With masterful planning, the design and the production of the Titanic is a marvel that moved the film industry to higher levels. The film director and producer, James Cameron, and other crewmembers succeeded in bringing to the world’s attention the events that surrounded the greatest maritime disaster that claimed about 1,500 lives.
By paying meticulous attention to detail, the production designer of the film, Peter Lamont, succeeded in creating the ‘world’ of the film. He did this with the intention of avoiding the restrictions that comes with film production in the actual environment. More over, this enabled him to tackle the possible variables in the production process (Barnwell, 2004).
In order to design the ship’s interior such that it looked like the original one, the crewmembers used artifacts from that era. Nonetheless, the design crew was forced to make everything from scratch since everything had to be new. Consequently, forty acres of waterfront in Rosarito Beach in Mexico was obtained for constructing seventeen-million-gallon tank for the outer surfaces of the reconstructed massive vessel (Champkin, 2010).
The super-tank was beneficial for filming since it provided two hundred and seventy degrees of ocean view. In spite of the ship being constructed to full scale, the production designer took out unnecessary sections of the vessel. He then moved forward the well deck to ensure that the vessel was able to fit in the tank. The other parts that were not catered for were then filled with digital models.
The length of the ship’s lifeboats and funnels were reduced considerably, excluding the boat deck and the A-deck, the other sections of the superstructure were steel plated, and a fifty-foot lifting platform was included such that the ship could sink as planned. Referring to the design of the original structure, the production design crew reproduced the exact representation of its interior.
Other sections of the ship, such as the liner’s first class, were built out of real wood using photographs and plans of the original ship. During the ship’s sinking, the designs true to the originals were also actually destroyed. The custom building of the ship was meant to validate the historical detail of the movie.
The effects that the filmmakers used in the movie are marvelous. Previous movies about the 1912 catastrophe had depicted the water to be in a slow motion.
However, the film producer was not convinced of this and he ensured that the shooting of the forty-five foot long miniature of the ship was done perfectly. Thereafter, there was some incorporation of digital water as well as smoke. Some extras shot on a motion capture stage were also incorporated and for the digital extras and stuntmen, the faces of several actors were scanned to produce the visual effects.
The production design included a sixty-five foot long representation of the original ship’s stern. This was intended to divide it into two parts repeatedly when depicting the sinking scene. In order to depict the scenes that were set in the ship’s engine, wreckage of a liberty ship used during the Second World War were used.
This was combined with a number of miniature support frames to depict the occurrences at the ship’s engine. The actors who played a role in this scene were filmed using the chroma key compositing technique. The detailed design of the ship was meant to support the narrative such that the occurrences could be as desired.
In order to sink the interiors of the ship, about nineteen million-litre tank was used. It was designed such that, during the sinking scene, the whole set could be tilted into the sea. For sinking the Grand Staircase, three hundred and forty thousand litres of water were placed inside the set as it was being lowered into the huge tank; however, contrary to the plan, the fall of the water destroyed the staircase.
The first half of the seven hundred and forty-four foot long outer walls of the ship were first allowed to get into the tank. However, as it was the weightiest section of the ship, it smoothed out the shock impulse against the water.
This assisted in enabling the set to get into the water. During the sinking, much water was released from the set. Following the successful sinking of the dining saloon, about seventy-two hours were utilized in filming Lovett’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) navigating the shattered pieces in the present. After sinking the ship, the other scenes were filmed in the sub-zero Atlantic Ocean in 1.3 million-litre tank.
The frozen dead bodies were generated by applying fine powder on the actors. This crystallized on exposure to the water at sub-zero temperature. In addition, their hair and clothes were covered with a waxy material to show that their bodies were starting to decompose.
Perhaps the most visually dramatic special effects of the movie relates to the climactic scene in which the filmmakers depict the ship to be breaking up into two separate parts before going under. To achieve this, a full-sized set was tilted, together with one hundred and fifty extras and one hundred stunt performers.
Ultimately, the ship plunged to the bottom of the frozen ocean. The film producer, Cameron, stated that the previous versions of the film did not portray the incident as chaotic as it should have been since they represented the final plunge into the ocean as a graceful slow event. To portray this, Cameron instructed the actors to fall off dangerously on the side of the ship that was slowly sinking.
However, this was unsuccessful as some people got injured. Ultimately, to make the sequence less dangerous, images of individuals created using computer was used to depict this risky falls. The ship was designed, as described above, such that this could occur as desired. This also assisted in supporting the narrative of the film.
In spite of the success of the film, there are a number of critical reactions to its design. Notable is the high cost of its design. With a budget of two hundred million dollars, the production team of the movie have been criticized for only managing to construct a half of the original ship.
This meant that some scenes were shot and reversed when the filmmakers wanted to portray the occurrences on the other side of the ship. Some critics have said, “It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted and spellbinding. If its story stays well within the traditional formulas for such pictures, well, you don’t choose the most expensive film ever made as your opportunity to reinvent the wheel” (Ebert, 1997, para. 3).
In conclusion, since the events in the movie took place over ninety years ago, the production crew attempted to tailor the actions in the film to their historical context. Therefore, various technologies and effects were used to achieve this. In addition, the design of the American epic romance film was such that it supported the narrative. Despite of the film’s critical reaction to its design, it highly regarded as one of the best movies ever produced.
Barnwell, J., 2004. Production Design. London: Wallflower Press.
Champkin, J., 2010. The making of titanic; the real story behind the film of the year. [Online] The Free Library. Available at:
Ebert, R., 1997. Titanic. [Online] Rogerbert.com. Available at: