James Cameron's Titanic Expedition
What We Saw On and Inside the Wreck
by Ken Marschall
Copyright © 2001, Ken Marschall
Created on a Macintosh at 800 x 600 screen resolution
A special thanks
On September 29, 2001, I returned from a nearly seven-week-long expedition to Titanic with James Cameron and his team from Earthship Productions, a long-anticipated follow-up to his first exploration in 1995. As before, he utilized the Russian research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh and its two deep submersibles Mir 1 and Mir 2. The goal: to get high-definition digital 3D video of the exterior of the bow and stern sections and debris field, illuminated from above by a maneuverable lighting platform called Medusa, and to employ two new, state-of-the-art mini ROVs for deep interior exploration far exceeding that of any earlier attempt. In addition, small "lipstick" cameras specially mounted inside each submersible recorded the interior drama, and outside Mir 2, a high-quality Osprey video camera would supplement Cameron's 3D photography.
The HD 3D system is brand new and cutting edge, developed by Cameron, Sony, and Panavision, and adapted by Pace Technologies. It is of such high resolution that it can be transferred to large-format 70mm film and actually look like film, I am told. The lighting platform Medusa, manufactured by Phoenix Engineering, provided a high-altitude diffuse light source designed to illuminate a wider area of the wreck than ever before, bathing it in an eerie "moonlight." Suspended on miles of tether from the vessel M.T. Eas, Medusa is an ROV itself and has its own controllable color camera capable of zooming in on targets below. The two mini ROVs, engineered by Michael Cameron and his team at Dark Matter and dubbed Jake and Elwood, are about the size of the proverbial bread box and are bright blue and lime green, respectively. They each have dual-beam offset lights and are capable of high-quality video. They were not designed for still photography. The high-definition and other video will be seen in the 45-minute large-format documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, to be released in late 2002. In addition, a 90-minute video and DVD are being considered for home distribution following the film.
Having put on 3D glasses and watched the footage aboard Keldysh only hours after it was taken, I can say with confidence that the film will be absolutely jaw dropping, no doubt of it. Cameron himself exclaimed after his first dive this year that he got more good shots in the first hour down there than during the whole month he was out there in '95! The high-definition video is truly breathtaking. The way Cameron illuminated the wreck.... Well, you can imagine. As he says, "Lighting is everything." I'll bet many people won't believe some of the scenes are real. They'll swear they were staged, carefully lighted, special-effects-miniature sequences left over from Digital Domain's work on the movie TITANIC. The 3D is so dramatic, so evident, even with objects far from the camera. Yet the distance between the two camera lenses is only 2.75 inches, the same as human eyes. The result is an awesome view of Titanic exactly as one really would see it far better, actually, than the limited glimpse one gets from the subs' small viewports.
With all the various cameras combined, some 900 hours of video were shot over the course of the expedition. Ed Marsh, Cameron's capable editor, who has been cutting and archiving the footage from the moment it was retrieved from the cameras, has a very long road ahead of him. It was Ed, by the way, who won the contest to name the ROVs with his suggestion of Jake and Elwood (aka the Blues Brothers).
Twelve tandem dives were planned and carried out with Mir 1 and Mir 2, a total of 24. The ROVs were used on many of these. Elwood suffered technical problems after the first dive or two, and it fell to Jake to carry out further ROV penetrations, which it did flawlessly. It was generally felt that despite a very aggressive schedule and all those weeks in close quarters, the team got along well. They were a great bunch of very talented people, real team players. Cameron told us at the end that of all the films he has worked on, he felt that this crew was the most dedicated.
My main jobs on board were wreck and artifact identification, assisting with dive planning and, as it evolved, guiding the pilot of Mir 2 in lighting the exact spots of the ship, often through portholes, where the ROVs were exploring inside. I brought a stack of binders full of archival images and numerous plans. While at sea, I created three "maps" of the bow section (overhead, port, and starboard), each with a lettered and numbered grid to allow the Mir, Medusa, and Keldysh teams to coordinate with each other. I also made a fourth grid map, this one of the stern.
I participated in one third of the dives; i.e., four of the twelve. On each of them, I was in Mir 2 and had Evgeny "Genya" Cherniev as pilot. He assisted in the designing and building of the Mirs in the late 1980s and is an expert pilot. My fellow submariners on my four dives were Lewis Abernathy, who played the character Lewis Bodine in the movie TITANIC; Don Lynch; and, on the last two dives, Mike Cameron.
I was down on the bow section with Don on September 11. Upon our recovery around 9 p.m. we emerged jubilant from a successful dive to rescue one of the ROVs, Elwood, from deep inside Titanic's Reception Room. Jake had once again performed like a champ. Our joy and triumph were instantly shattered when members of our team rushed forward to tell us of the horrific nightmare that had been visited upon us that day in New York and Washington, D.C. There was disbelief, then tears, hugs...and rage. No accident or act of nature, this disaster was something deliberately engineered by thinking people no, monsters many of them, over a long period of time. Calculated, coldly premeditated. I was, and continue to be, so angry I can hardly express it.
After the terrorist attack, the Russian crew were very supportive. The director of the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (Russian Academy of Sciences), which operates Keldysh, wasted no time faxing us a moving letter of condolence. Sergey Kudriashov, the ship's resident videographer whom I had come to know and like, hugged me and said, "We one people, you and me. Be strong."
You can imagine how isolated and lonely we felt out there at that moment. For all we knew, it was the beginning of a third world war. We all ached to be home with loved ones; yet at the same time, we knew we were safest where we were. Many satellite phone calls were made and options considered. We immediately headed back to St. John's, Newfoundland but, in the end, with flights grounded, especially international ones we'd be flying home from Canada it was decided to carry on with the mission. I'm glad we did. Four more successful dives followed before we finally left the Titanic site on September 24.
Parks Stephenson and Bill Sauder had met with Cameron before the expedition. Parks supplied much reference material about the Marconi equipment and where to look for interior evidence that Titanic may have actually grounded on the iceberg. Bill offered engine and boiler room details and guidance on other many other mechanical aspects of the ship as he had a few years earlier on the movie. Each was scheduled to join the expedition, but a last-minute shortage of berths stopped them from boarding a plane. There wasn't a bunk on Keldysh or Eas to be had, and everyone on board filled a specific need. Many on the team were doing the jobs of two people. Parks and Bill will be called on in post-production to interpret the video obtained.
What follows is a description of what I saw on and inside Titanic during this trip, either personally from Mir 2 or on video. It is rather forensic in nature, not a day-by-day account. I originally hammered out a few observations, intending on simply e-mailing them from Keldysh to a few friends. After about four weeks out there, my write-up had turned into a 10-page treatise, and I decided it might be worth posting on the Web for those interested. Then terrorists decided to slaughter a few thousand innocent Americans, and it became difficult to borrow a computer to continue adding to the report as each dive was completed. After my return home, it seemed one thing after another conspired to keep me from finishing it. For those who have been waiting for this account, I apologize for the long delay in finishing it and thank you all for your patience.
Thanks go to Parks Stephenson for offering the use of his server space and translating my words and selected pictures into Web-friendly language. Bill Sauder read through the draft and fine tuned the technical descriptions. Eric Sauder and Kathy Savadel deserve thanks, as well, for proofreading and providing comments on my report. I am grateful to the credited photographers and institutions for the use of their photos. Without Ed Marsh's early encouragement, this project wouldn't be as comprehensive as it has turned out to be. Most of all, I thank Jim Cameron, who has read these detailed comments and graciously given me his blessing to post them. I worried that I might be stealing his thunder, not saving any surprises for the release of his film. But, descriptive though I may be, mere words can't compare with the imagery he brought back.
For this report the reader is assumed to have a general familiarity with Titanic's layout and the wreck's appearance. As a rule, I won't describe details of the wreck that were known prior to this latest visit, instead focusing more on new developments and surprises. Please bear in mind that the following was, in many cases, written after a single viewing of video aboard Keldysh months ago. More details will surely be discovered in the imagery upon further study. I will update and/or correct this report as we review the footage again in the coming weeks and months. Also, watch for new or additional pictures to perhaps be included here over time.
Historical and other reference photos of many of the spaces or objects being discussed, or similar examples thereof, can be seen throughout this report by clicking on the underlined/colored word or phrase. Because of the dearth of photographs of Titanic's interior, pictures of Olympic's identical rooms and fittings are substituted when necessary. Because of the nature of this report the non-profit dissemination of knowledge I am hoping that owners of images will be forgiving of their use. Sources, where known, are all given proper credit. Watermarks have been applied to protect selected images not scanned from recently published materials. If, however, any owner or publisher is offended, the picture will be promptly removed and an alternate substituted if possible.
References and page numbers are provided on the images scanned from publications. The source from which the scan is taken is given on the picture itself. If the original owner of the photo is known, that information is also provided in the lower or side margin adjacent to the image.
I did not request any images taken of the wreck this past summer from Jim Cameron to illustrate this write-up after all, he does need to be left with something for his documentary. There is one image, however, that is so compelling that he graciously suggested that I use it in this narrative. When you run across it later, you'll understand why.