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James Cameron’s epic Mariana Trench dive to be the subject of 3D documentary

James Cameron Deepsea ChallengerMovie director James Cameron has returned from his historic dive down into the Mariana Trench — Earth’s deepest known underwater point. Cameron’s solo trip was made possible using an Australian-built submarine named Deepsea Challenger, and the project has been sponsored by among others, The National Geographic Foundation and the filmmaker himself.

The Mariana Trench is more than six miles deep and 1,580 miles long. Only one other manned mission to explore it has been made, back in 1960, by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and US Navy Captain Don Walsh, who joined Cameron’s team of engineers aboard the support ship this weekend.

Squeezing into a cockpit measuring 43-inches wide, although the sub itself is 24-feet long, Cameron began his two-and-a-half hour descent early Monday morning, and explored the ocean floor for three hours before beginning his 70-minute ascent back to the surface.

He brought with him a variety of samples and a lot of film, as along with an array of scientific equipment, the Deepsea Challenger was kitted out with cameras and lighting rigs.

An underwater movie studio

Deepsea Challenger Submarine

James Cameron, a veteran of more than 70 dives using a submersible, is no stranger to filming underwater, having shot not only The Abyss (albeit in a very large tank) but also documentaries on the Bismarck and the Titanic.

The Deepsea Challenger was equipped with a Red Epic 5K 3D camera with a wide-angle lens, and it ran for almost the entire duration of the dive. The Red Epic was supported by four, custom-built, high-definition cameras, plus two boom-mounted cameras, one of which also captured 3D images.

One of the most vocal advocates of 3D technology, Cameron believes that not only will his film be visually impressive for theater audiences, but the use of the stereoscopic imagery will help scientists “determine the scale and distance” of the objects and creatures he encountered.

The on-board systems provided Mr. Cameron with enough control over the cameras and the sub’s huge 2.5-meter LED light tower to “direct” as he went along. A “cruise control” mode made shooting smooth tracking shots along the ocean floor far easier too.

Future dives and documentaries

Following the success of the dive, there’s every chance the Deepsea Challenger will make several return journeys, including one with a fiber-optic umbilical cord, so scientists will be able to study live images sent back from the sub.

James Cameron is expected to make at least one documentary film based on his incredible dive, although no release date has been stated, and there is also a rumor some of the footage shot in the Mariana Trench will make it into the sequel to Avatar, currently set for a 2016 release.