Titanic Director Films Wreck in 3-D

April 9, 2003

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James Cameron has once again raised the Titanic.

For the hour-long IMAX documentary The Ghosts of the Abyss, the "best director" Oscar winner for the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, returned to the shipwreck via ingenious unmanned robots and deep-sea submersibles to explore individual staterooms and other interior spaces unseen since 1912.

Cameron had first visited the Titanic in the Russian deep-sea submersible Mir—one of only a handful of subs that can journey to these depths—in 1995. To capture the new undersea footage, Cameron and his brother Mike, whose company Dark Matter LLC specializes in deep-sea engineering and designer robots, spent more than three years developing the video-equipped, remotely-controlled "BOTS." Mike Cameron also designed a titanium housing that allows the custom-built 3-D large format digital video cameras—which were attached to the manned submersibles—to function deeper than any other camera system.

In the documentary, to help the audience visualize the Titanic in its glory, Cameron superimposed dramatic recreations of shipboard life over the haunting new footage of the ghostly remains.

For perspective on the challenges of adapting technology for undersea archaeology, National Geographic Today spoke with Cameron at his production company Lightstorm Entertainment in Los Angeles.

What was new about this expedition?

We had to create the technology from scratch because the remotely operated vehicles in 1995 couldn't explore [inside the shipwreck]. No one has done a definitive exploration room by room.

What is special about the ROVs [remotely operated vehicles] you used?

The ROVs [remotely operated vehicles] or "BOTS" are a miracle of miniaturization. Our BOTS, nicknamed Jake and Elwood, are battery powered and are controlled through about 2,000 feet [610 meters] of optic fiber, about the diameter of fishing line. The BOTS descend to the wreck site by hitching a ride with one of the manned Mir submersibles.

Most ROVs that function at that great depth are quite large, and it took three years of pretty revolutionary research and development to get them small enough to fit through Titanic B Deck window to be able to explore the different deck levels.

What is it like to operate the ROV?

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