Star of the screen
Kumeu Film Studios — located 25 minutes from central Auckland — is a 27-hectare site including extensive stage, workshop and manufacture spaces, production offices and 12 hectares of forest. The studios also include a covered underwater dive tank and an outdoor ocean surface tank, complete with permanent green screen. The tanks are the only water tanks of this size and type in New Zealand.
The indoor underwater dive tank holds 1.267 million litres of water at a maximum of 33°C and the outdoor ocean surface tank holds 2.5 million litres at a maximum of 32°C. Before US movie giant Warner Bros Studios agreed to develop the upcoming feature film The Meg at Kumeu, it wanted assurance that the underwater dive tank could deliver a blank canvas for filmmakers, which meant the water needed to be as clear as possible. The challenge was to create a healthy water environment for actors, as well as the clear conditions the filmmakers required.
“When shooting underwater shots, we are usually trying to match footage to cut into a sequence that is either shot on a location or a surface tank, on a previous date or to be shot in the future,” said Steve Ingram, Special Effects Designer/Supervisor.
“So, we need to be able to control the ‘underwater atmosphere’ as much as possible,” he said.
The best place to start, he explained, is with crystal clear water, which does not irritate the actors’ eyes or skin.
“The lighting options and available image definition resulting from this water clarity usually deliver a better and more believable end look to the sequences. Post Production VFX work, if required, is usually a lot less complicated when you can remove a variable and often ‘swirling’ atmosphere out of the equation.
“Along with the comfortable water temperature, easy access and multitude of ‘rigging points’ available, we are able to get the best shots possible in a very safe and efficient process,” Ingram said.
The studio opted for Waterco’s Hydroxypure chlorine-free filtration system to preserve acting talent and filming equipment. Producing the same quality of water demanded by high-end hotels all over the world (which the studio says is a major selling point it uses when pitching to producers), Hydroxypure has brought myriad benefits to the cast and crew.
“The actors have commented that the water feels soft on their skin and gentle on their eyes, unlike chlorinated water which causes red eyes,” said Screen Production Attraction Executive Jasmine Millet.
“That is hugely beneficial for actors who need to be consistently underwater for hours at a time without masks. And, unlike chlorinated pools, Hydroxypure doesn’t bleach costumes or deteriorate divers’ wetsuits.
“We haven’t emptied the tank since it was filled.
“A chemist tests the water every week and it has remained clean and healthy with the Hydroxypure treatment system. We haven’t had any instances at all where the water has triggered any concerns from a health and safety perspective,” Millet said.
Water clarity is absolutely critical for underwater filming, in terms of transparency, health and safety, and the ability to control the environment.
“We are now on the radar of major international studios that are looking for facilities with water tanks.
“Thanks to the size of the underwater tank and quality of water, we now have the ability to compete with film and television projects from all over the world. Hydroxypure gives us that ultraclear, pristine water.
“I had two executive producers looking at the tank two days ago and they were completely blown away by the clarity of the water,” Millet said.
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