Home Projects / FilmsFeature FilmsAct of Valor Helmet Cams: Visceral, Intimate, and Emotional Connection with Your 5D

Helmet Cams: Visceral, Intimate, and Emotional Connection with Your 5D

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

The first job that I ever shot with the Canon 5D was as Director and DP on a webisode series that Director of “Terminator Salvation” McG asked me to do.  We produced these webisodes as part of the “Terminator Salvation” marketing campaign to be used before the movie was released. When I saw how amazing the imagery from this camera looked and the way that it moved on someone’s head or in someone’s hands, I was sold.

First person perspective footage was taken to the next level when I signed on to lens the Navy SEAL action picture “Act of Valor” with the Bandito Brothers. Directors Scotty Waugh and Mouse McCoy wanted to think outside of the box for a new look and feel. I said, “What if we put the viewer in the eyes of the Navy SEAL. The film would feel like the video game ‘Call of Duty,’ with this first person shooter perspective.”

We set out on a mission to design and build a Hurlbut Visuals helmet cam that would be rigged on the right side of the SEALs’ heads and over their gun sights. It moved like you have never seen a camera move before. Jumping into rivers, running down tunnels, chasing bad guys in trucks, and going underwater was all do-able while using the helmet cam. The shots were intimate, visceral, and breathtaking.

When Hurlbut Visuals produced the critically acclaimed short film “The Last 3 Minutes,” (http://www.ojaifilmfestival.com/ and http://www.cinemastlouis.org/) the director, Po Chan, wanted a first person perspective that was different from the video game quality of “Act of Valor.” She wanted the footage to be elegant, smooth, and to transport the viewer through time. I knew that the helmet cam that we had designed for AOV was too far away from the wearer’s eyes and that we needed to outsource in order to get the equipment necessary. I called Gary Thieltges at Doggicam to see if he had made anything for this camera system that was closer to the eyes. I have used Doggicam on almost every one of my feature films. I have employed their body mount rigs, carbon fiber remote heads, and unique rigs on bikes and motorcycles. You name it, they can mount it. Gary told me that he had just made a helmet cam that he thought that I would really like. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. In one word, “WOW.” It is so well designed. He had taken a Baseball helmet and cut the right ear flap off. This gives you the ability to get the camera very close to the right eye, which was a more fine tuned version of my original helmet cam design. It uses all of Gary’s special 5/8” rods and rod clamps to mount the camera anywhere you like. This integrates incredibly well with a remote follow focus system and anything else that you might need to add like wireless video, a battery, etc. It has a very simple counter weight design that enables you to balance the rig on anyone’s head, and a neck support travels in the kit as well.
The Last 3 Minutes – Directed by Po Chan

In “The Last 3 Minutes” we slid into home plate with this helmet rigged to my Elite Team member Bodie Orman’s head. We were able to take viewers on a journey, showing them what it would feel like to slide into home along with the emotion that goes into scoring a winning run. We took all of the batteries and the wireless video transmitter and put them in a backpack for Bodie to wear so that we could reduce the weight on his head and neck as much as possible.

helmet cam

helmet cam baseball

helmet cam with bodie

baseball helmet cam again

Vietnam helmet cam

Vietnam helmet cam in action

The Vietnam sequence was another example of taking this platform to the next level. As a bomb goes off, Bodie drops to the ground with his hands and M-16 in the bottom of frame. The viewer is emotionally involved, and again, it is a visceral experience.

Josh Pritz rolls out with the helmet cam - he is ready for a street fight with my son Myles.

We mounted the helmet cam on Josh Pritz’s head. He was playing our young William. Josh gets into a street fight with my son Myles.

The helmet cam was the only tool that could give us this unique first person perspective with the elegance and beauty that Po wanted.

Hurlbut Visuals helmet cam at work in the Dominican Republic

 

The Hurlbut Visuals helmet cam wired and ready for action

 

I assist the actress getting into the helmet cam.

Dominican Republic shoot - at the edge of the ocean.

When we were doing a Travel and Tourism spot in the Dominican Republic for AM Resorts, director Rob Lawe at Fresh Pictures wanted viewers to experience the resort through the eyes of the couple that was staying at the Zoëtry resort. We rigged the Hurlbut Visuals helmet to our beautiful model and she revealed footage of exotic room locations that transitioned right into the aquamarine color waters of the Caribbean, as well as relaxing spas and night clubs.

When you are shooting an intimate scene and you want to be in the middle of the action, a helmet cam is an amazing tool to meet your needs. It is powerful for two things: immersing you in the action and having a first person point of view. The mixture of the helmet cam and the 5D is very powerful. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what equipment you have used to achieve this same type of effect.

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55 comments

Vincent Follézou November 12, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Thanks again to share your experience with the readers of your blog. I learn a lot with you blog, thank again.

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 1:35 AM

Vincent Follézou, you are very welcome and I look forward to future comments.

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Brian Jackson June 28, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Hey Shane, amazing work, 2 questions. 1. What is your home screen photo from, the one of you and the shaved head man in the trench coat. and 2. Any idea when a teaser or trailer for “Act of Valor” will be out?

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Shane June 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM

Brian Jackson, thank you so much for you kind words. That bald guy is our bad guy in the Navy Seals flix “Act of Valor.” Not sure on the teaser, probably around the fall. Thanks for your support.

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Brian Jackson June 29, 2011 at 2:02 PM

Thanks Shane keep it up.

Chris McAlister November 13, 2010 at 2:03 AM

Hey Shane,

Awesome post, as always. I am glad your postin’ on the reg again, and look forward to each and every post to come. I can’t say it enough, man, you are such an inspiration to us all. I owe you at least a beer or three one of these days, because of knowledge I have gained not only from reading this blog and your extensive comments, but from speaking with you at the Canon Expo. These facts of life have in turn helped me IMMENSELY in convincing people that these cameras are something not to be taken lightly. I have been approached to be a consultant for productions using HDSLRs several times and use them on most of my projects, including 2 features, currently in pre-production. They are, in my opinion, THE closest digital intermediate to film, and the only camera that can get the job done when the shot calls for it. I am also strictly editing my projects in Premiere now (thanks to you), which is a whoooole new world. The footage looks so much better! I’m also building my arsenal of old still primes, and really getting a feel for their wide array of color balances, contrasts and overall looks. I think I’ve finally getting close to my goal of turning these bad boys into “movie-making” machines, as you called them.

Anyway, I could go on for hours, I eat, breath, sleep, & shit this stuff. I just wanted to say, it would’ve been a helluva lot harder to achieve what I have achieved without your personal help, and I appreciate that, man. I really do.

By the way, to answer the question you posted at the end, I’m getting ready to use a homemade snorricam (didn’t want to buy one just for the job and can’t seem to find any in Chicago to rent) for two different scenes in a horror short I am filming next weekend. One in particular is a 28mm Leica on the 5D shooting a guy running from a horde of the undead, him right justified in the frame, with a horde of about 35-40 filling the rest of the frame, slightly blurred, all through an open corn field in Iowa. Totally chaotic.

I’ve gone on for too long now, so I’m done here. Keep on keepin’ on, man! I look forward to meeting again soon!

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 1:24 AM

Chris McAlister, It is great to hear from you and I cannot thank you enough for your kind words and all of your support with the blog. YOU ALL ROCK!!! You keep on keepin on as well and look forward to our next meeting.

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James Stoneley November 13, 2010 at 7:28 AM

Hey Shane,

Great post again and it’s come just at the right moment as I’m in the middle of writing my own blog about my search for helmet cams. The kit from Doggicam looks awesome but alas I am in the UK so it’s not available to me. I’ve decided to make my own version and will be documenting the build and testing.

For me it’s all about the immersion into the moment. I’m starting work on a feature soon and I think this will be the perfect tool to use for some of the scenes, where we want to get inside the protagonist’s head and feel the fear, confusion and chaos that he is experiencing.

The Last 3 Minutes is a sublime piece of work and really shows off the unique characteristics of this medium so well. Ever since first seeing it I have wanted to recreate this kind of POV look. Another good example utilising the helmet cam is this stunning music video from Cinnamon Chasers that was made on a shoestring – http://vimeo.com/6540668

A quick tech question – which lenses did you find gave you the best natural POV look?

Best

James

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 1:20 AM

James Stoneley, thank you so much for all those kind words. I find that the 24mm or the 35mm work very well. The 14mm Canon which they shot the majority on for Cinnamon Chasers looks and feels like video. Too much is in focus.

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Mikko November 13, 2010 at 8:20 AM

Hello,
first of all thank you,
here my two helmet cams, designed to be fully adjustable:
http://www.mi2ko.fr/hlb.jpg
http://www.mi2ko.fr/hlw.jpg
Mikko from France.

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 1:09 AM

Mikko, those are sweet, how does the weight work way out front like that? Can the person see, say if he is running or walking? They look really cool. I love the perspective being right where his eyes would be. Thank you for sharing.

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Steve M. November 13, 2010 at 4:24 PM

Hey Shane,

First, congratulations on the being the cover of HDVideoPro! As our ambassador for the 5D, very cool to see that and well deserved. I was curious if AOV is going to be a theatrical release or direct to DVD? Also, do you have an update on the Boot Camp DVD’s availability? Lastly, regarding Chris’ comments above on Premiere, is 5D footage truly that much better looking in that software as opposed to FCP, and why? Sorry for the off the topic questions, but I’m real interested in seeing AOV for all the first person POV shots you’ve talked about. Thanks a ton!

Steve M.

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 1:06 AM

Steve M., thank you so much for all of your support, I do not do direct to DVD. It will be out next year. You have to understand we financed this film ourselves, so things that a little longer. You cannot throw money at it to make it go faster if you have already thrown 11.5 million at it. We recently test screened in Orange. It scored a 93%. Yeah baby. The action was off the chain. We have to work on a couple scenes and then show the studios before the Christmas break. On the subject of Premiere Pro verses Final Cut. There is no comparison. Once you cut on the new Premiere Pro, you never go back. The reason being is that everything is real time, no rendering time for anything. You didn’t like dial up internet did you, well that is what final cut pro is like compared to Premiere Pro. They also designed the whole editing system around the h.264 codec. I hear this codec works well in FCP. Right!!!! The other thing that they did is go to the source. They met with the engineers at Canon and asked them about their sensor and there color space and designed CS5 off of that, to be able to unlock the codec into a 4:2:2 workflow. Pretty ingenious. The proof is in the pudding and FCP doesn’t have it. Period, The end.

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ivan marasco November 13, 2010 at 4:43 PM

hi shane,
i have to buy an helmet cams.
wich kind of helmet is in the Dominican Republic’s shooting photos?
baseball,footbal helmet,motorcycle helmet or what?
do you have a link on internet where i can see the model?
one that seems similar is motorcycle helmet jet model.
thanks

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 9:56 PM

ivan marasco, Troy Lee Carbon Fiber BMX bike helmet, I think Doggicam’s is a baseball Helmet with the right ear guard cut out. The ones that we had in the DR and on “Act of Valor” were proto-types and I do not see them on the website.

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ivan marasco November 13, 2010 at 5:13 PM

what kind and model of helmet is doggicam helmet?
they have cut one part of the helmet?

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Matt Short November 13, 2010 at 6:01 PM

Shane,
Great insights as always. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to shoot an aerial dog fight from the pilot’s perspective (would actually be the back seater’s perspective). I’ve considered mounting the 5D on my helmet but the added weight in a 7-9G turn would probably snap my neck. It’s hard enough to stay conscious in those conditions and shooting handheld is nearly impossible. I can shoot handheld through about 6Gs effectively (in fact, the Gs help stabilize the shot) but anything higher than that and I need to stow the camera. I’ve considered the smaller bullet cams but the lenses are so wide you wouldn’t be able to see the other jet. What would you recommend for a POV shot like this? I’m shooting exclusively with my 5D now and it’s very liberating. The cockpit of an F16 is extremely cramped to begin with and it’s so nice not to have the bulk of a video camera up with me. Not to mention the images from the 5D just look so much better. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.
Cheers,
Matt

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 12:53 AM

Matt Short, thank you so much for those kind words and your continued support. I would hard mount that baby in and around you. I know there has to be a way to get some small 5/16 inch rigging in there. Dave Knudson, [email protected] my key grip has this wonderful set of clamps and rods that screw into each other to extend up to as long as you want. I know this kit is fairly priced and would give you the ability to grab the camera in ways that you might not have tried. The only thing I am fearful about is you being able to eject. It is something that we would have to look at to see what if possible and safe.

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Brandon Cummins November 14, 2010 at 6:20 PM

Shane,

Wonderful post as always, and it’s been great re-living my experience from “The Last 3 Minutes” via posts like this…

I’ve got a couple quick questions regarding lens selections…

Is there a certain focal length you opt to use with helmet cam, and if so, why?

And second, While I know you used a follow focus system consistently throughout the shoot (Bartech, correct?), I was curious how one might deal with focus issues if the FF was not available… Would you opt to pick a lens with a shorter hyper-focal distance?

Hope this finds you well, and always appreciate your posts!

Cheers!
-Brandon

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Shane November 15, 2010 at 12:44 AM

Brandon Cummins, Hi man, great to hear from you. I use whatever focal length will tell the story. If you need to see Bodie slide into home plate, then I need to use a very wide lens, like an 18mm Zeiss, if I don’t have to be so whide I can use a 24 or a 35mm. These in 16:9 seem to work the best. That first person perspective is so subjective. I like seeing the hands and arms to get the real feel. If you do not have a FF available then I would hyper focal the lens and pray for the best. Obviously if you are in a daylight situations you will have more hyper focal, but with all that depth of field it starts to look like video very quickly. You are very welcome.

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Wedding Photographer Leeds November 14, 2010 at 10:35 PM

Awesome video once again. Still saving up for a set of CP2’s!

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Mikko November 15, 2010 at 4:51 AM

Shane, to balance the weight of the helmet i’ve put removable scubadiving weights behind the helmet, that you can replace easily by equipment.
Yes the person can see what it does,you can set the camera to be just under or just over the eyes, that is what helps to move or run with this unnatural equipment.
Thank you again for sharing your experience.

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Tim Kang November 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM

very interesting post – it makes me wonder, would it be possible to mount a camera to the front grille of a football helmet, or would that restrict visibility too much? i figure since the grille’s lower than the eyes, one can still see over the camera. one could even dremel and refabricate a camera cage built right into the grille. other hidden benefit: it’d also make the camera guy look like a futuristic cyborg.

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Shane November 16, 2010 at 1:50 AM

Tim Kang, Thank you very much for your comments and support. Great idea, but for some reason I keep on mounting it on the right side, not dead in front of the face, I guess the reason is that it puts the lens exactly where the eyes are and you do not have to go with such a super wide lens if the camera was rigged out in front of the face. Re-think it a little and understand that the more you can get a flat, undistorted view the more you will have an emotional contact with the viewer. The more surreal it looks, this is not how the human eyes view life. They view life through a 35mm lens.

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Chris McAlister November 15, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Tim, it sounds like you might be onto to something there! You should draw something out for that!

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Steve M. November 15, 2010 at 6:53 PM

I agree, that is a good idea, Tim! If one utilized Cinevates Cyclops, which I have and I’m not promoting it in anyway, with Tim’s idea, and an extra long whip, one might be able to pull focus fairly decent.

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Matt Short November 15, 2010 at 9:40 PM

Thanks for the reply, Shane. And yes, safety and being able to eject is paramount. I shot an email out to Dave to get his thoughts on it. I’m looking forward to hearing his ideas. I’ll let you know what we come up with. Thanks again,
Matt

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Rob Sholty November 16, 2010 at 2:52 AM

Hi Shane,
I really enjoyed the The Last Three Minutes. Being an avid gamer myself I have always loved the idea of doing first person shots. I know its not as smooth but I did this same effects all handheld. Please let me know what you think. Thanks

http://www.vimeo.com/16645694

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Shane November 16, 2010 at 10:51 PM

Rob Sholty, Thank you so much for those kind words about L3M. Wait till you see “Act of Valor” it puts you in the Navy SEALS head, never before have you seen this First Person POV until now. That was some crazy stuff there. Loved the POV’s in the beginning, very disorientating. I think I have stayed in that Hotel room before. Scary!!!

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James Stoneley November 16, 2010 at 10:35 PM

Shane,
Thanks for responding, it always amazes me how you find the time to reply to everyone individually! It’s a really nice touch. 24 and 35mm Canons are beautiful lenses and as long as I can get a remote follow focus on the rig, I’m sure the added depth of field will really make the images pop.

I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these POV style shots being used now that this tech is available. I’ve just written a blog all about this – http://convergeevents.co.uk/2010/11/a-unique-point-of-view/

I’m going to be making my own DIY helmet cam, so will send you some pics once we’ve got it working.

All the best
James

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Shane November 16, 2010 at 10:42 PM

James Stoneley, I want to thank you so much for noticing the time and effort that I give back to this community. I look forward to the pics. Yes, it is a whole new world.

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Shane November 16, 2010 at 10:48 PM

James Stoneley, Nice blog entry also.

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Rob Sholty November 17, 2010 at 7:29 AM

Thanks for getting back to me. I really appreciate your comment. It means a lot especially coming from a DP of your caliber. Do you know when the Navy Seals thing is going to come out or where I can see it?

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Shane November 21, 2010 at 8:48 PM

Rob Sholty, You are so welcome and thank you for your support. Veterans Day 2011. We just screened it in Orange and it scored a 93%, off the chain baby!!!

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Tim November 17, 2010 at 2:20 PM

Thanks for the reply Shane – interesting point. I initially expected a surreal, ultra-wide view to give that sense of connection, since i’ve seen it used for POV perspectives in film in the past. However, thinking about your comment made me realize that those shots i have in mind usually show the POV of an altered state of mind or of something not human. incidentally, besides your examples shown here, i’ve always liked Janusz Kaminski’s POV work on the diving bell and butterfly using tilt-shift lenses and other tools to simulate eye blinking and focusing. given the huge amount of lens choices and the flexibility for the EF mount, i anticipate seeing even more creative POV in-camera simulations to come ahead from the community!

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Jay Galvan November 18, 2010 at 1:10 PM

You have inspired me to go out and just shoot 🙂

This music video I am creating has a live component and a conceptual component. This was for the live stuff.
I wanted to get an intimate feel with the band so I hand held all of the shots with my “HaloRig”

This was with a 50MM 1.4 on a 7D, and one light. Just had the band do the song a few times.

Photo: http://www.seeastory.com/production/shoot_7d.jpg
Clip: http://vimeo.com/16685539

Edited on CS5, So glad I followed your advice on Post workflow. When are your BootCamp DVDs coming out. I am ready with CC in hand 🙂

Thanks for your time.

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Shane November 21, 2010 at 8:47 PM

Jay Galvan, Thank you so much for those kind words. You did a great job. Nice work. CS5 is the bomb. You are very welcome and keep crankin’.

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James Stoneley November 23, 2010 at 7:25 AM

Hi Shane,

I’m half way through building our helmet rig and getting suitable parts has been tricky business.

The one big problem I’m running into is that in order to get the camera in the right position, the HDMI port is pressed right up against my actor’s face. As we all know these HDMI connections are not that robust in the best of conditions so I’m a bit worried that I may go through a lot of these cables!

How did you overcome this problem?

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Shane November 24, 2010 at 2:18 AM

James Stoneley, do not use the mini HDMI port. I went with the AV out with a 90 degree 1/8″ mini and SD to a wireless video transmitter and a Director’s hand held monitor. This way you can see what he or she is up to and let them move all over the place.

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James Stoneley November 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Thanks for the advice Shane. The first prototype of the rig is finished, I just used it to make a short for the the Ikan Revolution film contest. I’ll be blogging about it over the next few days so you’ll be able to see our bizarre contraption made out of copper and brass!!

We ended up running HDMI out through a Black Magic and into a Teradek Cube. Then we mounted a Hocus Focus on some rails and pulled focus from a laptop station. The Teradek wasn’t ideal as we were getting 0.5 second latency so we were having to go off audio cues for the focus pulls!

The cube is a great bit of kit but not ideal for this use. Can you recommend any good wireless video transmitters that won’t break the bank?

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Shane November 30, 2010 at 2:51 AM

James Stoneley, Dynawave is a company out of Canada that is making a very lightweight affordable wireless video transmitter. They group it with a director’s monitor and you are ready to rock. David Hable is the owner. They are repped by Cramped Attic.

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James Stoneley November 30, 2010 at 8:39 AM

Many thanks Shane, I’ll check out their products.

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James Stoneley December 1, 2010 at 7:05 PM

Hey Shane,

My blog all about the helmet cam that we made is now up. It’s not quite as elegant as your version but it got the job done.

http://jamesstoneley.com/blog/?p=382

Many thanks for the inspiration.

James

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Shane December 6, 2010 at 8:01 AM

James Stoneley, I check your piece out. Great lighting and looks sweet. One comments is that I felt that your lens could have been wider. I did not get that feel of it being the person eyes or that first person feel, because there was not much in the foreground. When we did “The Last 3 Minutes.” I used all types of focal lengths24,35,50, and 85mm to tell the story, but we always had hands in the F.G. to sell the effect.

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Fermin Iles March 8, 2011 at 3:46 PM

Hey there! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My weblog looks weird when viewing from my iphone4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to correct this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share. Thank you!

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Innocent Maboshe April 3, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Hi Shane,

What percentage of the picture quality coming from the 5D is attributed to the lens and how much of the quality is attributed to the workflow e.g. using Premiere Pro? I also wanted to get your view on the image quality of the Panasonic GH2 and whether the 4:2:2 color space would be able to be extracted using Premiere.

Regards

Innocent

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William Cabral August 3, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Hey Shane,

Just wanted to share my video with you. I created my own helmet cam.
http://www.vimeo.com/17383214

What do you think?

Will

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Victor June 26, 2012 at 11:14 AM

I forgot how much I enjoyed this series of the last 3 minutes.. Im glad I took a look back.. I pick up a few things.. All this helmet cam stuff reminds me of the Movie “Brainstorm” with Christopher Walken! haha

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Shane June 26, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Victor. Thanks for the kind words and support.

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Kevin November 10, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Hey Shane,
Your cinematography inspired me to make a similar short film and experiment with POV. I totally agree with your stance on POV drawing the audience to feel the same emotions as the character’s POV.

I got sick and tired of found footage films such as paranormal activity, but when I watched this, it showed me how powerful POV can be instead of scaring the living hell out of you.

Just needed to know, is there a difference from having the camera on the right side of the face opposed to having it dead set in the middle. I can see that having it on the right side does allow it to have better stability and simulate the right eye but the middle one does show the preferable vision of the eye.

Thanks Shane 🙂

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Shane November 14, 2012 at 9:06 PM

Kevin, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I agree a good POV puts you there. I like it on the right very close to the right eye. In the middle it is hard for your actor/operator to perform

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Motorcycle Crash August 30, 2014 at 10:44 PM

Hi Shane, I was wondering if there is a specific website or retail store that sells helmet cams or even gun cams. I play airsoft but I dont want to duct tape my digital camera onto my gun nor my helmet. Any advice?

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balkan February 8, 2015 at 1:33 PM

Hi Shane!
Is the Dominican Republic for AM Resorts film is on the internet? very curious to see if it works well!!
And thanks to share your experience with us!
thx a lot 😉
cheers from France
Balkan

Reply

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