I was approached by my client Mark Wilkinson at Work Comms with this visual and the question… “So how would you shoot this, Tim?” He wanted to pick my brains about how best to create a flooded room with a view above and below the water line. Internally, they had discussed using CGI as a possible solution and also shooting a traditional roomset combined with a shot of water from a water tank. Not convinced that either of these routes would give a truly believable result, and as someone who thrives on a challenge, I suggested shooting it for real, as one shot, in the studio. Mark was intrigued and excited and wanted to hear more. Below is the original visual:

Layout 1

 Around two years earlier I had been commissioned to shoot an ad for Vimto depicting a number of kids floating on rubber rings slurping the drink through giant straws. This required me to get under water and over water shots at the same time – exactly what Mark was hoping to achieve. The visual also showed the waterline quite distinctly across the frame of the shot, so an underwater camera was out of the question as the water would be too close to the camera to get the horizon line we needed. Through my previous research I also knew that shooting through the side of a glass sided pool would be optically challenging. I called on my experience from the Vimto shoot, sent some reference shots to Mark and convinced him this was the way to go.
My plan was to buy a large circular pool we could fill with water and into which we would lower the set. Of course, positioning a heavy room set on top of a fragile rubber pool lining is always going to have its dangers and so I opted to suspend the wall an inch or two above the pool floor so they never came in contact. The wall would be attached to the height adjustable lighting gantry and lowered once the pool had filled. To get the view above and below water at the same time, with a visible water line, I planned to shoot from within a semi-submerged tank with special optically clear perspex as the viewing window.
FloodBehindTheScenes-2 The 15ft diameter swimming pool was ordered along with a couple of pairs of waders, and I set to work building the tank. The stylist was briefed and started hunting for furniture and props that we could buy for the set. Obviously these items were all going to be “flood damaged” so hiring them was out of the question.
Having done the shoot for Vimto, I knew how to build the water tank, only this time I would learn from some of the mistakes I made and build a new and improved water tank. Instead of building the whole tank from perspex and welded steel, I built it from MDF with only the window at the front being perpsex. The MDF was easy to waterproof with marine paint. I wouldn’t need to physically get inside the tank as I had done last time, as the camera would be locked off, so it could be much smaller too. As the pool was circular it gave me the opportunity to hang the tank from two scaffold bars.
Monday 9am – pool assembly commenced. We suspended the wallpapered plywood wall from the lighting gantry and started filling the pool. It was a big pool. We had one small hosepipe. It was clear that this was going to take some time!

 

Despite being very heavy, the tank was incredibly buoyant and needed quite a bit of assistance to stay under the water. Hanging several sand bags over the scaffold bars did the trick.

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We sank some carpet to the bottom of the pool to give the feeling of a house interior, weighed down with some stage weights, added a sofa, table, lamp and the odd prop that you may find in a kitchen – kettle, salt and pepper pots, iron, pans etc because of course in a flood, all your belongings get mixed up as the water wreaks its havoc around your home. The television proved a bit tricky to position. Being an old style CRT type with a big glass tube, it needed some stage weights to stop it floating on the surface.
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Now the props were in place I set about lighting the submerged set. Having thrown in some soil and general muck to make the water murky, I realised that the light transmission through the bottom quarter of the shot was going to need a boost with some extra lighting, taking care only to affect the area below the water and to avoid light spilling onto the props above which would have over exposed them.
The water was disturbed with a plank of wood to create some subtle waves and break up the surface reflections, which looked great for a few seconds, but then the water disruption would eventually start moving the props around. This enabled me to shoot a few frames but quite quickly the water would become too murky, the props would reposition themselves, sometimes right in front of the camera, blocking the shot. The perspex window quickly became dirty, requiring a wader-clad assistant to step in and give it a wipe.
Because of the effects of refraction, it was impossible to position the props by looking from above water level. You could place the iron or toaster where you thought was correct only to find that the under/over view told you something quite different and the prop could even be out of shot! Fortunately we were able to reposition the props using the live view on the camera as it was virtually impossible to get my head inside the tank.
After making sure we had the lighting just right and had a feel for how the props and water were reacting, we gradually started to pump the water out to create tide lines around the sofa and also added a subtle amount of smoke to give the shot an eerie feel.
In all the shoot took exactly five days to turn around. By 5pm on the Friday the pool had been emptied and packed away.
The shot you see here is completely un-retouched. It’s probably how I would have done it in the days before digital and it is still to this day how I prefer to work – get as much as you can in camera and only rely on retouching when you absolutely have to.
Environment Agency Flooded Room

Environment Agency Flooded Room