How to sink a battleship

DKM Bismarck was considered unsinkable. There was quite a mystery around the sinking – whether she was sunk by the British or if she was scuttled by her own crew.   We decided to revisit this mystery and see if we could come up with an answer.  One of the best ways to fund an expedition is to make a film about it.  Discovery Channel became our sponsor for this expedition.

Bismarck was a hard film to make.  Not only were we filming at 16,000 feet underwater,  we were also pioneering new bot technologies and a new HD, 3D Camera system (it was the only one of it’s kind in the world at that point (2002).

I think it turned out the best of the Earthship documentaries so far.   I probably feel that way because my work made up over 40% of the shots in this film.   You see, I found all the archival footage which wasn’t an easy task.   I also might add that this is the documentary that got nominated for 5 Emmys winning 1. I’m not saying that had anything to do with my work…….Okay it probably didn’t, but Discovery channel did pay me an enormous complement by saying that my work on the Bismarck was the best and most thorough archival research they had ever seen.

It’s a bit like being a detective.

I spent days and days at the National Archives in Maryland. I ended up scanning hours of unmarked canisters of films that just had war dept www II markings and nothing other than that.  A lot of the footage I was looking for was seized war footage. My huckleberry was when I ended up finding an unmarked reel with a propoganda film about Hitler Youth.   Turns out it, the youth had a replica of Bismarck and they were carrying it on their shoulders.  I couldn’t believe I’d found that reel.  I also did lot’s of research on 15 inch guns which sent me to the Naval Surface Warfare Center – and where they did a lot of ballistics tests on the big guns.

I also spent numerous hours searching for footage overseas. The Imperial War Museum was an amazing asset as was the the Bundesarchiv in Germany.   I even had a search at the Moscow Archives.

224 archival shots

“It was WWII’s most fearsome ship. A ship so powerful, it sank the pride of the British fleet with a single salvo. Hearing the news, Winston Churchill saw no choice. He sent nearly the entire Royal Navy to hunt and destroy it. But what really happened to this German legend? Was she sunk? Or was she scuttled? Now Titanic director James Cameron returns to the high seas to tell the tale and search for the truth. Leading a team of explorers, historians and Bismarck survivors, Cameron examines the wreck three miles down and discovers the answers that may finally end the debate. With revolutionary production techniques and high-tech Remotely Operated Vehicles, Cameron lights up this dark world and gives us the first glimpse inside the Bismarck in more than 60 years. Stunning high-definition footage shows underwater images with cinematic clarity. Cutting-edge animation and ultra-realistic reenactments bring the survivors’ stories to life. Join the expedition and relive the dramatic final days of the DKM Bismarck.”


Titanic 101 – Ghosts of the Abyss

“What lay inside the Titanic? Was the interior of the lost liner shrouded in rust and silt?”


“Director James Cameron wanted to find out. He had made dives to the wreck while shooting footage for his 1997 blockbuster movie TITANIC. Over the four years that followed, he developed underwater robots small enough to go through the Titanic’s windows and into her ghostly rooms. By 2001, he was ready to return and photograph the Titanic in a whole new way.” – Ghosts of the Abyss, A Journey into the Heart of the Titanic

I wasn’t a Titanic expert. I wasn’t particularly a huge Titanic fan. I only had a general knowledge about the famous ship. I remember when Bob Ballard’s team found the wreck and when the first tourists visited. I’d seen the movie. I knew the story of the unsinkable Molly Brown. When I was a child, my aunt took me to the Molly Brown House in Denver, which includes Titanic in it’s exhibits. Every Colorado history class teaches the story of that infamous Coloradan. In fact, I found the tenacity of Molly Brown so remarkable that I named my dog after her. That was about as far as my knowledge of the Titanic went, which wasn’t very far. So I was surprised when a friend called me up and asked if I’d like to work on a webcast from the Titanic. I laughed. He didn’t even have to ask. I was already there.

What I did have was strong desire to work on the project, a background producing television documentaries and web content, a keen sense of adventure, and a dog named Molly (Brown).
[blockquote]There I was – invited to work on the most ambitious webcast ever attempted, on the most advanced technological expedition on earth, while filming the most technologically advanced 3D high definition documentary ever made about the most famous shipwreck in history.[/blockquote]

“Everything about the project pushed the limits of technology.”
This radical idea of webcasting live from aboard the Keldysh in the middle of the North Atlantic was pretty cool. It was the brainchild of John David Cameron. was ahead of it’s time by several years. We were basically webcasting – video on demand – youtube style – except in 2001. Everything about the project pushed the limits of technology. It’s too bad isn’t a live site anymore. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve seen on the web. Of course, I’m biased, the exploration topic gets me every time.

My job was to write and produce video packages about the expedition, specifically, the bots – those tiny robots used to explore inside the ship. The coolest thing about the bots is that they were small and could get into tight spaces. You could drive them in one entrance and exit by another without backtracking or worrying about entangling the umbilical. Tiny fiber optic threads spooled out like a spiders web from the bots to the controls. One fiber had the drive controls and the other would send back the camera image. They were brilliantly designed and built by Mike Cameron and his team and enabled us to get a good look at the inside of Titanic for the first time since she sank.

Ghosts of the Abyss was the first of a series of Titanic and underwater projects I’ve been fortunate enough to work on. The people working on these expeditions always amaze me; some of them are almost as legendary as the Titanic itself. [quote_simple]”One thing they all have in common is an unquenchable thirst for exploration, knowledge, science, technology and adventure.”[/quote_simple]
Lucky for me, these people would become my surrogate family and mentors over the next few years.

If you haven’t seen the film, do so. I’m not going to take away all the fun and give away the surprises or talk about the grandeur of what they found inside the wreck. You’ll have to explore that on your own.

Run, don’t walk to the nearest video store and pick it up. Put it in your Netflix cue. Or click on the link below for all things Ghosts of the Abyss.
All things Ghosts of the Abyss
Learn more about Titanic at the Explore Store