In WHY, I intentionally downplayed the actual feats that we were documenting, mostly due to the time constraints for the final edit. Now, in the aftermath of the shoot, it's certainly worth calling attention to some of the specifics. Admittedly, this will be a bit "inside the game" for those that are not climbers or kayakers. So, sorry in advance!
In the case of both Dane Jackson and Alex Honnold, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot them doing real "firsts". At 18 years old Dane is the current Freestyle Kayaking World Champion. Though his forte is not going over huge waterfalls, as he gets older and stronger, he is beginning to eye larger and larger drops. As we spent the first day in Veracruz, Mexico, scouting and prepping to shoot, Dane's eyes locked on Tomata Falls. Not only is it a stunning waterfall but also, would be one of the largest falls that Dane had ever run. This was exciting to me as the filmmaker, yet at the same time, nerve wracking. I'm always excited by the opportunity to document something real. I hoped we could capture that intensity, and possibly even some fear, in Dane. My nerves are tested when athletes do things that are really on the edge, especially when the situation may not be controllable or repeated. Once Dane had committed to Tomata, I knew we might only have one opportunity to shoot him running the falls. Dropping a 60+ foot waterfall subjects the kayaker to an enormous impact if their execution and entry to the pool below is not perfect. With three D4s shooting on the first drop, I knew we did not have enough content to work with. When Dane reappeared after the long hike up the trail, it was a huge relief when he announced that he was unhappy that he "boofed it" (landing flat, in kayak speak) and wanted to give it a second try.
Though conversations with Nikon about the D4 shoot started over 6 months back, the exact timing for the shoot was unknown until just weeks before. All production of the shoot was ultimately dependent upon the availability of the prototypes. When the dates finally became clear, my shoot landed smack dab on Thanksgiving. I cringed at the thought, as I was concerned that it might be impossible to talk my entire crew into shooting directly through the holiday. An even larger concern was convincing one of the athletes to skip time with family and join our team for a few 20 hour shoot days. Thankfully, Rebecca agreed to do it. I have been friends with Rebecca for over 10 years. We met when she was dominating the adventure racing world (Eco Challenge, Primal Quest and Raid Gauloises). Over the years, we have traveled the globe together (Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Fiji, etc). Even though we were all away from our families while shooting Rebecca's segment in Moab, UT, we were in a beautiful place with an amazing group of friends, doing what we all love to do most. To make it feel a little more like Thanksgiving with family, my wife Marina cooked a big Thanksgiving meal for the entire crew.
I really wanted tons of unique camera movement. To accomplish this, we brought lots of gear that might not otherwise be in my kit with a smaller crew. Stowed in the many bags and cases that we traveled with were; a 15 foot custom ABC aluminum jib arm, 28 inch and 5 foot Kessler sliders, Oracle Motor, AquaTech water housing, four sets of Manfrotto sticks / fluid heads, lots of arms and clamps used to mount cameras in odd positions and the secret weapon, an R/C Octocopter with pilot and crew member Mike Hagadorn. Each time we wanted to fly the heli for a shot we would test the move first by flying a Nikon D7000 with a bit of extra weight added to the rig. We needed to be certain that, despite varied environmental factors (humidity, elevation, spray from the waterfall, etc.), the D4 prototypes would be safe in the air. For the most part our tests worked... except in Mexico on day two of the shoot!
In creating WHY, my assignment was to shoot a short film and corresponding set of still images, taking advantage of many of the new features of the D4. When Nikon sent over the technical specifications for the camera, one attribute that really jumped off the list was the camera's ability to monitor sound. The D4 allows the user to monitor audio through an external headset and visually monitor levels on the LCD while recording. For the first time in a HDSLR, I could record direct to camera, be it an interview or natural sound, without the need to synch audio from an external recording device in post. During the interviews with the athletes, we chose to back-up the sound to an external recording device (because we were shooting on prototypes after all) though we never touched it. The entire crew was ecstatic when we listened to the camera sound for the first time and realized that it was good and the monitoring had worked. All of the voice and natural sound in WHY came directly from the camera.
Below are some additional D4 features worthy of pointing out, as they certainly enhanced our efficiency and ability during the shoot:
-HDMI out at 422: I wish I could claim that we knew this before the shoot but we didn't. We realized on the shoot that when we plugged in our external monitors for the jib and heli it was a clean signal. But we had no time to experiment with pulling the uncompressed signal off the camera. For that matter we didn't even have an external capture device with us. But this is a HUGE feature that no other HDSLR on the market has and provides the ability to transform the D4 into a high-end cinema camera!
-60 fps video / slow motion: The new 60fps at 720p allowed us to shoot lots of slow motion of Rebecca on her bike and Dane in his kayak. Additionally, the 60fps enabled us to use Twixtor in post and slow the footage down even more (close to 1000 frames per second) when Dane drops over Tomata Falls. Using Twixtor and creating the ultra slow motion effect would not have been possible without 60fps.
-Full HD video in FX, DX and 2.7x crop mode: Finally, in the the D4, we have an full frame camera (FX) that shoots Full HD video. This meant I could use all of the lenses in my quiver and I was getting the actual focal length without a crop ratio. But there is more - Full HD in FX, DX and 2.7x crop mode! This means that you can use either the true focal length of your lens or push in by 1.5x or 2.7x and still record a sharp Full HD signal.
-60 frame buffer: This is not a typo! It's true… if shooting on a SanDisk Extreme Pro CF Card (or comparable card) you can shoot up to 60 RAW still frames before the camera buffers out. If you switch to JPEG, the buffer allows for over 100 frames. My only concern now is that I have lost one of my go to excuses for why I missed a shot; "well, the camera buffered out or I would have nailed it" ;-)
-Ten still frames per second: I shoot a ton of action sports and at 10fps in RAW I had no problem capturing enough frames of Rebecca and Dane in fast moving situations. As seen in the composite frame of Dane below going over Tomata Falls, we actually had over 24 frames to work with and had to eliminate frames in the composite because the camera is just so darn fast.