Red bull: motorcyclist in the skyway
how ryan taylor filmed motorcyclist Aaron colton racing through minneapolis' famous skyways
Ryan Taylor is an award-winning director, photographer, and cinematographer, who has made a career in capturing the exciting world of action sports. He has worked for clients such as Red Bull, Polaris, Arc’teryx, Indian Motorcycles, and many more. Ryan has been a long-time friend of CineMechanics, collaborating and making great use of our cameras, lenses, and resources over the years.
In Winter of 2023, Ryan and his team set out on an action-packed endeavor for Red Bull Sports, all premised around one idea: what if someone rode a motorcycle through the Minneapolis Skyway System?
The Skyway System is an iconic feature of downtown Minneapolis and, in fact, is the largest system of its kind in the whole world, composed of 9.5 continuous miles of pathways stretching more than 80 blocks. For motorcyclist Aaron Colton and the action sports fanatics at Red Bull, though, they represented not just a convenient winter travel option, but a sprawling indoor playground.
Dean Woytcke, with special thanks to Jeff Fischer
"There's always a lot of learning, and [CineMechanics] pays attention to helping us out in those prep stages, like really wanting to help solve our problems."
- RYAN TAYLOR
This shoot was no small feat, involving complex stunts, high-precision drone choreography, unique camera rigging, and more. In an interview with Ryan, he told us a bit about his approach, and how he managed to wrangle a project with so many moving parts:
“With a project like this, usually having multiple cameras is key because there's a lot of times where you have stunts and things like that, which only happen once, so you need to be able to capture it from multiple angles. Then, also having those cameras in multiple configurations is kind of how I like to work. [...] A lot of times I like to fix a gimbal onto a moving vehicle, and specifically on this project we got an electric bicycle and figured out how to rig it to that, to be able to give us movement to be able to get tracking shots of Aaron riding down the Skyway; that was pretty fun to figure out.”
With a project as complex as this, a rental house can be a real asset to the creative process; facilitating tests, recommending gear, helping you overcome technical hurdles, and the like. In our conversation, Ryan told us how he relied on the CineMechanics team, and especially veteran Grip Jeff Fischer, to help bring the bike-gimbal rig to life using the Ronin RS3 and the Tilta Hydra Alien mounting system. “CineMechanics is very accommodating in that way, like letting us come back in, test it out and make sure that we left with the tools that we needed, and in working order, to get the project done,” Ryan said. “Like there's always questions, right? There's always a lot of learning, and [CineMechanics] pays attention to helping us out in those prep stages, like really wanting to help solve our problems.”
This project, like many of Ryan’s, was shot on RED cameras and vintage Nikkor lenses rehoused by Zero Optik. When telling us about his lens choice, he talked about how he gravitates towards the rehoused Nikons: “I'm a Nikon still photographer, so they're all lenses that I'm familiar with, like the 35 prime, the 85 and all of those that I typically use, but also it gave us a wide variety because we were able to have everything from super wide angle shots on a gimbal with a 14mm, all the way to a 200. There are a few characteristics of those lenses that are definitely a little bit crazy, but for this project I tried to steer away from that a little bit, but they also just have a pretty good look overall.”
Ryan went on to tell us a bit about his camera team for this project. Speaking about Director of Photography Catherine Aeppel, Ryan explained, “she and I met several years ago at a workshop where I was an instructor, and then from there we kind of stayed in touch. Then she met Aaron Colton, the athlete, and had started working with him on quite a bit of stuff, and I had known Aaron from when he lived in Minnesota. So then, when this project came up, Aaron and I were both like: ‘let's get Cat on this project!’ It was awesome to work with her. She put a ton of attention to detail into it, and really kept the camera team on point.” He continued, “Brian Suerth, the 1st AC, is like my right hand man. I mean, one of the best ACs in Minneapolis right now, and I pretty much owe all my projects to that guy– he knows my gear better than I do at this point! And Jourdan Gomez, the FPV pilot, just crushed it. Like, whew, a madman!”
We asked about the rest of the crew for this production, and how they all brought this ambitious project to life: “I mean, no director is anybody without their AD! Todd Cobery came out and totally crushed it. It was a big task to take on, controlling the situation with motorcycles and lockdowns and everything– it was awesome to see.” Ryan also gave big shoutouts to Producer Derrick Taylor, Jeff Fischer who designed and tested the bike-gimbal rig during pre-production, and Key Grip Dean Woytcke who flawlessly picked right up where Jeff left off.
"CineMechanics is very accommodating in that way, like letting us come back in, test it out and make sure that we left with the tools that we needed..."
- RYAN TAYLOR
Nailing the Trick shot
As for Ryan’s above praise of Jourdan Gomez’s drone piloting skills, anyone who has watched this piece will immediately know what he’s talking about. At the end of the video, there’s a moment that deserves some particular attention, which is the “trick shot” on the basketball court. “Jourdan was like, ‘what if I dunked the drone?’,” Ryan chuckled. He told us that initially, he was hesitant about it out of fear that the drone would be damaged, but Gomez reassured him that it would be okay and the result would be super cool.
For this section of the video especially, Ryan emphasized how important it was to get it in one continuous take. “It's important when shooting this kind of stuff that you can't fake anything, right? Because like the trick that he does has to be real. He has to ride in and out of them for them to be legit [...] because once you start to cut and show different angles, even if you did it in one take the believability is gone because you cut. So, this is where the FPV really came into play. We did have other cameras covering it as a safety angle, but I knew that the FPV was gonna be the shot that we needed.”
Ryan continued, “about three quarters of our day was spent getting that one shot. There was a lot of excitement [at the beginning of the day] and then it kind of tapered off, and then it got to that moment of like ‘What are we gonna do? How do we save this?’ [...] Eventually I told everyone, ‘if he makes it, everyone cheer, don't hold back!’ Finally, the take happens and the ball goes in the net and he just dunks the drone and it was just so perfect.”
All in all, this trick shot ended up taking a whopping sixty eight takes to get just right. Ryan succinctly summed up the emotions of that moment: “It was like this huge victory feeling. It was so great.”
Watch Aaron Colton take on the Minneapolis Skyways on his Electric Motorcycle.