The Australian husband
and wife team of Ron and Valerie Taylor has been at the
forefront of the field of underwater image acquisition since
the early sixties. They have provided footage for numerous television
and film productions and are world renowned for their specialization
in getting imagery of the shark in its native environment. Recently,
they have adopted the use of DV cameras and decks as a compliment
to their enormous catalog of professional film and analog video
footage. What follows are Ron Taylor's remarks and insights,
gleaned during a recent interview conducted by Charles Roberts
and Jay Garbose.
I have been interested in photography
ever since I was at school in the late 1940s. My father was an
amateur photographer and 8mm cameraman. When I took up the sport
of spearfishing in 1951, I naturally wished to take underwater
pictures, so I built an underwater housing for a still camera
and started to get good results.
When television came to Australia
in 1956, I saw the potential for making underwater news stories.
My lucky break came when a friend loaned me his Bell Howell 16mm
movie camera. It used a 50 foot magazine that had a running time
of just over a minute at 25 frames per second. I built a housing
for it. My friend also bought the 16mm film for me to experiment
with. I could not afford to buy movie film in those days because
I was only an apprentice in the printing industry. When I learned
to get the right exposure and color filters to produce a professional
result, I purchased my own 16mm Bolex, made a housing and started
selling news items to TV and Movietone News.
My first TV documentary, SHARK
HUNTERS, was sold to NBC in the US in the early 60s and I
was on my way. I purchased my first 35mm movie camera in 1967,
built a housing and started shooting underwater scenes for other
peoples' productions. My first major 35mm shoot was for BLUE
WATER WHITE DEATH, in 69. Peter Gimbel was producer, director
and underwater cameraman. Jim Lipscome was the topside cameraman/director,
while Stan Waterman and I were underwater cameramen. Stan and
I worked as a pair as did Peter and Valerie.
I had a close call during filming of Blue Water White Death.
My 35mm camera had run out of film and I was sitting on top of
the shark cage that was suspended about 30 feet underneath a
dead Sperm Whale. Peter Gimbel, Stan Waterman and Valerie were
still working with the hundred or so oceanic sharks that were
feeding on the carcass. I was enjoying the spectacle when suddenly
I received a hard blow to the side of my head. I didn't see the
9 foot Oceanic White Tip Shark coming. The blow almost knocked
me unconscious. I could feel my body going limp and sea water
was running into my mouth beside my mouthpiece. My vision was
narrowing. Luckily, I regained control. The shark didn't try
to bite me. It was simply an investigative bump. They often did
that to the cages and even the Whale. I think they test to see
if an object is edible.
My most famous shoot was the underwater
live Great White Shark sequences for JAWS. That came about when
Universal Studios producers asked Peter Gimbel to shoot the underwater
shark sequences. Peter said he would not shoot underwater, and
instead offered to direct the movie. Steven Spielberg had already
been engaged to direct, so Peter suggested they contact us here
in Australia for the underwater sequences. They did and we jumped
at the opportunity.
I became well known for shooting dramatic shark footage. We have
supplied footage to most of the world's top producers. Perhaps
our best known documentary sequences are in National Geographic's
SHARKS. You may remember seeing Valerie testing the stainless
steel mesh suit with Blue Sharks off the San Diego coast. Cinematographer
Howard Hall was shooting slow motion 16mm while I was shooting
normal speed 16mm. I consider Howard to be the world's top underwater
cameraman. Howard has received many awards for his documentaries.
Most of my film shooting has been
with 16mm, although I also have a 35mm library. I purchased a
16MM-35MM six plate flat bed editing machine in 1975, and edited
some of my own productions in 16mm. I also found it very useful
for selecting 16 and 35mm footage for sale as stock footage.
Then, in 1985, I built a housing for my first 8mm camcorder,
which delivered the wonderful flexibility of low cost and long
running time. The down side was low video quality.
The arrival of Hi-8 Video finally
produced quality acceptable for broadcast TV. And today, Digital
Video is changing my professional life. The digital revolution
has arrived. My film cameras never get used now, and what's more,
their value has dropped dramatically. I now use 3 chip DVCAM
units in housings I made myself.
In the past year, three 52 minute documentaries entitled SHADOW
OF THE SHARK have been produced featuring the adventures
of Valerie and myself. Nearly all the footage came from my library.
I was very interested to note that my recent PAL DV footage was
equal, and sometimes better, in quality than some of my old 16mm
film. Technically, film has higher detail resolution than DV.
However, film has to go through a telecine to convert it to video
for TV release. In my opinion, the telecine reduces film quality
to about the same level as consumer DV, especially when you view
the results on a home TV.
I also have a Betacam SP edit suite
and have had all my film stock transferred to tape. Editing and
finishing on tape certainly beats the high costs of an all-film
production. After the shoot, my first job is to go through my
original camera tapes and select out all the best shots that
I know can be used in the final edit. I transfer all these selected
shots to a 3 hour DVCAM master tape. I have a Sony DSR30 PAL
deck as the record deck and use the camcorder to transfer the
original. My original tapes never get touched again. I also have
the option of selecting those shots and capturing directly to
the hard drive.
At the moment, Final Cut Pro is
very new to me. I am only in the beginning stages of using it
but can already see the advantages of a non-linear editor. I
hope to be able to do the complete postproduction in FCP. I will
probably work the much same way I do with Betacam linear editing;
that is, construct short sequences. What I really like about
FCP is the Edit Decision List and Batch Capture features. I plan
to use the EDL to select good takes while on location and then
make batch captures back in the edit room. I can see the tremendous
advantage of making several versions of an edit and to be able
to easily make changes.
In a couple of respects, video
offers big advantages for underwater cinematography. First, it
responds very well to low contrast lighting and makes the water
look clearer than it actually is. Second, much less artificial
light is needed to get a good colorful exposure. Where I would
have to use a 650 watt light to get good color on film, a 100
watt light will achieve the same with video. Shooting underwater
with video is easy; you can get near perfect exposures all the
time. For best results, I use a video light to make the colors
show up. The mini-arcs are best because they are daylight color
temperature. I use a 3-chip camera, although single chips cameras
are also good.
You may gather
that my hobby is making housings. When I was first starting up,
I didn't have the money to purchase housings, so I had to make
my own. I get great satisfaction when I make an underwater housing
and it works the way I planned. I must say I am envious of some
of the latest commercially produced housings, with electronic
control of just about every function. My housings only have mechanical
controls. On the other hand, they never fail. I have seen the
others quit occasionally. Water coming in is the greatest risk.
I have ruined two video camcorders in recent years, both times
through my error in not checking seals. I am normally very careful
but it is amazing how human error creeps in. I think my age has
something to do with it. I'm 67 now. I never lost a movie camera
in several thousand dives in earlier years.
copyright © Jay
Garbose and Charles Roberts 2001
Jay Garbose: Ron and Valerie Taylor's
documentaries and exploits kindled Jay Garbose's desire for filmmaking
and shark adventures at a young age. After 20 years practicing
law, his avocation gave way to full-time profession as Jay
Underwater Video Internet Productions in Florida, producing broadcast
quality documentaries and internet productions with FCP. Credits
include footage contributed to HBO for an Emmy-award winning
special on endangered species, Texas educational TV, local TV
news stories and file footage at National Geographic. Jay has
dived all over the world in Florida, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico,
Costa Rica, Honduras and the Bahamas. Jay is currently working
on the Taylor's latest shark project, where he introduced Ron
Roberts AKA Chawla
teaches Digital Video, Audio and Post Production at Fitchburg
State College in Fitchburg, MA. He is a busy freelance shooter,
editor, compositor and A/V and DV solutions consultant and installer.
He is also a whacko video artist with an eye peeled for the incredible
expressive possibilities of interactive DVD for the masses. He
spends what little time is left serving as a Guide on the 2 Pop
Final Cut Pro Discussion Boards.
first appeared on www.kenstone.net as is reprinted here
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