a be here during Fort Jefferson’s construction or its use as a civil war prison, as a prisoner or guard. Everything I have ever seen about the way of life during that period seemed difficult enough without being cut off from the world in the middle of the ocean wearing wool uniforms. The second salute to the 4th was some random visitor belting out the star spangled banner with an operatic twist from a distant casemate within the fort. Considering the distance from the mainland and how depressing its been not being able to generate good footage, he actually sounded quite good. I guess everything in life is relative.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Traveling Lite

Key West, FL - One of our five pallets of camera gear being loaded onto the MV Fort Jefferson in Key West.

MV Fort Jefferson

Our base of operations, the MV Fort Jefferson docked at Dry Tortugas National Park.

Underwater Wonders 3D - Tortugas

My first production when I graduated from film school was a public service announcement (PSA) with Gene Hackman about shipwreck preservation back in 1994. I was a summer volunteer in the National Park Service’s Volunteer in Parks (VIP) program at Dry Tortugas National Park with the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, or SCRU. I was the project grunt with little responsibility except filling dozens of tanks nightly, holding the dumb end of the tape measure for archeological site maps and photographing the occasional site features. I even managed a small inventory of Nikons IV’s and V’s for the team. Sometime during that field project the SCRU staff photographer/producer came down for a couple weeks to shoot the Hackman PSA’s and a documentary about the park. I spent most of that time trailing behind him carry equipment, being yelled at and trying to act like I knew what I was doing.

Although I have been back to in the Tortugas several times in the past 16 years, this trip is different. This time I am working on my own documentary. I am here directing a talented 3D production team for the second shoot in the Underwater Wonders of the National Park Service which is a 3D film highlighting the spectacular diversity throughout the NPS. The crew consists of my stalwart production assistant Jim Koza, the new photographer with the NPS SRC, Susanna Pershern and a team from the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

From the earliest discussions of production design, the Dry Tortugas were always at the top of the locations list because the phenomenal coral reef environments, shipwrecks and historical Fort Jefferson. Ever since my first summer on this tiny island overshadowed by a fortification of 16 million bricks surrounded by tropical waters, I have wanted to make movies here. In fact, technically, my first NPS production was a type of video diary of spectacular (and often out of focus) underwater footage that I made for my mom (still my biggest fan) when I was here that first summer.

From my first NPS production, to my largest and most ambition to date, the Dry Tortugas have formed a type of bookends framing my career to date. I’m not planning go going anywhere, but its good to be back and tell the story of this underwater paradise through my lens. The fact that it’s a 3D lens makes it that much cooler!