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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: December 3, 3:50 PM ET
The condorcam man


The condorcam in use at a Freeskiing World Tour contest.

If you've watched video from the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour at Snowbird, Utah, then you've seen footage from the perspective of what's called a condorcam. It's a camera system that tracks competitors, running along 1,000 feet of cable down the slope of a venue and shooting at eye-level view.

"The biggest thing for us with big-mountain contests is that it's an enormous venue and it's hard to capture how dynamic and how steep it is -- it's hard to get up close and personal," says Adam Comey, president of MSI Live Productions, the organization the puts on the FWT and TNF Masters, among other events. "With the condorcam, we get this unique angle, we get right up over the top of the competitors -- we couldn't get that angle any other way. It's a great perspective."

Although the condorcam has only been used at the Snowbird stop of the FWT for the past couple of years, Comey says they are looking to expand the use of the camera at other events, including potentially The North Face Masters, in 2012.

The condorcam got its start when Jesse Placky was in a bike park and saw a zipline camera being used to film the action. Inspired to create something better, he drew on years of production experience in the action sports world and existing technologies to develop the condorcam. The first iteration of the system was operational by 2008, but a redesign in 2010 launched the current system.

It uses a synthetic cable system -- a safer option than steel, which weighs more and requires more tension to be suspended in the air -- to move the camera between two points. The majority of Placky's work on-site is rigging the system, and he draws on rock climbing experience to create a safe set-up.

"I've always been attracted to the unique angle in the camera world," Placky says.

Production crews at events can then mount a camera on a wireless robotic head that moves on a triple axis to pan, tilt, and roll. Technology similar to that used in remote-controlled heli cameras allows the operator to manipulate the condorcam. "I didn't reinvent the wheel; if technology was out there functioning well for other applications, I brought it in," Placky says. Belt-driven motors control the aspect ratios and a gyro stabilizer keeps the mechanism steady when moving at slow speeds or in high winds.

Placky sees applications for the condorcam in halfpipe and slopestyle events, and he's had discussions with Matchstick Productions and Sweetgrass Productions about working together.

Other projects he's used it on include a biking project with Red Bull, a cattle roundup in 3D for a documentary, and working with independent filmmakers near his base in Denver, Colo. "[The condorcam is] how to make something very picturesque without that iconic helicopter shot," Placky says.