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Patrick Cooper

Recreating a shot from Cliff Hanger

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I was watching Cliff Hanger on tv tonight. I had previously seen this film on the big screen back in the 90s. Ive also seen the making of the film some time ago and there was one particular segment which I found really interesting. There's a shot near the end of the movie where you see a helicopter slam into the side of a cliff which looks really dramatic. The BTS doco revealed that the filmmakers used a small, plastic toy helicopter for this which wasn't much bigger than a pencil. Certainly fooled me! It was explained that by filming the toy helicopter in slow motion, it added a sense of weight to the model during it's swing through the air. It was extremely effective.


Ive got some super 8 50D left over from my brother's wedding and I was thinking of recreating the helicopter cliff shot with it. Ive got a Canon 1014E which has a top speed of 54fps. I suspect that the filmmakers in Cliff Hanger used a higher frame rate for the helicopter footage but I hope I still get some interesting results regardless. I do have an rc helicopter I could use and there is a steep rocky embankment very close by on the coast. All I need is some rope or cord to swing the copter and I'm all set.

Edited by Patrick Cooper

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I finally got around to doing the shoot and got the results back. Running the camera at 54fps did not do this sequence any justice at all. I let the helicopter swing into a large rocky structure (natural geological formation) and it doesn't even look like slow motion. After the initial swing, the helicopter bounced off the rock a few times (with less speed) but even so, it looks like regular 24fps footage to me. Obviously, 54fps was not going to be as effective as the higher frame rate used in Cliff Hanger though regardless, I found my results surprising. It does not look like slow motion at all - even when the momentum has washed off.

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It's been a long time since I've even thought about minature work, but I do recall you typically set your speed in relation to the scale of the model-- I believe that for a 1/4 scale model you typically would shoot at 48fps so if you had a smaller model, you'd be at a much higher frame rate than 54.


According to my ASC Manual the mathmatics to figure the rough shooting speed for a miniature is as follows:


Take the scale fraction, invert it (e.g. a 1/16 scale becomes 16/1) and then take the square root of that inversion (e.g. the square root of 16 is 4) and multiply that by your project frame rate (24) and get the high speed rate at which to film the miniature (96 fps in this case).


If you have a 1/4 model it would be 1/4--->4/1---->sqrt(4)---->2x24----->48fps.


Conversely if you have a 1/64th scale model: (sqrt(64))*24=192fps.




Though note that's really just a STARTING point. There's a lot of variables depending on the shot/model, but that's a good starting point from which to make tests to figure out exactly what you need to do for your particular shot to sell it.

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