From American Cinematographer, Breaking Slavery's Chains by Stephen Pizzello (January 1998)
"We mainly did day exteriors on the ocean. Night exteriors and interiors involving the ships were all done on stage."
- Janusz Kaminski
Kaminski found it even more difficult to re-create the feeling of sea travel on dry land. An 85 percent scale model of the Amistad was built in the Van Nuys hangar, while a similarly sized hull section, used for interior scenes, was constructed in Universal's Stage 12. The ship in Van Nuys was built on a system of air bags which could be inflated and deflated to provide the appropriate rocking motion.
"The air bags under the ship gave us really nice movement, and we used the big tanks to dump the water over everything. We would do one or two takes with all of the effects, but then it would take 20 minutes to reset everything."
... "On a few occasions we would put a slightly harder light on a Chapman crane and move the crane across the masts and ropes to create some shadow movement. It was all very subtle, because I didn't want the lighting to be vulgar. I just wanted to create a bit of movement, especially when Steven didn't want to wait for the air bags to get moving."
- Janusz Kaminski
Equally classic methods were used to generate authentic ambiance for interior scenes on the Stage 12 ship set. Since this set was not on a motion base, the crew created a sense of movement by choreographing the actors and the lighting.
"For day scenes involving the ship's hold, we used T-5 beam projectors to create hot shafts of light streaming through the openings in the top of the ship. We hung those from trapezes with rope, and I had all of these fellows on top of the boat moving the beams back and forth so you'd get the feeling that the boat was moving in relation to the sun. Aside from the T-5 projectors, we didn't use too much; we'd use the Seven-Minute Drill when we wanted to see into the shadows of the hold a bit. The day scenes, of course, had the sun as an obvious source. In terms of the night scenes in the ship's hold, if you're willing to accept some moonlight coming through the portholes, I think we've completely succeeded in creating a poor man's process on the boat. It really seems as if the boat is on the ocean."
- David Devlin, Gaffer for Janusz on Amistad