Using 50 Canon EOS 1D X cameras to create a ten second bullet time action sports clip

by Felix Esser

posted Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 9:37 AM EDT


Ever since the 1999 sci-fi action movie "The Matrix," the so-called "bullet time" technique has become immensely popular in all kinds of visual productions. By arranging multiple cameras around a subject and triggering them at the same time, the technique allows to create a virtual camera movement around the scene while at the same time freezing the action.

When the Swiss TV production company DokLab was approached by public broadcaster SRF about a documentary on extreme sports, their client asked them not to produce a regular-looking show, but "to try new things and create cool shots," director Dodo Hunziker recalls. For an episode on a new sport called "bungee surfing" that has surfers dragged along a river by a bugee rope at high speeds, Hunziker and his partner Pierre Reischer envisioned a short bullet time clip as the episode's climax.

What sounded like a great idea quickly turned out to be quite a challenge. The sequence that DokLab envisioned had to be taken on the outside, not in a studio, with the cameras suspended above the river Aare in Bern, Switzerland's capital. So not only did they have to create a custom rig that could do the job, they also needed to get hold of 50 matching cameras and lenses.

Screenshot from the behind-the-scenes video

When DokLab contacted Canon Switzerland, they were lucky that the company was able to lend them a set of 50 EOS 1D X cameras -- Canon's flagship full-frame DSLR model -- and matching 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses to play with. Not having used the 1D X before, the team not only had to get familiar with the cameras, configuring each one with matching settings, they also had to devise a way to trigger all 50 cameras at the same time.

For that, they had a technician create a control unit from scratch, which made it possible to trigger all 50 cameras at once by the press of a single button. When the cameras were finally all set up and the crew embarked for the shoot, it was hit and miss, as the team had only had limited testing time before the shoot.

In the end, however, all went well, and they came away with an awesome ten-second bullet time clip of bungee surfers that they could use for the climax of the show's episode. But make no mistake: on top of the lengthy preparations, DokLab's film editor needed two weeks to assemble all the individual images into the final clip.

Head over to Canon Professional Network's original article on the story, which includes a behind-the-scenes video that also features the final version of DokLab's clip at the very end.