Images from the field illustrate Captain Cousteau’s tales and show the public the marvels of the underwater depths. All this would not have been possible without patiently developed underwater equipment.
Captain Cousteau shot his first film, Par Dix-huit mètres de fond (Ten Fathoms Down), in 1942, diving while holding his breath, using an old Kinamo 35mm camera in a watertight case. A year later, with the Aqua-Lung, he shot his second film, Epaves (Shipwrecks) and for this one, he could take his time. The Cousteau team’s inventions have made filming undersea life possible, so that people can learn to understood and love it.
Light was the first problem that undersea expeditions confronted: the sea that is so blue and clear at the surface plunges into total obscurity at depth. Artificial lighting has resolved the obstacle of darkness and let the Cousteau team film marine life with such good results!
In 1948, Cousteau used powerful lights linked to the surface by an electric cable to produce the first underwater footage filmed in color. Cousteau team studied the behavior of light rays in water so they could refine their undersea photography and filming. Reds are absorbed first, then yellows, greens, and blues. The team needed artificial lighting to render undersea landscapes with the full range of tints, beginning just a few meters below the surface.
In 1963, when World Without Sun was shot, those early days of filming were well past. Calypso had kilometers of cables and a dozen cameras available. For filming in low light, Cousteau used an “owl eye,” an electronic device that multiplies ambient light. Using the owl eye, which requires just the faintest light, he filmed the behavior of nautiluses for the first time.
Since most marine animals swim more quickly than humans, Cousteau developed underwater scooters that he used for The Silent World. These little “lawnmowers with propellers” were very maneuverable, reached a speed of 5 km/h and could operate for an hour at a time.
In 1970, compressed-air tanks inside the scooters made work easier for the divers. The “wet submersible,” refined and streamlined, with a Plexiglas nose and a brace to support the pilot’s body, was connected to the user only by the mouthpiece. It proved much more practical both for launching into the water and for navigating.