Filming skateboarding tricks at a historic museum

Four pro skateboarders, more than 80 cameras, one iconic setting. Find out how Canon kit was used to capture epic shots of Red Bull athletes skating in the Natural History Museum in London.
A female skateboarder jumps over the skeleton of a Velociraptor at the Natural History Museum in London, while being filmed by a person to the right.

The cavernous halls and galleries of London's Natural History Museum provided freedom to skate and shoot. "These sessions had an organic feel to them," says camera operator Nick Richards. "The girls were really hyped to skate them."

What do you get if you give four pro skateboarders access to the halls in London's iconic Natural History Museum at night? While that may sound incredible, it's actually the premise of an ambitious Red Bull shoot: a skate film filled with stunning images captured on more than 80 Canon cameras.

The brief for director Caitlin Black of Cut Media was to bring together a group of female skateboarders – Leticia Bufoni, Margielyn Didal, Lore Bruggeman and Aldana Bertran – and give them access to this unique location for a once-in-a-lifetime skate session.

The spectacular tricks and backdrop demanded an equally ambitious filming setup, and the project used more than 80 cameras from Canon's wide range of imaging products, including Cinema EOS, camcorders, PTZ, mirrorless and compact PowerShot cameras, to capture this unique activity from all angles. This is the story of how Canon collaborated with Red Bull to help the production crew realise their vision.

A Canon PowerShot V10 sits in the mouth of a crocodile at the Natural History Museum in London.

When she discovered that the Canon PowerShot V10 would be available for the shoot, Caitlin knew that she could get some cool angles by positioning the compact camera in unconventional locations.

Skateboarders and film crew stand on a staircase in one of the halls at the Natural History Museum in London.

In addition to the film crew (pictured) on the shoot, product specialists from Canon Europe were on hand for technical support, which meant anything from helping rig up the cameras to operating the CR-N700 PTZ camera using the Canon RC-IP100 Remote Controller.

The making of Red Bull: Skate the museum

The shoot stretched across four nights, with the crew of 30-50 people having to assemble and disassemble camera, lighting and skating setups each time. "We had to leave the space looking as though no one had been there in time for the next morning," says Caitlin. "We were setting up all the ramps between 5.30pm and 10pm, shooting with the athletes from 10pm to around 3am, then de-rigging until 5am.

"In some ways it was very much a run-and-gun shoot," says Caitlin. "Like the athletes, we were figuring things out as we went along and keeping it quite low-key in terms of filming."

At the start of the project, product specialists from Canon Europe went on a site recce of the museum with the production crew. "They pointed out what they wanted to achieve, and we recommended the best equipment to make those shots looks as awe-inspiring as possible," says Jack Adair from Canon Europe. "Kiefer Passey and Nick Richards from Cut Media then visited Canon Europe HQ to test the kit and refine the selection."

Having access to a comprehensive range of Canon cameras unlocked creative opportunities that the crew might not otherwise have had. Being able to rig a pocket-size Canon PowerShot V10 underneath a skateboard, for example, delivered a dynamic, low-level view. With the help of Canon Europe product specialist Aron Randhawa, the team were also able to take advantage of a Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera for unique wide views and fast-paced zooms.

Nick, Kiefer and DoP Dan Magee chose the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C70 as the main cameras for the shoot, along with a Canon XF605 camcorder fitted with a fisheye adapter that they gave to skateboarder Margielyn. She was recovering from an ankle injury and was unable to skate, so she became an honorary member of the camera team.

Kiefer shot mainly on the EOS C500 Mark II, which was supplied with a set of PL mount Sumire Prime lenses. "I was doing the reaction stuff, so I was asking the skaters questions and getting in close with the 20mm Sumire Prime, and a full-frame camera meant I could get the location in the shot as well," he says.

Nick shot with a combination of the EOS C70 and EOS C300 Mark III, frequently paired with a Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens, while Dan used the EOS C300 Mark III with Compact Servos while using an Easyrig. "I selected the EOS C300 Mark III because of the EF mount and I wanted to use Compact Servo zooms," explains Nick. "I knew we would be leaning heavily on autofocus for the job."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A man on a skateboard holds a camera to record a female skateboarder performing tricks on her skateboard.

Nick's background in skateboarding is an advantage when it comes to filming skate tricks. "There are certain tricks you'd film from the front and certain tricks you'd film from the back," he says. "You can play with it, but there are some angles that just don't work when it comes to skateboarding."

A Canon CR-N700 PTZ camera sits in front of a dinosaur skeleton enclosed in a glass exhibit case.

"I really loved using the CR-N500 and CR-N700 PTZ cameras because they were so flexible," says Caitlin. "We could pan, tilt, key in on certain areas and get loads of height and perspective looking down to really show off the space. There were so many of us on the ground that it was nice to have one or two cameras up in the air."

First night of shooting

The museum's Minerals gallery looks the same as it did when it opened in 1881. Neat rows of original oak and glass display cabinets house a priceless collection of geological wonders from around the world, which brought added drama to the first skate session.

"It was probably the most challenging location of the lot," Nick admits. "It was a confined space and I was rolling around on a skateboard with a gimbal suit on, having to make sure I wasn't going to damage anything."

To be able to manoeuvre himself around such a tight space Nick was predominantly shooting with a Canon EOS C70, which shares the same innovative DGO sensor as the EOS C300 Mark III, but is smaller and lighter. He paired the EOS C70 with his own Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens via a Mount Adapter EF-EOS R 0.71x for a full-frame angle of view and enhanced light sensitivity, all supported with the gimbal. "I rigged out the arm and the gimbal in a way that I could be as free as I could, while also trying to get some varying heights on the shot," he explains.

Working between the cabinets made it more challenging for the camera team to find interesting angles, especially ones that didn't include the other camera operators in shot. But the fragile space delivered what Caitlin recalls as one of the most memorable shots of all the footage they captured.

"The crash zoom from the Canon PTZ camera gave us such a great establishing shot," she says. "Being able to start on a mid-close-up as the girls were entering the room, then crash out with the 15x optical zoom to the back of the room was so impressive."

A filmmaker stands behind a cinema camera with a Canon Flex Zoom lens attached.

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 A person crouches down on a skateboard holding a Canon PowerShot V10, filming another skateboarder performing a jump.

From advanced cinema equipment such as the EOS C500 Mark II to the compact and portable PowerShot V10 vlogging camera which gave the crew freedom to experiment with different angles, Caitlin described being able to access all the Canon equipment as like having a "toy chest". "It was fun to go through it all and think how we could creatively use some of the pieces," she says.

Crocodiles, dinosaurs and bullet-time

Another opportunity to get creative with camera angles came with the 'croc tank' set piece. The team had installed ramps leading up to a purpose-built glass tank housing a crocodile exhibit, where Caitlin positioned four of the Canon PowerShot V10 cameras.

"I absolutely love everything we got out of the PowerShot V10," she says. "It's really good quality, the colour space is amazing, and I was super impressed with what that little thing could do, so that was a massive win."

The hero shot for the skate film was captured on the third night. A ramp was constructed off the grand staircase of the museum's central Hintze Hall, enabling the skaters to jump over a Velociraptor model positioned below the 25.2m skeleton of a Blue Whale hanging from the ceiling.

"It was a hard one to make work because you weren't sure if the athletes would be happy with the flashes going off to capture them skating over the Velociraptor," says Caitlin.

The full range of Canon cameras available for the shoot was employed to ensure the moment was captured from multiple angles. This also included an array of 64 Canon EOS 1300D cameras in a 'bullet-time' rig operated by London-based bullet-time technology specialists The Flash Pack.

An array of Canon cameras set up on the floor point at a female skateboarder performing tricks at the Natural History Museum in London.

"The nature of filming skateboarding is that you've got to be right 100% of the time, and the skaters have only got to be right on one attempt," says Nick. "When I'm filming, I'll play back a clip all the way back to the starting position, so you can then figure out what needs to change."

A female skateboarder jumps over the skeleton of a Velociraptor placed under the skeleton of a Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum in London.

"Seeing the power of all our products together on one shoot was phenomenal," says Jack. "It was great to see how they all married together." © Lorenz Holder

Kiefer's main role for this setup was implementing the lighting plan with the help of his gaffer. "I had to make sure that I directed the lighting in a way that didn't blind the skaters but allowed The Flash Pack team to also work with it.

Having a gaffer on the job meant that Kiefer was freed up to film. "There was a big roll-in to the steps where the Charles Darwin statue is," he says. "I was at the top there, trying my best to stay out of everyone else's camera angle.

"I had the EOS C500 Mark II and the EOS C300 Mark III right next to me, and I was just picking each one up as and when I saw the right moment. When I saw a nice cinematic backlit moment of the girls looking down from the stairs, I opted for the EOS C500 Mark II with a Sumire Prime, but I switched to the EOS C300 Mark III and a zoom lens when I felt I could capture the skaters doing a trick as they were going into the bank."

Kiefer also says that being able to shoot in Canon Log 3 across almost all of the cameras was a big help. "Once we were all dialled in on those colour profiles, it meant that if we picked the same white balance or agreed on a t-stop or an f-stop, we just knew everything would look completely coherent," he says. "It just makes life easier for the colourist."

After four long nights of filming with an extensive range of Canon imaging technology, the once-in-a-lifetime shoot had almost wrapped. "There was a moment when we got everyone off the floor so Nick could independently follow the skaters around while he had a fisheye on," says Kiefer. "Having this empty space made for more surreal-looking footage with a real after-hours vibe. Moments like that really drove home how crazy it was to skate at the Natural History Museum."

The main hall of the Natural History Museum in London with a film crew setting up under the skeleton of a Blue Whale suspended from the ornate ceiling.
Canon cameras and lenses sit on a table in front of a glass case displaying an animal skeleton at the Natural History Museum in London.

More than 80 Canon cameras and an array of lenses and accessories were used to record the skateboarders at the Natural History Museum.

Dual Pixel CMOS AF for filming skateboarding

Both Kiefer and Nick appreciated how Dual Pixel CMOS AF made their work easier. "We wouldn't have been able to do this shoot without it," says Nick. And although Kiefer was using a follow focus system to pull focus manually with the Sumire Primes, he relied on autofocus when shooting with the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S on the Canon EOS C300 Mark III.

"Not having to think about racking focus meant I could concentrate on the framing and where I was punched in with the zoom," he explains. It reminded him of when he originally got into skate filming, shooting on MiniDV tapes with a camcorder that had a one-inch sensor. "I felt like I was back in this zone, but with really nice image quality and the ability to get a shallow depth of field."

Ultimately, the success of this film depended on finding ways to shoot in such an unusual environment while still having fun. "I was a bit worried that all these challenges would mean people wouldn't have fun," says Caitlin. "But once we got there, everyone had such a good time. I'm really pleased that shines through in the edit."

Hear more stories from behind-the-scenes on the Red Bull shoot with Caitlin, Kiefer and Nick:

Marcus Hawkins

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