Making ‘Radball’ movies with the
EOS 5D Mark III
© Canon Europe
From the moment it was announced, Canon’s EOS 5D Mark III DSLR was grabbing headlines and getting admiring glances. The evolution of the legendary EOS 5D Mark II DSLR revealed a camera with full-frame 22.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 6fps top shooting speed, and a 61-point AF system. The arrival of the EOS 5D Mark III also marked a big step forward for HD movie shooting with a DSLR, something filmmakers Bryce Gubler and Richard Walch were eager to highlight in the movie ‘Radball’. CPN writer Robert Hull talked to the filmmakers about making an extreme sports movie ‘with-a-twist’ and filming with the eagerly awaited camera.
For Gubler and Walch – and the ManaMedia production team they worked with – the first filmmaking challenge was how to show off the EOS 5D Mark III’s HD movie-shooting improvements, such as in-camera slow-motion at 50/60fps in 720p mode, ALL-I or IPB compression, and 'on-the-fly' audio level adjustments. The second was how to make the little-known, somewhat-quirky sport of Radball look cool and exciting? But how did they even get to Radball in the first place?
Working alongside ManaMedia’s creative director Dani Kiwi Meier, the team hit the internet for ideas on subjects that would make a great movie for the 5D Mark III. As Gubler explains: “We needed to make something exciting, evocative, emotive, extreme; and so we started by talking about extreme sports, but we felt that we’d done that, so we tried to find something fresh.”
That “something fresh” was Radball, a game played on fixed-gear bicycles with no brakes, where the aim is to score by hitting the ball into a goal with your bicycle’s front wheel. The filmmakers’ route to finding Radball wasn’t easy though, with only a small selection of YouTube clips to use as inspiration. However, it was enough to light a creative spark, as Gubler says: “Our first impression was ‘that [Radball] is insane, that is so crazy. We’ve got to do something with that’.”
For Walch, the sport didn’t come as so much of a surprise, but that didn’t prevent him from seeing the scale of their task. He explains: “It’s a German thing, so, yes, I’d heard about it. But, look, Radball is not cool, OK? So that was the challenge: let’s make this sport cool.”
Both experienced 5D Mark II movie shooters, Gubler and Walch have previously worked on several projects together, including ‘The Racetrack’, a movie highlighting the merits of the EOS 5D Mark II and the Canon XF305 camcorder. The pair have a strong working relationship, with each bringing distinct skills to the projects. Gubler says: “We work really well together. It’s a seamless workflow between us.”
Division of labour
Walch sheds more light on the division of labour. “He’s [Gubler] a true cameraman with a solid education as a filmmaker and my background is in photography. I started filming because of the 5D Mark II, so I have a different approach to film than he does. But when you put this together, it’s great. I’m more in charge of, let’s say, the extreme angles and crazy stuff and Bryce makes sure there’s strong storytelling – and all the aspects you need to make it a really good film.”
The location for Radball added a sense of character to the movie, but finding the right place to shoot wasn’t easy. Add to this the fact that the filmmakers had to shoot during the short winter days and it further complicated the situation. Locations in Germany and Poland were considered but, finally, the creative team’s decision was for Bordeaux, in south west France.
Amid the tangle of decaying metal structures of a former army base Gubler and Walch helped assemble a production team, and four German Radball players – all highly ranked and experienced players, with the skills necessary to create an innovative film. The Bordeaux location had a beguiling effect on the production team who noted the strange atmosphere of the place.
“The team did a month of research, off and on, and then zero-ed in on this particular area of Bordeaux. We think the army base was abandoned five or six years ago; so within that time it’s literally fallen apart. When you’re there, though, it feels like it’s been abandoned for 50 years. It’s a strange place,” reveals Gubler.
Walch agrees, but suggests that its strangeness provided Radball with the ideal vibe: “That facility has been taken over by nature, and by graffiti artists, so you see all of these rotten buildings and all this art on the wall, and there’s grass trying to take over, everywhere. So, that was the perfect ‘studio’ to shoot this video.”
Richard Walch is keen to stress that the project could not have been possible without a true collaborative effort between all parties involved: “We had tremendous support from Canon Europe, as well as ManaMedia, who were instrumental in the execution, allowing Bryce and myself to focus, as much as possible, on the creative side.”
The two-day shoot (with one day of preparation, and which also included filming the ‘Making Of…’ video) provided many opportunities to put the EOS 5D Mark III and its new features to the test – and Gubler and Walch are full of praise for a camera that delivered stunning images, great improvements and ease-of-use.
Walch enjoyed what he believes is: “not a revolution but a really good evolution of the camera.” The higher ISO settings in particular, were a revelation for him. “The picture you get with the 5D Mark III is incredibly crisp and it just allows me to crank up the ISO settings a lot higher than I could before – that allows me to shoot pictures and situations I could not have done before.”
Gubler had even tried out the ISO capabilities of the 5D Mark III in advance of the shoot with a test using car lights in a warehouse. He explains: “It was incredible how well you could see with that amount of light in that space. That [ISO settings] is the big buzz about the EOS 5D Mark III right now, and the low light capability is insanely amazing. I’ve never seen a camera so sensitive in low light.”
The addition of in-camera slow motion is a feature that pleased both of the filmmakers and one they employed several times – most notably during a tracking shot at the start of the movie. Walch explains that the feature has already made his decision on his 'camera-of-choice' more straightforward: “Before, when I went out on a shoot, it was always a question of which camera I should take if I need slow motion? Now it’s all in one box: full-frame and slow motion.”
Considering the location's devastated structure and the fast-paced action that underpin the Radball movie, the 5D Mark III’s anti-moiré patterning feature became useful and for Walch helped address “an area where the camera lacked before”, as did the rolling shutter which Walch – with his background in extreme sports photography – knows helps out when you are doing fast pans in sports.
Improved audio features
Gubler is keen to highlight the improved audio features, which include a headphone jack for monitoring audio recording. “I would say that, straight away, what are extremely beneficial – for many reasons – are the new audio features. They are extremely practical and it’s always helpful being able to monitor the audio you’re recording, even if you’re using an external source.”
The mark of a skilled filmmaker is an attention to detail, which can add something extra to captivate an audience. With Walch, this manifests itself in being able to get shots you may not ordinarily be able to get with another camera: “[It’s] just a very little thing, but really helpful… if you want to place the camera in some crazy spots, you can now start and stop the video on the main release button, which means you can put a remote device there – for example a PocketWizard – and then you can start and stop your camera from distance. It’s perfect.”
Walch and Gubler maintain that the EOS 5D Mark III’s design remains integral to its success. It’s a camera they know to be flexible and reliable. For Gubler you can: “move fast and freely with the 5D Mark III, and it allows you to be extremely versatile”; while Walch says: “The beauty of the 5D [Mark III] is that it’s small and uncomplicated. You just pick it up and off you go.”
As the member of the dynamic duo tasked with working on editing Radball, Gubler reveals what he discovered in the edit suite, shedding positive light on the EOS 5D Mark III”s advancements. “Of the new improvements, the (ALL-I and IPB) compression modes are a huge feature for the Mark III. The quality in the compression is great.”
Gubler reveals: “When we went to do the colour grading (at Unit Media in London), it was great to be sitting down with our colour assistant, Simon Astbury, – someone who has spent a lot of time grading [EOS] 5D Mark II material – and he said, ‘this is a huge improvement’. It was great to see how well the image was managing in the colour grading process.”
The team behind ‘Radball’ is understandably proud of a movie that brings something new and different to peoples' attention. And, in asking for their favourite shots from the film, it’s a testament to the 5D Mark III’s versatility that Walch and Gubler pick shots that may have been harder to achieve using another camera.
Bryce Gubler explains: “My favourite shot is at the end of Radball when I’m using the 5D Mark III on the GlideCam and I'm circling around the players and they’re slapping hands and high-fiving each other at the end of a great game.”
Richard Walch adds: “My favourite shot is where one of the riders goes backwards in a circle and the sun comes through the frame. I think that it’s a beautiful shot and it’s great to do with that camera because I was using an ultra-wideangle lens. The lens is about 4cm above the ground, so not only do you get this ultra wide-angle look, but it’s a shot that’s only possible because the camera is so light and so small.”
What’s in your kitbag?
Bryce Gubler & Richard Walch’s ‘Radball’ shoot equipment:
3x EOS 5D Mark III
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-105mm f/1.4L IS USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM
EF500mm f/4L IS USM
Sachtler video DV6 tripod
O'Conner follow focus
Zacuto EVF Pro
Chroiziel Baseplate and follow focus
Kessler Cine Slider
Biography: Bryce Gubler
© Janci Hadik
Born in the United States, Bryce Gubler grew up in Los Angeles where he discovered the legends of cinema. At the age of 12 he picked up his first Super 8 camera and was hooked. Now, over 20 years later, he has worked on a wide range of projects including documentaries, music videos, feature films, TV and innovative web content. Bryce is multi-talented and can operate as a director, editor, producer, screenwriter, photographer or motion graphics artist.
Biography: Richard Walch
© Janci Hadik
German photographer Richard Walch started out over 20 years ago shooting snowboarding and skiing, and now specialises in dramatic action shots of snow and water sports. He also shoots advertising and editorial work for companies who produce sporting goods – such as Head, Oakley and Tommy Hilfiger as well as major brands such as Apple, Velux, Audi and BMW. Since 2008 Walch has diversified from stills into shooting HD movie projects with Canon EOS DSLRs, including TV adverts and commercial projects.