Exploring The Sea

Jean-Jacques Mantello gets ready for a dive.

To achieve their goal, they designed their own underwater housing to hold the two video cameras necessary for 3D. “The first one was very big, about 300 pounds, like a small sub,” explains Mantello. “The problem was you needed a crane on the boat to get it in and out of the water. You can’t approach certain animals with such a big boat, and it’s dangerous for people and the housing in a rough sea.”

Over the past seven years, they’ve reduced the housing size and stripped down the cameras to where the rig is now only 150 pounds. “We can put the rig in and out of water with two people from a Zodiac,” says Mantello. “So we can now approach wary animals, like whales and sharks, where we must move very fast into the water to meet them.”

This lighter rig enabled the Mantello brothers to create their newest release, OceanWorld 3D, which showcases the full range of underwater life. The Mantellos take viewers on an adventure through California kelp forests, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Roca Partida Island off the coast of Mexico, which is home to thousands of sharks.

They shoot their features with Sony HDW-F900 HDCAM cameras in 24p, and also Sony 750s. They’re considering using RED ONE cameras for future projects, but are concerned about heat buildup inside the housing. “When we get out from underwater with the 900s, we can cook eggs on the cameras,” says Mantello. “The Sony cameras have proven themselves to be extremely reliable, working in high humidity on the boat and extreme heat in the camera housing. We’ve never had any problems with them.” Reliability is very important when your location is several days from the nearest port.

On some expeditions, the Mantello brothers like to keep their crews to a minimum of two divers so no one will get in front of the lens.

The filmmakers used Canon HD and Fujinon lenses, without modification except for adding remote controls from outside the housing for iris and focus control. With some housings, they also can adjust the interaxial and convergence between the two cameras.

The only filtration they used was UV for underwater shooting, and generally they go with natural light, as well. This results in the actual colors seen by divers, rather than the enhanced reds seen in most underwater films that use artificial lighting. “For big animals like whales, lights will scare them, and they’re so big, we would need huge lights,” explains Mantello. “Fortunately, whales are usually close to the surface, so natural light is all we need.” They do use underwater HMIs for deeper shots, and when shooting at night.

They keep the underwater crew to a minimum. “On some expeditions, we will only have two crewmembers in the water,” he says. “We try to be as few as possible, so no one gets in front of the lens. Even if we say 10 times, ‘Stay behind the camera,’ as animals swim around, the camera turns to follow, and you always seem to have someone in the frame, or their bubbles.”

With a two-person crew, one handles the camera and one holds the lights. “When we have four, we would have, again, one person with lights, another with the camera, and the others are for security,” reveals Mantello. “When shooting around sharks, you concentrate with what’s in front of you, so you need to have someone take care of your back. We always shoot with no cages, and even though we know sharks very well—they’re usually not dangerous to humans—we must always use caution.”