Water filming challenges for Aquaman and The Little Mermaid?
Upcoming films like Aquaman and two live-action versions of The Little Mermaid face many challenges filming extended sequences in underwater locations.
Superhero Aquaman (pictured) is a big part of the plans from Warner Bros. and DC to compete with Marvel. The water-dwelling character made a brief cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will also appear in next year’s Justice League before getting his own standalone movie in 2018.
Elsewhere, two separate live-action versions of classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid are being planned, nearly 30 years after Disney’s acclaimed 1989 animated adaptation.
These films will be built around characters who live in distinctive underwater worlds, but the physical challenges this presents for production could result in stories that swiftly move the narrative onto land.
Aquaman’s fleeting cameo in Batman v Superman was filmed in the pool of a Scuba training centre. Social media reveals that some of the character’s scenes in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Justice League have already been shot in a water tank facility lined in green for visual effects purposes, a method that could carry over to his standalone movie.
Michael John Meehan is a location manager and supervising location manager who has worked extensively with water on films such as The Perfect Storm, Poseidon and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (pictured below). He tells KFTV that he would expect to see a mix of underwater filming in water tanks and visual effects being used for movies like Aquaman and The Little Mermaid.
Meehan’s first major experience of working with water was on the set of Dustin Hoffman’s sci-fi drama Sphere in 1998, a film set largely on a deep-sea research base at the bottom of the Pacific.
Made in the days before cost-effective visual effects, the actors were in water for much of the shoot, but Meehan also points out the effect the water had on the sets.
“There is the challenge of building sets in water and keeping them from being eaten alive by the chlorine, and also [keeping] the water clear for the camera and the divers,” Meehan tells KFTV.
“I have done this on several films and if it is only a day or two you can sneak by. If the sets are underwater for weeks on end, it is a challenge I don’t care to face again. I learned more about water chemistry and environmental regulations than I ever dreamed of.”
Water and undersea environments are now being convincingly recreated for animated features – most recently for Finding Dory – but the methodology for live-action filmmaking is less certain.
Director James Cameron’s approach to underwater environments for his Avatar sequels helps reveal the state of the art, as he is renowned for developing game-changing technology to help advance the filmmaking form.
Parts of the new Avatar movies will be set in the oceans of the alien planet Pandora, but Cameron and his team have suggested that while they can create water as a visual effect, they’ll be focussing their efforts on using performance capture techniques in a water tank facility.
Cameron has extensive experience working with water, having shot both 1989’s The Abyss and then later Titanic (pictured above) in giant purpose-built water tanks. However, the two films had infamously challenging shoots that have served as warnings to Hollywood ever since.
In the years to come, it is likely that water tanks will remain the tool of choice while filmmakers use visual effects advancements to create the details of their underwater worlds. It will be interesting to see how Aquaman and live-action versions of The Little Mermaid will make it work for them.
Aquaman image: Warner Bros. Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides image: Walt Disney Pictures. Titanic image: Paramount Pictures