In the unforgiving North Atlantic, the hulking wreckage of the Titanic rusts in gloomy silence on the ocean floor. Until 1991, no one – except a handful of scientists – had seen the ‘unsinkable’ ocean liner since it collided with an iceberg and disappeared into the frigid waters.
That all changed when Lakehead grad and documentary filmmaker Stephen Low (BA’74) released his feature-length IMAX® film – Titanica. Stephen took moviegoers along with him as he and his expedition team descended 12,500 feet before reaching the once splendid ship. “More people have gone into space than into the deep ocean,” Stephen says.
IMAX® is the largest film format in existence and it enables audiences to be fully immersed in previously hidden worlds. Capturing the spectacular scenes that set IMAX® documentaries apart demands ingenuity, persistence, and courage.
“We’re not working on a set, we’re working in real environments,” Stephen points out. “On the way to the Titanic, we were caught in gale force seas and later on we were actually trapped inside the vessel. Many of my contemporaries – documentary directors and cameramen – have died making their films.”
Every IMAX® movie Stephen has directed pushes him to develop new technologies to capture the images he wants and overcome the challenges of extremely heavy cameras. In the case of the Titanic, Stephen’s team designed a lighting system that illuminated an area the size of a football field. “James Cameron used our film as the model for his famous Hollywood film, Titanic,” he says. Stephen was also pivotal in developing 3D IMAX® techniques, beginning with his film The Last Buffalo.
“We’re not working on a set, we’re working in real environments.”
In 1998, Stephen once again headed into the abyss for his film Volcanoes of the Deep Sea (2003). His destinations were the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the East Pacific Rise at the bottom of the world’s two largest oceans – inhospitable and strange realms populated by giant tubeworms and luminescent shrimp that live along hydrothermal vents spewing toxic black chemicals.
Stephen hasn’t confined his explorations to the water - he’s also strapped audiences into an Indy 500 car, taken them on a breathtaking steam engine journey across Canada, and traced humans’ attempts to soar into the heavens in Legends of Flight. Right now, he’s working with sub-atomic particle physicists unravelling the mysteries of the universe at Switzerland’s CERN Large Hadron Collider.
“I’ve met astronauts, fighter pilots, Russian submariners, scientists of all kinds, the Rolling Stones, and Jane Goodall, to name a few,” Stephen says. “It’s been marvellous.” And because of his films, millions of moviegoers have met them too.