OXSTUDIO Interview: Extreme sports filmmaking with Angénieux Type EZ

OXSTUDIO, the production team behind China’s extreme sports documentary, The Journey of Ultimate Challenge, brings us behind the scenes to reveal how they captured beautiful and impactful scenes under extreme conditions.

What makes filming extreme sports documentary different? Where are the challenges?

The main difference lies in filming environment and conditions. Most of the filming happens outdoors, including in some inaccessible or even extreme locations. There are times when the location is hard to reach and we have to carry our own equipment to get there. That definitely adds to the difficulties of the shoot.

During the filming process, the characteristics of extreme sports, such as high speeds, unpredictability and high movement levels, pose a challenge as well. We need to stay completely focused while being adaptable to changing situations. We also have specific requirements for our equipment due to the environment and nature of the shoot.

Could you share some memorable experiences during the filming of The Journey of Ultimate Challenge?

The Journey of Ultimate Challenge was a deeply memorable experience. In the first episode, we filmed kayaking down a waterfall in Detian, Guangxi. Our main shooting location was a 70m waterfall that straddles the China-Vietnam border. The only time that anyone has ever been to the centre of the waterfall was when it was being developed as a scenic area.

For the shoot, we had to set up camera locations to follow the route that the athlete would take. Our Director of Photography Mr Chen Yue ventured into the waterfall to check the angles. The waterfall has a very complex route with many smaller tributaries created by the powerful gushes of water. He was neck-high in water with rocky, uneven footing. It would have taken just a moment to slip and get washed down the waterfall.

It took a few days to complete filming. We were drenched the entire time and had to use a relay format just to get the equipment into position. From the wireless transmitter to the tripod and lenses, every piece of equipment had to place in a waterproof bag and carry over. There were a few times when the staff member carrying the equipment almost slipped but thankfully, they regained their balance. We hardly had a dry moment in Guangxi but seeing the final picture made it all worthwhile. 

Our equipment list for the shoot was a RED Gemini paired with Angénieux Type EZ45-135mm T3.0, 30-90mm T2.0 and 15-40mm T2.0 to cover three different focal lengths.

During the filming process, we had to set up many camera positions by ourselves. Thankfully, the Angénieux Type EZ lenses are very lightweight. We used the three lenses at three different camera locations — the 45-135mm for long-range shots to capture the athlete’s detailed movements as well as the surroundings, and the 30-90mm on a handheld camera for powerful close-up shots.

The 15-40mm was mounted on Steadicam because, in extreme conditions, the electronic stabiliser could perform erratically. At this focal length, we mainly captured close-range movement shots. As a combination, the Type EZ series not only satisfied our many imaging requirements, but also saved us a significant amount of time.

If we had used prime lenses, we would have had to change the lenses numerous times, which would have meant more time spent cleaning the camera. It is great that the Angénieux Type EZ series could deliver on our needs. During post-production, our colourist excitedly told us that the image quality of the raw footage was excellent — colour transition was soft, distortion control was good, and sharpness was moderate. After the colourisation process, the film looked great.

OXSTUDIO is an award-winning sports film production agency that specialises in creating memorable content for movie, TV, digital and commercial use. The team is committed to turning its vision into reality, using the latest filmmaking techniques to capture impactful stories and images. OXSTUDIO is constantly testing the boundaries of filmmaking and challenging the impossible.

Special thanks to Beijing Redfilm Digital Technology Co., Ltd.

Photo courtesy of OxStudio