Devil’s Hole Adventure! | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

Devil’s Hole Adventure! | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

Articles, Blog , , , , , , , , , , , , 100 Comments


Coming up on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,
an epic film project adventure involving a remote cave, rappelling, cave diving and an
IMAX camera! I’m diving into one of the most remote,
most protected caves in the world. In a most unlikely place: deep beneath the
Nevada desert. It all started in 2016, when the Blue World
team started work on a giant screen film called Ancient Caves. It’s about a group of cave paleoclimatologists
using the formations in caves to study the ancient climate. One of the most important shoots of the film
involves the research being done at a remote site near Death Valley, called Devil’s Hole
Cave. If you google Devil’s Hole, you will probably
find this, a highly protected small pool in a crack in the rocks which harbors the Devil’s
Hole pupfish, one of the most endangered animals in the world. Devil’s Hole is part of the Ash Meadows
National Wildlife Refuge and administered by the National Park Service. Devil’s Hole Cave, not to be confused with
Devil’s Hole, is about 600 feet away, up a path into the hills. Watch out for scorpions! The entrance is protected by a locked cage. The science team, Dr. Yuri Dublyanski, Katee
Wendt, and Dr. Gina Moseley, (who is one of the lead characters in our film) have a special
permit from the Park service to take core samples in the cave for their research. But getting in there is not as easy as it
looks. All right! Be productive! I should probably put my light on, huh? I first went caving when I was 13 and so that
led into my interest in cave science, because I was caving before that. I was in the air cadets. I was doing a lot of outdoor activities when
I was younger. And then I studied geography because of my
interest in the outdoors and the fascination with “how does this form” and “how does
that form?” And then one thing just led to another and
now it’s great to have a job that involves office work, lab work and being out in the
field. For me that’s fantastic. While the science team just goes up and down
a single rope, getting our film gear in there adds an additional challenge. We’re setting up some pulleys and hardware. But there’s another twist. At the bottom of this cave is water, and our
team has a special permit to explore and take water samples for the scientists. Getting the dive gear in and all the way down
to the water is a huge undertaking. Our first day of production begins at our
rented house in Pahrump Nevada, about 45 minutes from Devil’s Hole. Assistant Director Julia Cichowski is planning
for the day while Rick King, Zach Peterson and I are out in the garage getting the gear
set up. Cameraman Tim Geers is building some sun shades
so we can see our monitors in the bright desert lighting conditions. And the next morning, we awake to gray skies
and rain. In the desert. So under cloudy IMAX-unfriendly skies we head
out to Devil’s Hole Cave with our portable production office. With crew and cast over 20 people and no bathroom
within miles, the main purpose of the camper is actually just to provide “facilities”
in this remote spot. But it also gives us a place out of the wind
to work on gear. Gina, Katee and National Geographic photographer
Robbie Shone lead the charge up to the cave. Robbie is our cave lighting expert. With such nasty weather, we can’t shoot
exteriors, so we need to move our production inside the cave for the day. What I was thinking for the first shot to
get would be our star rappelling into the hole. Robbie goes in first so we can start sending
gear down to him. Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to get
a $60,000 RED Weapon 8K camera system down a 60 foot vertical shaft. So let’s not destroy the RED! Once Tim, Robbie and I are down there with
the camera and tripod, it’s time to start setting up the first shot. Our goal is to make the audience in the theater
look up and follow Gina down into the cave just as they would in real life. But first, we need some lighting. Direct light in caves looks terrible because
you can’t see the patterns in the rock. The trick is hiding the lights at oblique
angles to produce dramatic shadows. What did you bring it down one power setting? I like that. Tim can I see the other one? That’s pretty good actually! Rick tell me when she’s ready but don’t
send her until I give you the go! And we are rolling and this is Gina descends
take one! All right send her down! I do have some experience with cave photographers
and they take a lot of time to get things set up so I’m quite used to doing this again,
doing that again, move the right foot here, the left arm there, and sort of thing. I’m quite happy to do that when I know the
final product is going to be something that’s really good, so I didn’t mind. It was fun and I was happy to do it for the
end goal. My only complaint was that it might have taken
a little long. I thought it was a really good shot. Alright Gina is all set, pull her back up
nice and slow. We tested this in a warehouse and it totally
works! We lifted him! That’s how I’m getting back up! While Gina is perfectly capable of climbing
out of the cave on a rope on her own, we expect to do this scene a few times, and it would
wear her out to keep climbing up. So we rigged a block & tackle system to pull
her up. I was a bit nervous I must admit about getting on the winch
because it’s a system I’m not used to. I kind of like to trust myself if you like,
so putting my trust in other people was a little bit scary at first when they first
winched me up out of the cave, but it was fine and exciting. Oh this is awesome! Action! In the next take, Gina comes down much faster
and smoother and the shot is perfect. That’s a great action shot. There you come right into the cave. Woo hoo. Nice, you are coming right down, you come
into the light, perfect landing. For the next sequence, we need to get down
to the lower chamber. Getting down there means squeezing through
a small restriction—a tiny hole between the rocks. Fitting through isn’t that bad, but passing
all the camera gear down there is a delicate operation. Behind the scenes cameraman Pierre Seguin
moves into position for some shots. Suck it in Pierre! Ohh! I want to see Tim…it’s going to be insane. After the squeeze, we descend down a steep
slope to the water. Just a tiny pool with very little room to
work. Our first task is shooting a scene of the
scientists drilling a core sample from the rock. Do you like? I like. It’s not bad. How about this? Yeah. Darker top of the frame. I want the light on them, not up there. Alright, so how’s this? We are using our powerful diving lights made
by BigBlue as battery-powered cinema lights. But we can only run them for a few minutes
before they have to be cooled in water. You know something? Maybe a little more contrast back there. I’d like to see some light down in the water
over there. Right. Uh huh…it adds a little more bang. What do you think? Oh yeah, me likey! Audio on and this is take two, pulling the
core out. Clap. At the end of a long day down in the cave,
it’s time to make our way out. Gina climbs up the slope using an ascender
device on the rope. We have to carry all our gear up and out through
the squeeze. Then Gina demonstrates the prussic technique
using a pair of ascenders to climb out of the upper chamber. The science team knows how to prussic, but
the rest of us get pulled out with the block and tackle. Then we load everything back to the vehicles. This is the last time I’m doing this! The next morning, we realize just how hopelessly
disorganized we were in the cave and the discussion turns to how we can improve. So this morning we have some time. After you guys have breakfast, maybe begin
with taking a look at that gear. And figuring out which gear goes in which
bag. If we need to label them, then we’ll label
them. But then we all need to go out there and learn
what’s in each bag, so when you come out of the hole and take off your helmet, you
know where to put it. You take off your harness, you know where
to put it. And that will save us all time when we get
there. Alright, we need more bags, that’s the bottom
line. Well if we do, we’ll buy them. Yeah we do. That’s easy, we’ll just run out to Wal-mart… Yeah, let’s run to Wal-mart and buy a camera
bag, climbing bag, audio bag and a lighting bag. And that way everything that goes down in
there in the hole, gets packed to go down in the hole. Don’t go away! Coming up next: the IMAX camera arrives! The skies are improving, and today we are
scheduled to shoot on 70mm film. The team from MacGillivray Freeman (our production
partner) pulls up in their big production truck and we cross our fingers that the clouds
will clear for nice blue skies. Rob Walker is getting a dolly setup put together. Getting ready to do a dolly shot! It requires carrying a bunch of gear up the
hill. Up by the cave, the MacGillivray Freeman team
is assembling a nice level track for a dolly shot. They use variously sized blocks of wood to
get the track perfectly level. While the track is underway, Robbie and Yuri
are getting some safety slings together to help get the camera into a precarious position
for a unique shot. We’re setting up a shot underneath the pergola,
looking into the second entrance to the cave. With safety straps on the camera, the tripod
and the people, Rob and I move the enormous IMAX camera to the tripod. Rob is one of the most experienced people
in the giant screen industry, and I’m incredibly lucky to get to work with him and learn about
the IMAX camera. Meanwhile, cinematographer Brad Ohlund, a
30 year IMAX industry veteran is talking to Gina about the shot. With everyone ready, Brad comes down under
the pergola and it’s time to shoot. Okeedokee artichokee! With the generator running in the background
to run the lighting and the incredible noise of the camera, it’s no surprise that we
can’t record clean sound. Action action action! Stop! Look down! Okay, I’m good! Okay zip on down there now. Look up! It’s worth mentioning that between the film,
processing and printing, it costs about $1000 per minute to run this camera. Long takes are expensive! She was dangling at the bottom of the frame! Second AC Jamey Warner runs to the truck for
another film magazine. Each 1,000 foot magazine only lasts for 3
minutes. So in preparation for the next shot, Rob and
Jamey change the film. This process takes about 5 minutes. Quite a bit more complicated than swapping
a memory card on our RED camera! Art Cohen, the co-writer and script supervisor
is looking on in amusement as we prepare to rehearse the shot. At $1,000 a minute, you rehearse! Yup, by the time you get up here, you’re
out of frame. We pick that up in the next shot. So you’re kinda coming out of…Brad where
do they go out of frame? Right about here? So yeah, once you are up on this thing, we’re
done. Next shot. Alright? Just walk right… With our moves down and the sun finally out,
it’s time to shoot some film! Slate! I don’t think it was loud enough! Lunch is served on the mountain with a make-your-own-sandwich
buffet, and then it’s back to work. In the next scene, Gina rappels into the cave. I really enjoy working with Brad, Rob and
Jamey all day to shoot in 70mm IMAX format, the world’s most ultimate film format! Action! Stay tuned! Next, the dive team finally gets to go diving
in Devil’s Hole Cave! It’s time to start prepping for the most
challenging part of the project—the underwater shooting. I am worried about getting our Nauticam underwater
housing into the cave without smashing the lens or banging it on rocks. But Yuri has a lot of experience in this cave,
and he has a brilliant solution based on using an inexpensive yoga mat to protect the housing. The next morning Brian Kakuk is filling tanks
for the dive. One of the more monotonous parts of the project. Brian is not only the lead diver on this project,
but he was my cave diving instructor. Just trying to keep the neighbors happy. With him is Mike Young, a rebreather and cave
diving expert. These guys are world renown cave divers. I am truly honored to be in the company of
greatness. We hit the road, and you will notice that
the weather is beautiful on the first day of underwater shooting. I’m no dummie….I make Zach carry the camera
housing up to the cave! With so much gear to move to the water, Brian
heads down to help Mike get the process started. I rappel down next. And then Rick sends the camera down inside
a big duffel bag. Getting the gear to the site is extremely
difficult. Even though we’re only like 200 feet from
the entrance, it’s a very difficult 200 feet from the entrance. It’s all vertical climbing, lowering of
equipment. You have to have a very good and strong support
team, willing to work every day both lowering and hauling both equipment and people. So you need a good strong team. Mike is working like a mole running gear back
and forth from the upper chamber to the water. About an hour into this process, I realize
that I have no idea what we would be doing without him! He’s pretty impressive, I’ll tell you
that! Alright, all the lights on. Okay, rolling. Quiet on the set. Loading tanks, take 3, action! But remember we are not just going diving,
we are making a film about research here in Devil’s Hole Cave. That means I need shots of the process. So I take some time to get a shot of Yuri
handing a tank down the squeeze to Gina. Love it! Beautiful! Soon we form a kind of fireman’s brigade
to pass gear down through the squeeze. The last little bit to the water isn’t that
far, but it’s a huge pain to move gear down it. If you drop anything, it will go into the
water and may never be found. At one point we accidentally dropped a light. It didn’t stop until it hit a shelf at 150
feet deep. With our stuff all piled on top of itself,
we have to take turns putting our gear together and getting into the water. Gina comes down to check on us. She is nervous about Brian’s dive. So we’re really excited to get these samples
and we’re also a little bit scared about the diver and his safety because obviously
we are not going down and I’m always a little nervous about other people collecting samples
for me. But yes I’m very excited and I’m sure
Brian is excited too. Brian is going to 300 feet to take water samples
for Gina’s research. So we are not just making a film about Gina’s
research but actually assisting with the research. It means that all the divers are multi-tasking. Todd hops in first. The good news is that the water here under
the desert is 93 degrees. That means it’s actually too warm for wetsuits. So we are all just wearing lycra skins and
nobody gets too cold. Jonathan let me know when I can move into
your position. Today our plan is to get the lay of the land. Fewer than a dozen people have ever dived
in this cave. There are some guidelines installed, but we
do not know their condition. We also have no idea what the cave looks like. Todd and I are going scouting for good locations
for shots, while Brian and Mike are going to figure out where to do the deep dive for
water samples and form a plan. Finally, somewhere past noon, we start our
dive. Todd and I descend from the pool down a 45
degree crack that mirrors the room above. We have tied off a pair of oxygen decompression
cylinders at 20 feet. We are not planning a decompression dive,
but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. Todd leads the way as we follow the guideline
down into the depths. Everything down here is covered in a fine
layer of silt, so we have to be really careful with our fins. The ceiling of the cave is like nothing I
have ever seen. The pillowy formation is called mammaliary
calcite—formed by calcite precipitation in super-saturated water. While being mindful of the fragile nature
of the old guidelines, we have a look around. We find a huge chamber that drops down at
that same 45 degree angle. Famous cave diving pioneer Sheck Exley went
down this very route in 1991 when he explored this cave to 436 feet, making it one of the
deepest–if not the deepest—cave in the United States. At about 100 feet I find a large piece of
rock, which broke off, revealing the thickness of the calcite that had grown on the underlying
bedrock. But calcite is now forming over the break,
like a thin layer of frosting. In a few thousand years, this whole thing
will be white! We turn around and head back up. At the top of the deep chamber, we have a
look around. Then Todd leads the way back towards the entrance. All the rocks that have broken and fallen
have become covered in calcite, making them all white and rounded, like big marshmallows. This cave has been submerged for a long time. There are no dry cave formations like stalactites
or stalagmites. Everything has the rounded, pillowy look of
formations made by underwater calcite deposits. In shallow water, we explore some overhangs
and shelves. But none of the passages go anywhere. Some broken pieces of ceiling show folia formation,
made in a section of the cave where the water’s surface touches it. And a thick broken piece of calcite shows
the layers of deposition that Gina and her team can use to tell us much about the water
that created it. We decide to swim the other direction and
explore the other end of the cave. The guideline leads through a restriction. I decide to see if I can fit through. It doesn’t help that my right tank doesn’t
have enough weight and it’s floating up. Still, I make it through just fine. As soon as we see it, Todd and I both know
that we will be filming a scene with this restriction in the film. It’s perfect. Just like the other side of the cave, this
side just goes down and down. Since we want to do the filming as shallowly
as possible (for safety and bottom time) we are not exploring anything very deep. So we head back through the restriction. After a short safety stop, we head back to
the tiny pool at the surface. More people have been to the moon than have
been diving in this cave, making us pretty darn lucky. Alright we are rolling on the lights, we are
rolling on the video, we are rolling on sound. This is “going under” take three…action! Alright Mike are you set? All set. Got the bailouts? Bailouts and safety bottles. Alright, man let’s do it. Be safe guys. Over four days, we dive and film underwater
scenes in Devil’s Hole Cave. It’s a great honor to work in a place that
is so special, so rare and so protected that fewer than 12 people have ever been allowed
to dive here. Our dive team is so small that we have very
little behind the scenes footage of the actual underwater filming. But trust me when I tell you that you are
going to want to go see this in an IMAX theater, especially considering that Devil’s Hole
is only one out of six spectacular locations we’re filming, for Ancient Caves, the ultimate
cave diving film! That’s a wrap!

100 thoughts on “Devil’s Hole Adventure! | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *