Channeling the spirit of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, French director-producer team Francois and Jean-Jacques Mantello are currently making waves with their eye-popping 3D underwater films. Their latest oceanic adventure, OceanWorld 3D, was recently picked up by Disney for U.S. distribution.
The Mantello brothers grew up in the French Alps, where they developed their love of oceans from watching “The Undersea World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.” After careers in television and computer graphics iImaging (CGI), the Mantellos segued into the 3-D arena after pioneering the concept of 3-D simulator rides at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas. In 2001, they created 3D Entertainment (3DE), the world’s top underwater 3-D production company.
The Mantellos recently spoke with MM about their latest project, and their passion for the ocean.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): The ocean and its inhabitants seem to be a lifelong passion for the both of you. At what point did you decide to make it your career?
Francois Mantello (FM): Our first production was actually a four-minute CGI promo spot in 3-D for a Hewlett Packard, but our ultimate goal was always combine our passion for environmental awareness with our experience as filmmakers to educate the general public on the state of our oceans, which have suffered greatly from the world’s industrialization. One of the greatest challenges with marine issues is that, for the most part, we’re not conscious of the problems because the vast majority of them occur under the water’s surface, out of most people’s sight. Having been divers since our teenage years, we’d seen firsthand the degradation of the ecosystem and its effect on all marine species, and felt a certain urgency to share this with the greatest number of people possible.
Jean-Jacques Mantello (JM): In 2001 we developed a rather ambitious plan to produce a series of three 42-minute “edutainment” films in 3-D for IMAX theaters and a feature-length documentary, OceanWorld 3D, for traditional 35mm cinemas on the importance of ocean conservation. We were very fortunate to have a partner in London-based 3D Entertainment, which helped us secure the financing. With a budget of $14 million, we worked on the feature film throughout the seven years we spent filming our IMAX theatre projects Ocean Wonderland 3D (2003), Sharks 3D (2005) and Dolphins and Whales 3D (2008).
MM: Growing up, a big inspiration for you was Jacques-Yves Cousteau. What moviemaking lessons did you learn from watching Cousteau’s oceanic explorations?
FM: Like most of our generation, we grew up watching Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s adventures and were undeniably inspired by his dedication to exploring the underwater world. In terms of moviemaking lessons gained, I’d say his series taught us that people need to understand what’s happening to our water planet in order to feel compelled to do something to do something about what ails it.
JM: We actually had the great fortune of meeting Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s son, through a common friend in 2004 while we were working on our second documentary film for IMAX theaters, Sharks 3D. A documentary filmmaker and ocean conservationist himself, Jean-Michel was greatly interested in our project and asked if he could see some of the footage we’d shot in 3-D. He joined us as a special adviser very shortly thereafter and subsequently became the ambassador for Sharks 3D and our two following underwater films, lending his extensive experience and knowledge to each of the projects.
MM: All of your underwater films utilize 3-D technology. What do you think is gained by using 3-D? Where do you see the 3-D trend going next?
FM: As filmmakers who have worked with the 3-D medium for nearly 20 years, there is no question that stereoscopy has enhanced our product. The moment audiences put on their 3-D glasses, the visual barrier that separates them from the images is eliminated and they become divers. It’s virtual reality in its truest sense.
JM: When murmurings of a 3-D revolution began making their way through the film industry in 2006, we actually decided to go back and produce our feature film, OceanWorld, in 3-D, which we’d always aspired to, as we were well aware of the power of the stereoscopic medium. We always want to provide a “diving experience” unlike any other audiences have ever had—no humans, no boats, no aerial shots, just the underwater world as it really is. It seems that hardly a day goes by now that one doesn’t read about the 3-D “renaissance” in the trade papers or attend a panel discussion on the subject at an industry conference. It’s difficult to accurately predict whether 3-D will revolutionize the motion picture industry in the way the transition from black-and-white to color images did, or whether it will eventually fade out, as it has done before. That said, we are firm believers in its unequaled power to bring people straight into the heart of the action.
MM: Your latest film, OceanWorld 3D, was picked up by Disney for U.S. distribution. What can you tell us about the project? How does it differ from your others?
FM: The all-media rights to OceanWorld 3D, our company’s first feature-length film, were acquired earlier this year by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures for North America including Mexico and by Wild Bunch International for the rest of the world. The film has already been launched in Russia, France and Spain, which will be followed by another 50 territories in the coming months. In 80 minutes, OceanWorld 3D takes moviegoers on an awesome journey that captures the beauty and diversity of the oceans—the source of all life on our planet—and inspires them to protect its fragile ecosystem and inhabitants.
JM: Guided by a sea turtle, viewers will enjoy a close-up look at this fascinating world from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Argentina’s Peninsula Valdez to Mexico’s Roca Partida Island, home to thousands of sharks. They will witness some of the most unforgettable scenes of life beneath the waves ever captured: The manta ray’s enchanting ballet, the noble procession of hammerhead sharks; the lionfish’s relentless hunt; dolphins playing algae-soccer; the astonishing beauty of the Spanish dancer sea slug and leafy sea dragon; and an exceptional encounter with the largest cetaceans on the planet. As its title indicates, this film primarily differs from our previous projects in that it provides a more general view of the splendor of the oceans rather than focusing on a particular species such as sharks, dolphins, whales or coral reefs.
MM: What’s the most difficult aspect of underwater moviemaking? How long does the process usually take?
FM: Underwater filmmaking is an exercise in patience. Unlike most motion pictures, which involve a cast of trained professionals, the stars of our films are wild, occasionally act in totally unexpected ways and don’t always show up when you want them to. Another challenge is locating the animals. We occasionally go to locations where a certain migratory species was known to be found every year at that exact period and they simply never came. After weeks spent waiting, we’d have to cancel the shoot. The animals’ migration patterns have changed, likely as a result of climate change and the depletion of their food stocks.
JM: Our three 40-minute documentary films for IMAX theaters each took about two and a half years to complete. For OceanWorld 3D, we spent over 1,500 hours underwater during the course of 26 filming expeditions around the globe over seven years and came back with 200 hours of footage in 3-D, which then had to be edited down to 82 minutes. As a vertically integrated company, we have the luxury of being able to oversee the entire process from shooting to post-production ourselves.
MM: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences gain from watching your 3-D underwater adventures?
FM: According to PADI’s estimates, less than one percent of the world’s population has ever been underwater. As such, our hope is that audiences come away from our films with a greater appreciation of the marine world and a heightened awareness of the immediate dangers the oceans and their inhabitants are facing. As Jacques-Yves Cousteau said, “We protect only what we love” and in order to love something, you must first understand it.
For more information, visit http://www.oceanworld3d.com.