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?Mary Deare? waves

 

Did anyone notice the ship the Mary Deare floundering in the tossing waves, with the sky and clouds in the background?

 

Scenes like this are shot in a big water tank with a large model of the ship. I saw one of these facilities one time, located on some remote studio property in Malibu Canyon. The backdrop is a large concrete wall that resembles an old drive-in theater screen.

 

The ship is usually a large model, a few feet long. The water in the tank is about from four to five feet deep. The clouds are painted on the backdrop. Technicians use various devices to make the water waves, such as large wooden paddles. They can make small waves or large ones.

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The bigger the tank and the larger the model of the ship, the more realistic it looks. The big problem with water and boat models has always been the fact that the water drops are too large in a model tank. In real life-sized oceans, the water drops are small, like regular water drops, but in small tanks the water drops look like big globs because the camera is moved in close to the water and we are watching big globs of water hitting the model.

 

The make the scene more realistic by filming at high speed, so when the film is shown at normal speed the model is seen moving in slow motion. This slow motion looks like the motion of a real full-sized ship. If they shot the film at the standard speed and showed it at the standard speed, the model ship would be rocking up and down much too fast.

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Scenes like this are shot in a big water tank with a large model of the ship. I saw one of these facilities one time, located on some remote studio property in Malibu Canyon. The backdrop is a large concrete wall that resembles an old drive-in theater screen.

 

That would be the old 20th Century-Fox Ranch property, now Malibu Creek State Park, though Fox seldom did water miniatures away from Sersen Lake (named for Fred M. Sersen, the Czechoslovakian-born head of the studio's physical special effects department until 1953), on the main lot in West Los Angeles.

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Paramounts water tank was located inside their main lot, on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. I don't know if it is still there or not, as I have not been inside that studio lot since the early 80's. It looked very much as FredCDobbs described in his post. One of the times I was in there I did see technicians and painters preparing the backdrop with slate grey clouds as if a storm were approaching. I don't know what film they were preparing for.

 

One thing I am curious about, I have read several times that the final battle scene in Howard Hawks "Air Force" was filmed on Santa Monica Bay. Handling the model ships to make them appear they were in some sort of formation must have been very difficult, whether in a water tank or a bay. What kind of Hollywood Magic is at work here? "Air Force" is just an example, there are of course many films showing fleets at sea pre-virtual reality, I just wonder how they managed it.

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I just looked at the end of my copy of ?Air Force?. It looks like they used quite a mix of film. Some real military film, some ship and airplane models. When a model ship is hit by a bomb they cut to a close up of Japs (actors) on the bridge of their ship being blown up. This part must have been done in a studio with a mockup of the bridge. This is quite a complicated sequence with all sorts of tricks, real military film, and special effects used, plus there is an air to air battle going on at the same time.

 

I guess this is why they have a credit for a guy in charge of ?special effects?, because someone has to work all this out in advance so all the different scenes will match and fit together.

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The Paramount tank (backed up by what they call "The Blue Sky" cyclorama, which has been used by the studio since the 1930s; the studio's film archive was built behind it in the early 1990s) is rarely used; most of the time it's just part of the main parking lot, albeit one that's about five feet below the level of the rest of the lot. It's adjacent to what used to be the Western Street, but that was torn down around 1980 (the old New York backlot streets burned down in September, 1983. After about a dozen years of production trailers occupying that acreage, the studio built an updated, state-of-the-art [meaning steel-framed, with copious fire-suppression equipment] NY Street facility, though it's used most often for the shooting of TV commercials).

 

As for Hawks's AIR FORCE, miniatures simply can't be photographed on open water, since real, full-scale waves and swells can't be minaturized to be in scale with the models. It is possible, however, that a so-called "knife-edged weir" -- a tank with an open end that allows water to pour over the edge so that it can blend photographically with the real ocean behind it -- was built in Santa Monica for the film (though I doubt it. The film just doesn't look as though one was used).

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