Researching the wreck of Titanic

The objective of the research was to build as accurate a model of the wreck of Titanic as research and scale will permit. Since I was unlikely to actually visit the ship, I wanted to "see" the wreck through recreating it. I wanted my model to be as technically accurate as Ken Marschall's paintings, which means I had to do the same original research he did. I also made some the same right and wrong guesses as to what was hidden in the darkness.

The cornerstone of the wreck research was a trip to Woodshole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) during November 1996. In the WHOI archives reside the Angus photos. Angus is the towed camera platform that was towed over the wrecksite shooting overlapping photos. Over 60,000 photos were made of the entire wrecksite and hundreds crossed the wreck and the immediate debris field. Surface coverage of the wreck is about 95%.

There is also a great deal of unpublished video including B&W low-light fly-overs of Titanic by the submersible Alvin, plus other color close-ups.


 In the video lab at the WHOI Deep Sea Laboratory. The Angus photos are all on laser disk. In the archive on the Quissit Campus. All the unpublished raw video is in a 4-drawer file cabinet.

To fully comprehend the wreck, you must understand it's construction, "What was", and then carefully study the available photos and videos to see "what is". The process is very much like being a crash investigator. "What happened? What is this? And how did it get that way?"

I built a prototype of the wreck using the small Revell 1/570 scale Titanic kit (4-5 months) and this effort helped teach me what I could learn from the published material, and what I didn't know. This made the research far more productive. I created a set of baseline drawings and modified them based on what I found in the WHOI research.

I needed to determine every detail in an area of some 3,000 sq yards or meters. With the Angus photos or the video, you have a square of 30 feet (10 meters) or less from which to work, and you assemble a massive jigsaw of details. The hundred or so resulting pieces are compounded in that the ship is 3-dimensional with all it's decks in different conditions.

Modeling was the not-so-easy part. The research was the hard part.

The research, modeling, and interaction on the internet led me to becoming a founding member and trustee of the Titanic Research and Modeling Association. (TRMA)

Other sources of research included:


Research tip: Try this yourself. How do you get the most information from a picture? A researcher at WHOI taught me this and it works!

Find a picture, any picture, that has a fair amount of complexity and detail in it. Study it for 30 seconds and put it away. Now try describing every detail. You'll get the main points of the picture, but the details will allude you. Try this three step process:

1. Look at the picture for 10 seconds, but only look for recognizable objects: people, chair, round thing, etc. Count them in your mind. Note their relationship to each other.

2. Look at it again for 10 more seconds but look only for linear objects and lines that run off the picture, wall edges, telephone lines, cracks and seams.

3. Look at it again for 10 more seconds but look only for textures, grass, fabric, paneling, smooth and rough.

Can you remember more about the photo? Try another fairly complex photo and see how you do.

The human eye and brain work against you with detail. The brain prefers to record easy stuff like objects. Counting the objects gives you an extra piece of information to allow better storage in your mind. Linear detail is noise and gets rejected, unless you consciously note it worth remembering. Textures are even more noise. That's why most people can't describe the wall paper in their house. It's not an object or a line. You have to tune your mind to objects, then lines, and then textures to get the most from a complex scene. Try it just driving to work and see how much more you notice along the way.

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Copyright 1997, 2012 Roy Mengot