A Key Rigging Grip/Underwater Key
Grip's collection of
(click on pictures below to see videos)
Although I started this page a
few years ago to highlight how SketchUp can be used by rigging grips to
design and plan their rigging challenges, I've been getting more and
more interested in the complexities of set design.
This led me to take a short but extensive course in Production Design
for Film and Television. One of our projects was the design of a speakeasy set. Here's what I came up with:
In Aldergrove, British Columbia, there's an old horse riding arena that
was converted to a sound stage. The CBC's TV production Arctic Air was
one of dozens of productions shot in this revamped facility. While
rigging the stage for Arctic Air we
with a challenge to
hang a studio pipe grid
14 feet above the floor across most of the 100
foot wide by 260 foot long building. The entire grid was hung
from cables that were attached to brackets bolted to the
ceiling beams. The brackets were roughly 12 feet apart along beams that
20 feet apart. Since the pipe grid needed to be based on 10 ft by 10 ft
squares many of the pipes had to hung on bridle cables between the
beams. Creating a 3D
model as a design and planning tool
the calculations and logistics of making over 200 bridle cables of
varying lengths. The grid has already serviced three seasons of Arctic
Air and now serves the needs of a new TV series currently in production.
Another show and another challenge:
hang a flying curved greenscreen
with an arc length of 112 feet and a radius of 43 feet.The 20 foot high greenscreen was
rigged to fly out of the way
to quickly make room for shooting scenes that did not require the
greenscreen. Curved curtain track was not an option due to time
constraints during filming. The 3D model was created as a design and
planning tool to
the placement along the arc of five 24 foot long runs of straight
truss. The truss sections were joined with hinge plates to create a
solid support for the 112 foot curved aluminum pipe arc. The 3D model
also helped determine the pick points along the truss for
the 6 chain motors required to fly the curved greenscreen. The model
shows how the parts of the building can be rendered invisible to bring
the primary focus to the placement of the rigging and lighting
hardware. After shooting with the greenscreen on the main set the push
of one button makes
the greenscreen and a large
piece of rigging hardware rise to the ceiling. Since the shooting
schedule called for going back and forth between sets it was very quick
and easy to restablish the greenscreen.
The Beijing Underwater Film Studio. I designed this virtual
facility after being contacted by Ray Productions of
Beijing. They were searching for
input and ideas
for the construction of a dedicated underwater studio. I wanted to
illustrate all the features that would be
important to have in a studio created
for the filming of underwater scenes.
My ideal size for a perfect tank would be at least 60 feet by 60 feet.
The depth would be about 20 feet. There would be three distinct levels
in the tank starting with the boat ramp in line with a roll up door
going down the 5 feet deep section. From this level there would be
permanent concrete stairs going down to a 10-foot deep level with more
stairs going to a 15-foot deep zone followed by the last set of stairs
to the bottom at 20 feet. Permanent stairs right to the bottom makes
life a lot easier when the tank is partially or entirely drained. If a
larger area of only 5 or 10 feet deep is required it is easy to build
an underwater scaffold platform to extend the 5 or 10-foot zone. For
scenes with vigorous wave action the level may be dropped to whatever
level is required to ensure that wave water stays in the tank.
A large deck around the tank is important when combining above and
below water set elements. Sloping rock cliffs that go right from the
ceiling to deep underwater are easy to create when there is enough deck
space. Greenscreens, translights, and other topside elements need room
for front or back lighting. If the permanent deck needs to be larger,
scaffold platforms underwater make it possible to create almost any
conceivable set piece from the edge of an ice-covered mountain forest
to a sloping tropical beach.
The dive tank walls and floor would be flat black. Greenscreens would
be lowered into the water on truss and chain motors from the 40-foot
high underside of a beefy arrangement of steel roof trusses. Literally
tonnes of rigging and lighting equipment can safely hang from the
ceiling trusses of most modern studios and the ideal underwater studio
would have the same structural characteristics as any conventional
There should be a dedicated room for the director and the rest of the
video village personnel. They can watch and direct the action from the
comfort of proper chairs and tables with large-screen HDTV monitors,
underwater speakers, and live two-way communication with the dive crew.
The dive tank area will be warm and humid and the air-conditioned
comfort of the video village room will be appreciated.
Since there could be up to 15 or more divers and actors in the water
(depending on the script) there needs to be an efficient way to deal
with dive gear and wet divers. The divers need good access to and from
the water. A wet-use washroom facility adjacent to the divers area
helps maintain water quality. Air compressors located in the basement
directly below the divers makes filling scuba tanks a very simple
The underwater camera crew needs their workstation right beside the
divers area. Underwater camera housings need to be opened fairly often
to change lenses, batteries, etc.
The underwater crew needs a good locker room for changing in and out of
their wetsuits. Actors may need a hot tub to warm up between shots if
they start to find the water a bit cool. A seminar room is important
for training purposes. Space is also required for production offices,
wardrobe, props, set dec, grip and lighting departments. Laundry
facilities for wetsuits, towels, and wardrobe can be located anywhere
in the building. A large freight elevator right from the basement to
the roof facilitates any kind of future need. A helicopter-landing pad
on the roof is essential for people for whom time is money.
are just a few of the ideas covered in the animation and the
correspondence that was emailed to Ray Productions of Beijing. Now it
appears that China's
richest man, Wang Jianlin, is building an underwater studio as part of
the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis. Once completed
in 2017, the project will be the world's largest studio complex with 20
sound stages in addition to the underwater studio. From my perspective
as a Key Rigging Grip and an Underwater
Key Grip this is a preview of what the ideal underwater studio and
production center would look like.
I am excited to see how many of my ideas actually make it into
finished project. So Mr. Jianlin, if you read this and want to send me
a ticket to China to come and see the completed project I would
definitely accept your offer!
For the production of Man of Steel we needed a set of stairs going into the 60 foot
diameter dive tank.
Since the shooting schedule for the underwater work was projected to
last 5 weeks we needed a set of stairs that was comfortable for actors
as well as divers. Safety was also a primary concern so the stairs were
made over 4 feet wide to allow two people to enter or leave the water
at the same time. Three platforms were added below the water surface so
there was adequate room for actors and divers to rest between takes.
All stairs and decks were carpeted for actor and crew comfort and
safety. Since the scaffolding stairs system was on wheels we
were able to roll it out of the way and re-position it as the
underwater sets were changed.
Scaffold towers for lighting exterior
film sets are often used in situations like dense forests when a condor
or stinger crane simply cannot go where the director of photography
wants to position his big exterior lighting.This scaffold tower
needed to be 10 feet by 10 feet square with a deck height of 35 feet.
An I-beam was rigged up six feet above the deck to provide a pully for
hoisting heavy lamps up to the deck as well as serving as a hanging
support for the lamps. Heat shield frames would be mounted to the pipe
beside the I-beam and a 30 foot by 12 foot diffusion fabric would be
wrapped around the 3 faces of the tower facing the set. The effect
would be a large-source lighting effect simulating sunlight or
Since the tower is to be built in the forest guylines with cable
tirfirs will secure the tower to nearby trees.
On a recent tech survey for a TV show everyone was contemplating
filming day for
night on an actual full-size diesel locomotive. The actors were mostly
interacting in the cab of the train and the action called for a 20 foot
by 80 foot long greenscreen for the visual effects. A large
blackout tent with a big curved greenscreen inside was required as was
support pipes for the lamps lighting the greenscreen.
The 3D renditions of the rigging helped visualize how we were intending
to build the structure that would be needed to actually shoot the scene
as requested. While the 3D animations are useful for
demonstrating exactly what we intend to build the 2D pictures from the
model are completely adequate for quickly conveying the scale and
perspective of what we are being asked to build. Needless to say, once
the producers realized how big the setup was getting for the INT
LOCOMOTIVE scene they nixed the real locomotive idea and decided to do
it in a locomotive cab mockup in a studio set.
divers have to carefully monitor their depth as well as the duration of
the dive in order to return to the surface before accumulating too much
disolved nitrogen in their tissues. To help safely remove that
disolved nitrogen divers are often required to decompress at a
predetermined shallow depth. They remain there at the specific depth
for a period of time that depends on how deep they went as well as how
long they were at that depth. After staying at 20 feet for the minimum
required time they can safely return to the surface without suffering
from the bends.
The animation below illustrates a
design for a diver's safety stop station
that is intended to
be moored to a sunken wreck. The safety stop station will hang from a
mooring buoy 20 feet below the waters surface so that divers can
comfortably perform their decompression safety stop after a dive. This
designed by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC) and
is intended to be installed on each of the artificial reefs the ARSBC
has sunk in the waters off the coast of BC.
photos, video animations, and designs on
this page copyright protected by
Design by DeWaal. Images are presented for information puposes only.
by DeWaal and it's affiliates are in no way responsible for any outcome
by anyone attempting to physically build the structures on this
webpage. Always consult with a professional structural engineer and
appropriate tradesmen before building anything you may see on the
If you require
a 3D model to help determine a studio rigging plot or
design please fee free to contact
Herb DeWaal, IATSE 891 Key Rigging Grip, at (604) 961-5428