The Deep

Director Jim O'Hanlon & Colm McCarthy, Producers Greg Brenman & Will Gould, Tiger Aspect - 2010

A action thriller set far below the Arctic ice follows the crew of an oceanographer's submarine as they search the final frontier of Earth for new and remarkable life forms. When inexplicable circumstances sause a catastrophe to strike, the crew find themselves stranded with no power, limited oxygen and no communication with the surface. And they are completely alone - or so they think...

Very early on I decided to design the look of the Orpheus research submarine and single-man submersible in 3D prior to a visual effects company being attached. This meant that once on board, the VFX team could be focused on pre-visualisation of the action sequences during the prep period, doing rough composites during the shoot and sped up post production.

Once the vessel designs were complete, I could start work on the water details such as the lighting, content and colour of the deep sea water.

I designed the Orpheus with a Bridge/Control Room at the front of the ship giving wonderful opportunities to see the amazing deep sea views over the shoulders of the characters rather than seeing in all on CCTV monitors or through portholes. This did have a financial implication however; we would need to film the cast sitting in their seats for all the exterior scenes and composite them into the rest of the ship and seascape. Early tests showed that it was very worthwhile, giving scale to an otherwise quite claustrophobic storyline.

To decide which character should sit where and what job they should perform I roughly followed the layout of an aeroplane; pilot on the left, copilot on the right and navigator behind them.

I wanted to avoid laying the consoles out in straight lines as I'd taken great care to keep the exterior lines flowing. I put the characters in chunky swivelling truck seats and inset monitors into the units displaying Radar, GPS, stats and images fed from cameras around the ship.

To keep the action flowing around the vessel I built the interior as a complete composite set. The whole 100 foot interior length of the submarine was built in the studio so it was possible to run from the bridge through the mess, along corridors, through the labs and down ladders to the moon pool.


I wanted the Orpheus to look as though it had been designed using computer software with perfect curves, bespoke fitted furniture and neatly laid pipework. To achieve this feel I used 3D CAD software to design the interior of the ship and so produced photorealistic visuals to discuss with director, producers and DoP. 

To give a sense of confinement I designed the interior sets with low ceilings which also enhanced the feeling of pressure from the water outside.


I wanted to maintain the illusion that the ship was underwater by seeing into the ocean outside the porthole windows. I achieved this by putting specially built fish tanks up against the outside the windows filled with mirky water. We lit the tanks brightly from above when the ship was close to the surface, blue-green when in deep water and black when at the sea bed.

Key scenes took place in the Orpheus Bio Lab. I wanted to give this space a different look from anywhere else on the ship; a well lit space with shiny reflective white and steel surfaces. I created the space, layout, furnishing and dressing using CAD to carefully balance the scripted action, style and practicality of filming with two cameras.

In the Orpheus I wanted low ceilings throughout to really feel the pressure of the water on the vessel from above. This gave the opportunity to dress detailed textures on the ceilings such as cooling fans, light units, electrical power conduits and water pipes.

The plot features a single man submersible called Lurch. I designed this using 3D software mainly so that I could hand the completed design to the visual effects dept to use in underwater scenes, but it became invaluable when building the full sized version as it could be ‘CNC’ cut from blocks of high density foam, textured and painted.

Above; under construction at Asylum Models and completed on set set.

In the depths of the Arctic ocean the Orpheus crew come across a Russian underwater oil drilling platform. I wanted this vessel to be the complete opposite of the hi-tech, computer operated Orpheus sub. I started with drawings of the existing cold-war Russian Typhoon class submarine and cut away large areas underneath for oil drilling cranes, tanks and huge moon pool.

Visual for the interior of the Russian submarine. swallowing up the Orpheus.

I made this vessel many times larger than the Orpheus (see visual below). This followed through to the interior sets which gave a dramatic visual contrast from the compact, brightly lit confines of the Orpheus to the huge, shadowy halls of  the Russian submarine.