Bikes | Fire & Ice
These dueling short films, in collaboration with Concept2Motion and Birds That Fly, explore Mother Nature's contrasting elements in the world of extreme off-road sports.
When it comes to hobbies, it's safe to say that my brother is of a completely different breed. I shoot film, he shoots deer. I build cameras, he builds flame throwers.
I've envied the DP's who've been riding the Red Bull wave, experiencing such an incredibly niche market of creativity. From Robbie Madison's "Pipe Dream" to Johnny FPV's "One Take Freeride", these individuals continue to redefine the genre. Although Justin's skills may not have him tearing up the side of a mountain, I've been dying to pull an edit together of a rebel-like personality.
My good friend and drone operator, PJ Mozingo of Concept2Motion, picked up a few toys that we've been itching to push to the limits: the Freefly Alta 8 octacopter, the Freefly Wave High Speed Camera, and the RED Komodo. Only a few weeks prior, PJ introduced me to Elliot Spaudie of Birds that Fly who is an incredibly skilled FPV pilot. He's one of the few operators I know personally who is taking FPV away from the racing course and welcoming it into the commercial space. With these two on board, I knew that we had the ingredients for a heart-pumping montage.
The Lake | "Ice Bikes"
Every winter, when temperatures drop and ice thickens up, Justin and his buddy, Josh Casteel, rip across the full 8 square miles of Portage Lakes in Summit County, Ohio. They outfit their tires with spiked studs in order to better grip the ice. Justin tells me that ice fishers are generally the guinea pigs in these scenarios. They're out on the ice far in advance, ahead of any off-road vehicle. As they drill, they're posting their results on the Portage Lakes Ice Riders Facebook page. From what everyone claims, 6 inches is deemed "safe" for vehicles.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice. . .
Justin knew that there was a warm-front coming in the following week and that we only had a few days before the lake thawed. We quickly threw together a creative treatment of everything we wanted to see: Static intro sequences, hard-mounted vehicle cams, extreme high frame rate scenarios, and coveted FPV sequences.
I never met Elliot up to this point and was unaware of what was even possible in the world of FPV. There are plenty of FPV pilots out there now. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, the majority are interested in racing through courses against other opponents. Piloting a drone to blazing fast speeds is one thing, but holding a frame and composing interesting sequences is another. Elliot proved to be an incredible commercial operator and blew us away with where he put that camera.
While Elliot took to the skies at 50mph+, PJ's new high speed Freefly Wave camera became the yin-to-our-FPV's yang. In my opinion, the speed at which Elliot was flying was significantly elevated when paired with footage captured at 422FPS. We found this contrast crucial when building up to more intense moments in the edit. The global shutter of the RED Komodo proved to be game changing when mounting it to the side of Justin's bike. The image remained sharp, void of any jello-like movements. Although our side-mounted shot only debuted for a few seconds in the final piece, the jarring intensity it brought was unmatched to anything we could have gotten in a chase vehicle. Huge props to PJ for securing that rig and throwing his brand new Komodo into harms way.
On the day, we had little time to work. Cameras were cold, the 5:30pm sunset was upon us, and you quickly forget just how fast batteries drain when exposed to the elements. Elliot managed to get around 4–5 minutes of flight time while our Alta was clocking in around 5–7 minutes. Justin would pop in his bluetooth ear bud and would take direction from me at the shore. Elliot was determined to get under Justin's front wheel during one of his wheelies. Elliot secured one of my favorite shots of the entire edit as he grazes Justin's front tire by mere inches. Such a kickass sequence.
The Alta took flight next. PJ piloted the drone while I operated MōVI from the side lines. Justin and Josh, still on call, made their rounds. While we covered our top-down, birds-eye-views of the lake, we also wanted to get close to the action as the guys barreled toward us. Seeing a wheelie popped at 422FPS never got old.
We knew we had to concoct a story out of this montage to help set it apart from other high-intensity montages. I enjoyed tinkering with the idea that no one would dare go outside on such a frigid day, let alone the frozen ice on a dirt bike. The idea of using local news clips in the edit's hook hit me like a ton of bricks. I envisioned Justin and Josh waking up in the early morning to listen to the weather forecast. Phrases like "Stay inside" and "Don't go out today" led to more specific phrases like "No ice is safe ice" and "Enter at your own peril." I loved the concept of seeing the barren open landscape and watching these two rebels break the silence with their screaming 200cc engines. You tell them one thing, they'll do another. Sometime a story doesn't need to be more complex than that!
The Sand | "Dune Bikes"
We finalized and dropped "Ice Bikes" in mid-March. Within weeks, Justin tells me that he just picked up a new back tire to hit the sand dunes in Michigan. This tire was designed to literally scoop the sand in large quantities to help propel his bike forward. PJ and Elliot were onboard to continue our "_____ Bike" legacy. Come April, we were Michigan-bound.
From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. . .
PJ and Elliot picked up a few more toys in anticipation for the trip. PJ snagged the Aivascope 1.5X anamorphic adapter, essentially transforming his traditional spherical lenses to that of an anamorphic. Of the few times that we used this adapter, we decided to embrace the 2:35:1 aspect ratio for every other camera and lens combo we had that weekend. Personally, the cropped 2.35 frame was a great deviation from our previous edit.
Elliot, on the other hand, built an entirely new drone in the process. He built this new model, dubbed the "Siccario", around his new Z Cam E2-M4. In comparison, the Z Cam is roughly the same size and weight of the RED Komodo brain. Unfortunatley, some technical difficulties prevented Elliot from getting his Siccario drone up in the air that weekend. Elliot came prepared with yet another drone, dubbed the "Thicc," which was originally built around the specifications of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Although it wasn't designed to be nearly as quick and nimble, it lifted the Z Cam with ease and allowed us the shots we needed.
Either way, as lightweight as these cameras are in comparison to other cinema cameras, this was a much heavier build than his previous GoPro Hero 8 drone. By pairing it with his Laowa 7.5mm prime lens, it left the net weight of the camera build + drone around 7lbs. While we still utilized the speed from his GoPro rigged drone, the Z Cam's sensor gave us far more dynamic range for the final grade.
The biggest difference from our previous experience on "Ice Bikes" is that we couldn't be tied down to one single location. In comparison, the Silver Lake Park dunes were massive and featured so many different locations of interest. We found an effective way to fit every bit of gear into our Dodge Ram pickup. We would land at a location, unfold a plastic table nearby, setup, shoot, teardown, and repeat. Unfortunately, that weekend was frigid in the lower 40's–50's. Pair that with the winds coming off Lake Michigan and it quickly became a nuisance.
Before we made our way out to Michigan, we pulled together yet another creative treatment, just to make sure we were all rocking the same vibes. Similar to "Ice Bikes," a lot of the visual tone was to be based around the BPM of a potential soundtrack. I originally found an excellent track by Saint Mesa, titled "Murky," that embraced the moody and brooding tones of the desert. This would ultimately contrast against the epic marching-band nature of our previous edit. I considered doubling-down on the lyrics of "Murky." "Led by fire, led by fate, Murky water covers all." In a way, I envisioned the gritty sand of the dunes being mixed into the fresh waters of Lake Michigan. Justin and Josh were coming in and disturbing the peace bykicking even more of this dirt and grime up into the environment, clouding up these murky waters even more. This would be reminiscent of their rebellious nature in "Ice Bikes." Although we decided against this soundtrack, we loved the overall atmospheric suspense brought from "Fire" by Saint Mesa. It fell right in line with high-highs of the FPV shots and the low-lows of the Freefly Wave sequences. Surprisingly enough, the lyrics "I see fire..." contrasted the ice in "Ice Bikes" perfectly. The more I looked at the slow motion footage of their bikes fish-tailng sand into the air, the more I related it to a flame "coming from below." We may have gotten too meta here. But at the very least, I figured that the Robert Frost poem, "Fire and Ice," would be an easy metaphorical bridge between the two films.
I learned a lot from editing these two films. When putting my vision in the hands of a skilled operator, we captured things we never deemed possible. The first time I watched Elliot's raw FPV run, I learned to look for "moments." These moments I consider bite-sized puzzle pieces that later share relationships with other moments. For example, when Elliot buzzes within inches of Justin's front tire, it's a great opportunity to cut to something extreme and heart pumping. When Elliot goes from a tighter frame to an extreme wide, I enjoyed pairing that with lighter, more airy tones in the soundtrack. It gives the viewer a breath to later come flying back in, hot as hell. Check out Elliots raw FPV run for "Ice Bikes" below. #soundUp. It gives me a greater appreciation for what these drones and operators are really capable of in the moment. Plus, it makes me laugh hearing those motors scream as Elliot rips across the iced terrain.
Frankly, it's fairly easy to pull together a high-intensity montage. Find the music that suits the tone and start finding relationships between clips. The more challenging aspect, and arguably the most important, is weaving together a narrative out of thin air. Even though their story is fictitious, it's a great exercise building a character arc around a basic concept. Intro your story with an interesting hook, establish your environment, introduce your characters, and take your audience for a ride.
The minute we landed back in Ohio, Justin picked up a new phat tire to replace his sand-dune paddle tire. He plans to pop a few wheelies on more normal terrains #StreetBikes
Until then gentlemen, this one's for the books.