J Kent Layton

J Kent Layton in the 2021 HFX Documentary ‘The Odyssey of Titanic’s Lifeboat No. 2’.

Although my primary focus is on written works, I have been proud to consult on or help create media endeavors, as well. It has become clear to me that when people want to learn nowadays, they don’t always reach for a book first. The internet, media, and video are the new ‘go-to’s for hungry enthusiasts. However, these often have to wade through a veritable minefield of cleverly-crafted nonsense, tangled webs of conspiracy theories and uneducated guesswork. I had been hoping to be able to make the leap into more modern media formats for some time, but was concerned about content and quality control.

In 2019 and 2020, on the anniversaries of the Titanic disaster, I was honored to be asked to co-host the live real-time sinking animations with Tom Lynskey from Titanic: Honor & Glory. But little did I know that this journey had only just begun…


In early 2021, after Tom had left the THG team, we decided to put together an entirely new real-time sinking animation for the 109th anniversary on 14-15 April. A new team was united under the banner of Tom’s production company, HFX. For the first time, it was we as historians — Tad Fitch, myself, and Bill Wormstedt — who were at the helm of a serious Titanic production. We were able to have the final say in the production’s content and give it a ‘stamp of approval’ for authenticity; although we were on a very tight deadline, and there are a few things that need refining over time, the final results were nothing short of incredible.

It is important to point out that this venture was completely unprecedented. To our knowledge, this endeavor was the first time that historians were given the final say on the content; most televised programs are created by a production company and are designed to sell commercial space. Historians who are interviewed are often dismayed to find after the fact that their interviews were edited to make it look like they supported a non-historical premise presented in the show to get viewers. The historians rarely have any say over the show’s final content, in spite of appearances to the contrary.

This project was happily different: Tom and his team gave the historians the opportunity to present the information that we had compiled over the course of many years of research and writing in a finished ‘composite’ that was so accurate that we were often able to literally see how certain disparate events ‘lined up’ and came together for the first time since they actually happened in 1912. It was an incredible experience.

The anniversary broadcast animation was entitled On A Sea of Glass–LIVE! It was literally a multi-hour event that brought to life all of the findings contained in our 2012 book On A Sea of Glass: The Life & Loss of the RMS Titanic. Tom, Tad, Bill, and myself were joined in the live broadcast by our modeler and animator Levi Rourke, as well as artist and researcher Michael Brady of Ocean Liner Designs, who helped us create the digital model used in the animation.


In the weeks after the live real-time event, our team worked very hard to finish a more detailed real-time animation of the sinking, one that was not narrated by historians and researchers. Called Titanic Sinks in Real Time: “Historian Edition” this production showed the disaster in real time, and included sound effects and music. Again, Tad, Bill and I were given the opportunity to give a final stamp of approval on the film’s content, to ensure the highest accuracy.


After completing the two real-time sinking animations, our team realized that there was much more material contained in the sinking animation than could be shown off even in a real-time animation nearly three hours long. We thus decided to make a test documentary focusing on one particular subject, and see it through from beginning to end.

Our selection was the complete story of Emergency Boat No. 2, which had a thrilling and oft-overlooked story that played a crucial role in the disaster. Again, the historians were given the keys to creating a documentary with accurate content. Thanks to Ton’s brilliant directing, the finished piece was a worthy equal to any documentary program shown on television.

I look forward to participating in more of these projects in the future.