Part Two: Case Study - Jungle Cruise
Priyanca Rajput speaks to underwater director of photography, Ian Seabrook, about filming a climactic underwater sequence in Disney’s Jungle Cruise, starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson
Disney’s $200m live-action fantasy adventure Jungle Cruise was released simultaneously in cinemas and digitally on Disney+ in July last year. It was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Black Adam) from a screenplay by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa (Focus), and Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) and is based on Walt Disney's theme park attraction in California.
Blunt plays Lily Houghton, a researcher who teams up with Johnson’s Frank Wolff (skipper), to locate a mystical tree in the Amazon that holds the power to heal. But their mission is hampered when they are pursued by evil entities seeking immortality.
During a climactic sequence in the film’s final act, both Lily and Frank are tasked with diving off their boat to solve a Mayan puzzle piece beneath a waterfall. The entire sequence was shot in two parts (on surface and below surface) at Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, while the rest of the production filmed in Hawaii, explains Seabrook. The entire sequence took just under a month to shoot including prep.
“There was an exterior tank set where the cast jump off the boat and land in the water, which was also used for more some of the river sets with boats and current that was 7-8ft deep in one section. Then for the underwater sequence, we shot in a self-contained tank that was in a stage adjacent to the exterior of the jungle set,“ Ian Seabrook explains.
On the set of Jungle Cruise. Credit: Frank Masi, Disney
Johnson and Blunt did a lot of the underwater stunts, but doubles were also used due to scheduling because a lot of the filming was running concurrently with the main unit. Johnson had his own go-to stuntmen that accompanied him, while stuntwoman Lauren Shaw stepped in for Blunt, who previously worked with the star on A Quiet Place II.
“Shaw did some of the work and some shots that aren't Blunt’s face - where her head is forward or is an overhead shot, that was at times Lauren doing that,” he reveals. “Sometimes because [Blunt’s] availability was unknown, we would shoot with [Shaw] and then that way if Blunt became available, we would redo it.
The team behind the sequence comprised of Seabrook himself, who singularly supervised and coordinated the cast underwater, while on surface, he had one assistant to assemble the camera housing and pull focus. For extra security, stunt coordinator Allan Poppleton deployed some of his own safety divers and monitored the activity from the surface.
Seabrook also explained that the set inside the tank monopolised most of the space, so there wasn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre. “The set filled up most of the tank - it was roughly 18 feet deep by 72 feet diameters.”
The underwater DoP added he always strives to use the same camera and lens package that the main unit is using. In the case of Jungle Cruise, though, he also used his own personal custom-made underwater equipment.
One scene using this equipment stands out as being particularly tough to manage. “There was a point in the sequence where Lily deciphers the puzzle through a combination of manipulating the dials, which then makes it rise out of the water.”
The idea, Seabrook explains, was to have the camera rise at the same time as the set is being lifted out of the water: “The initial plan was to bolt the camera housing to the side of the set so that it's all attached but because of the set construction there was not anywhere logical to attach, so I basically just said I’ll hold on to the camera housing myself and we'll see how that works and that's exactly what we did.
“You take in an 80-100lbs camera housing and then hold it underwater where it’s slightly negative and then the set is pulled out of the water using construction cranes and you’ve got the force of all that water pulling down on you so it becomes triple the weight that you're trying to hold. I had to hold the housing as the water drained, and the set was lifted, and then I had to continue holding the housing while the set was suspended because the shot doesn't just end there.
He adds: “With Emily's character, she had to be in a submerged set that you can ultimately get out of, but there’s an overhead brace so it's not easy to swim straight out.
Blunt, however, was “fine”, as was Johnson, said Seabrook. “The pair of them were both really good in the water and it was a great job to work on.”
Homepage image of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in Disney's Jungle Cruise