The Abyss
Dancing on the Edge of the Abyss
Article by Don Shay
Writer-director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd have carved a distinct niche for themselves in the world of high-tech science fiction filmmaking. After traveling across time in The Terminator and to the outer reaches of deep space in Aliens, they have now journeyed into the Cayman Trough — one of the deepest and most impenetrable chasms on earth — for The Abyss, Set in an underwater oil drilling habitat located seventeen hundred feet beneath the ocean surface, the film begins with the search for a downed nuclear submarine and evolves into an aquatic odyssey of cosmic consequence. Forty percent of the production was shot in the largest fresh water filming tank in the world — a specially converted reactor containment building located at an uncommissioned nuclear power plant. Nine visual effects units were engaged to produce literally hundreds of shots covering the gamut of cinematic illusions from computer generated imagery and motion control to animatronic puppets and radio control vehicles to matte paintings and underwater miniatures to rear projection and bluescreen traveling mattes. Virtually no effects technique was left untapped. A trio of distinguished effects supervisors — John Bruno and Hoyt Yeatman and Dennis Muren — oversaw the activities of in-house units and teams from Dream Quest Images and Industrial Light & Magic. Ancillary units were headed by Cameron veterans Robert and Dennis Skotak and Gene Warren of Fantasy II. Though photographed thousands of miles apart — in situations both wet and dry and by artists of diverse talents and experience — the effects blended together seamlessly with the main unit photography and with one another. The end result is an unprecedented and uncompromising accomplishment — an epic film of wonder and imagination propelled by the singular vision and relentless drive of a master filmmaker just hitting his stride.
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