Filming The Ocean Depths

A classic from the depths of the Popular Science archives

The February 1923 issue of Popular Science

February 1923 Popular Science Magazine CoverPopular Science

When Popular Science published its February 1923 cover story, underwater cinematography was in its infancy. Less than a decade before, film pioneer J.E. Williamson invented the first device capable of capturing footage below the surface: a steel-and-glass underwater chamber that attached to an accordionlike tube. Adding a more lifelike hue to the industry, Williamson's first aquatic color film, The Uninvited Guest, came out in 1924. Nearly 90 years later, director James Cameron worked with engineers to develop his own innovation: a submersible capable of taking IMAX-quality 3-D images at the deepest point in the ocean.

The Innovations Behind Underwater Movies

1916: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Photosphere: an observation chamber with enough room for a cameraman and his equipment

1946: Épaves ("Shipwrecks")

Aqua-Lung: a self-contained under-water breathing apparatus (scuba) that enabled divers to film for long periods of time

1964: World Without Sun

The “diving saucer”: a submersible with movable lights and cameras

2014: DeepSea Challenge 3D

External HD cameras mounted on a vertical submarine and enclosed in titanium pressure housings

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Popular Science.