Cinema has always excelled at capturing the movement and kinetic energy of modern society, and the evolution of the camera—from the heavy, cumbersome, static machines of the early days to the freewheeling palm-sized digital devices of today—and the way it’s moved neatly parallel the acceleration of life’s pace. A century ago, locked-down cameras surveyed timeless towering mountains, recorded stately steamships plying the oceans and showed audiences the thrills of automobiles driven at reckless speeds of 50 mph and higher. Today, thanks to huge advances in technology and the use of remote heads, telescoping cranes, jib arms and customized rigs, audiences can ski down Everest, plunge to the bottom of the ocean or surf across it, skateboard through an urban jungle and go where—until fairly recently—even the most extreme shooter wouldn’t or couldn’t go.
A good example of the latest “go-anywhere” technology is the new Camtrol stabilizing rig. It works with all compact video and HD DSLR cameras, and it’s “perfect” for skiing, skateboarding and snowboarding coverage, reports Camtrol inventor Jonathan Rowen. “I got the idea five years ago when I had this video camera that had no handle built in, so I decided to make one, and I designed it when I was skiing and snowboarding and filming both.”
Ultimately, Rowen and his partner/father Ron recruited an aerospace engineer who built three “stronger, better-designed” prototypes, with the fourth one now in the marketplace,” he says. “You can customize the rig any way you want it, for any type of shot, and with its locking ball joints, you can easily and quickly reconfigure it.”
The rig also offers “great stability, without all the gimbals and counterweights that restrict the shooter,” Rowen adds. Tellingly, the team refers to Camtrol’s shooting style as free shooting.
“It’s a different way of looking at things from handheld,” stresses Rowen. “It frees you completely, so you can grab any shot you want.”
Veteran skier/director Mike Marolt says he could have benefited from a rig like the Camtrol when he shot Skiing Everest, the gnarly, new first feature-length documentary about the cutting-edge sport of high-altitude skiing. It tells the story of a group of extreme skiers, lead by Marolt and his twin brother Steve, who grew up in Aspen, Colo., and went on to become the first Americans to ski from above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) when they skied from the summit of Shisha Pangma in Tibet in 2000, and then challenged the highest slopes in the world on Everest.