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When you’re going below the surface to capture the hidden life of a coral reef, you want to get in close. Until now, though, 3-D cameras kept their operators at a distance: Imax rigs are very bulky because of the waterproof housing needed to hold the huge rolls of film. And typical digital 3-D cameras have to stay about 6 feet from a subject or the resulting image will make viewers queasy. But D. J. Roller’s Last Reef, out this summer, features eye-popping ultra-close-up 3-D shots of sea turtles, rays flying through the depths, and giant bubble-gum-pink sea anemones.
Roller learned his 3-D chops working alongside James Cameron, so when he set out to film the annual mass spawning of corals and the reef bleaching caused by rising ocean acidity, he and his partners took Cameron’s approach and developed their own system. The custom unit includes the first underwater housing for what’s called a beamsplitter 3-D camera, which can capture tight macro shots but until now was used only on land. Roller also designed a polarized dive mask that lets him review footage underwater in 3-D and make changes on the fly, thus maximizing his window of time for documenting the spawning. He’s thinking about licensing the technology. Fingers crossed someone uses it to remake Jaws 3-D with some gross-out closeups.