Dec 14, 2017

words by Tarik Benbrahim, RYOT

This summer, the RYOT team took off to capture one of the world's longest waves in Chicama, Peru with the legendary Laird Hamilton to create Take Every Wave: Laird in VR, a VR experience around his innovative approach to surfing, and life, that coincided with the release of his documentary Take Every Wave by Rory Kennedy. We saw this as an opportunity to push the envelope and utilize the newest camera technologies, via our tech partnerships with Radiant Images and GoPro, to get shots from new, previously inaccessible perspectives.

RYOT was selected pretty early on as a partner for the Fusion pilot program, and we went about testing the camera's capabilities as we would any other piece of equipment that came across our desks: proximity tests, environments with varying exposures, nat sound, color, the improved image quality at higher frame rates obviously sparked our interest... and of course we immediately strapped it onto a shaky/fast-moving motorized vehicle or two. We were very impressed with the outcome and a few of us continued to take the cameras wherever we went, trying to get feedback from every environment imaginable. 

The Laird project was something that was brought to us months before hand but was shelved for variables out of our control. When we got the call that it was back on, if we thought we could pull it off with 3 days to pre-produce and travel to Peru, we obviously jumped at the opportunity — a swell was headed for a standout locale and Team Laird was excited to shoot VR content for the first time. The shoot location and parameters changed, but when we knew we had been granted full access to Laird on the water we packed our Fusions immediately. 

When it came down to actually shooting with Laird we encountered a couple hiccups, as is to be expected when you have no time for proper gear tests in a controlled environment. 

Everyone we assembled for shoot team happened to be surfers (weird, right? ha!) and being in the VR game we'd meticulously picked-apart every piece of surf VR that had been made up to that point. We'd decided that mounting the camera to the board was our best bet- the hydrofoil-modified paddle boards seemed much more stable than their high-performance counterparts you see charging barrels in Tahiti. But when we finally got our hands on the boards the standard mounts seemed unreliable in the event of a crash and there wasn't much room for a lanyard or leash as a failsafe. 

It was actually Laird that first offered the paddle as an option. I was weary because he was actually using it, aggressively, to catch these waves. Camera weight is the biggest challenge when it comes to shooting 360 in the water... I've looked like a damned fool too many times (unsuccessfully) trying to surf with/pass-off Abyss360 and F360 Explorer rigs at local breaks to try it with Laird in this environment. So, we found a point on the paddle conducive to both Laird's grip while also being more-centralized to the point of rotation as to minimize the centrifugal effects from the weight of the camera on the mount. Rigged the mount to the paddle using back-alley engineering knowledge along with plenty of gaff tape and zip-ties, I know "there's a mount for that" but we didn't have it and the clamps we had might've splintered the carbon fiber getting the grip we needed in water — and it wouldn't be a RYOT production without a gaff tape/zip-tie rig. If it wasn't for the lightweight and waterproof construction of the Fusion the shot would've been impossible.

The wave in Chicama breaks for 2.5 miles, 4 miles from the very outside, so the surfers were utilizing zodiac boats to shuttle them and their gear from where they kicked-out back to the point. The heavy conditions didn't allow for much calibration/adjustment of gear once on the water so I preset the cams according to the few quick tests I was able to do on location. As for the shots themselves, Laird has countless more hours clocked on set than most but is the furthest thing from a camera operator there is. Without the one-button auto shoot function I doubt he would've had the patience to sit and wait for the GoPro's to fire-up as they've had to in the past - Laird doesn't "sit" or "wait."

Once back on dry land I was able to quickly download the data and stitch the 20-30 scenes in the time it took the guys to store their gear and freshen up. To say their minds were blown is an understatement.

After the long trip back to LA we dove head-first into post; the images we pulled from the Fusion weren't only some of the most compelling we had for the piece  (I mean, how often do you get to surf on-board with Laird Hamilton?) but our VR post team was very thankful for the stitch quality — especially with rapidly approaching deliverable date.  

Overall, it was wild ride beginning to end... Shotgun start, shooting from the hip in crazy conditions throughout the production, and a race against short deadlines but we did it. The RYOT team is the best in the game, I'll say it again and again... but without support from our partners and access to new tech we wouldn't be able to pull off half of the stuff we do. Thanks for always having our backs guys!

More to come, stay tuned!