"Hardcore Henry" camera operator reveals the secrets of extreme shooting of the first First-person action movie in history: the unique rig, magnet stabilization, GoPro cameras, more than 100 working shifts, parkour, injuries and other craziness.


P.O.V. - operator: Sergey Valyaev

April, 7th by Pavel Orlov for http://tvkinoradio.ru, translated by Aleksandr Egarev.

Preparations for shooting of "Hardcore Henry"

 Ilya Naishuller and Sergey Valyaev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

Right after we made the Bad Motherfucker clip with Ilya Naishuller, Timur Bekmambetov called to Ilya and offered to make a full-length movie. We decided that was a unique opportunity we should not miss. On the moment of the beginning of preparations, I designed a concept of special rig for POV-shooting. Also while I was designing it, I was trained by our stunt director, Oleg Poddubniy. In addition, I helped our director of photography - Seva Kaptur to do camera tests and developed action scenes with Ilya. Together with stuntmen, I trained for two months non-stop to be physically ready for upcoming hardcore. By day I trained, and by night I was sitting by computer, designing the P.O.V. mask, meeting with my Smokin' Heroes crew, rasping, sawing, laser cutting and making the prototypes. Due to the first day of shooting we managed to do the first bearable version. It did not work well but there was not any time, so we started to film.

Creating of the Adventure Mask; concept, stabilization, equipment.

 Sergey Valyaev and Ilya Naishuller on the set of Bad Motherfucker clip.

For the clip, we used the strike ball mask of Predator, which was made by our friend Oleg Savin. We cut all front parts, and installed the camera in mouth area. In fact, this mask wasn't good for shooting at all - it shook, dangled, and I chewed my own cheeks 'cause it was too tight. In addition, it did not allow installing additional equipment. So I started to invent special rig, which would be suitable for shooting a movie.

Adventure Mask rig prototype and gypseous head for models.

Its concept based on simple rule: if we want to dip the viewer in action, to make him  believe he is the main hero; camera must be placed not in the forehead area, as you could think, but in the mouth area. When camera is in this position, it captures the  body frame, which creates the effect of presence. According      to this, I had to create  the rig, that fixated the camera in that position, did not get in the way of viewing,  was as light as possible, allowed to install additional equipment and could be  regulated for different types   of face. The last point was very important because the  movie was filmed by different operators, including stuntmen. Therefore, there was a necessary  possibility to regulate the mask, its width, and position of camera.

Sergey Valyaev  and Seva Kaptur on the set of "Hardcore Henry".

Besides, in a process, we improved the mask and equipped a magnet stabilization system  on it. Our engineers, Vladimir and Nikolay Kotykhovys managed by Seva Kaptur, did that. It functioned not like the popular three-axis systems such as Ronin, MōVI or Key  Gimbal. Three-axis stabilization were fully balancing the video, and Ilya was strictly  against it. At first, I planned to use the Adventure Mask with installed three-axis  stabilization for GoPro, which would allow manipulating the cameras from the distant.  But this way we could only get a "flying camera" effect, - without all the shaking we  would not make the viewer believe he is the main hero, and we could not reach the needed  rate of realism. When the person moves he or she feel some sways and shakes. A magnet  stabilization works different way - it doesn't regulate the Roll axis and or the Yaw  axis, but it stabilizes basic shakings of the Pitch axis: small up'n'down sways and  severe jumps. In the same time, this system was my own curse on the set. It was heavy,  it limited my P.O.V. During the shooting, I tripped a lot because of it. However it  worked well, it gave the director the effect he needed, and it was more durable than  electronic systems. We decided that electronic system would break at some point and  it would slow the process. So for the same reason we gave up three-axis systems and  switched on mechanic one exclusively.

Sergey Valyaev  with the basic version of Adventure Mask rig

Today we have the consumer version of the rig. It is almost the same rig we used for shooting "Hardcore Henry". It's light and has regulations, and you can change the tiers for any camera including mobile phones, DSLR, mirrorless and 360° cameras. In addition, you can install any stabilization you want, even the magnet one.

Sergey Valyaev with the loaded Adventure Mask rig.

If you shoot with the GoPro only, you do not need to install anything additional. But if you are making a movie, you can add microphones, batteries, transmitters and everything you need on the rig. You can attach the counterbalance in hindhead area, and put the microphones in sockets above. The only difference between the consumers version and the one we used in the movie is a width regulator. We added it in the end of the filming process. With all the additional equipment, the rig weighed only three kilos.

About the choice of GoPro camera: weight, rolling shutter, resolution

Ilya  Naishuller and Sergey Valyaev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

We started to shoot "Hardcore Henry" with GoPro 3, not even GoPro 3+. On that moment there were many action-cameras on the market; there were light DSLR cameras as well. We were running a huge bunch of tests, we tested about 15 different devices and in result we settled with GoPro for a number of reasons. First, the weight was important. Second, it has decent quality. And third, it almost has no rolling shutter effect, a defect, which deforms the image and bend it during severe moments. GoPro was originally designed for extreme shooting so the devs reduced the rolling shutter effect to minimum. As far as we had

a lot of movement in our film, that parameter was essential for us. Other cameras, like Sony, make better image, they allow to use different lenses, but they have terrible "jelly-vision" effect.

 Seva Kaptur and Sergey Valyaev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

We were shooting all scenes with two GoPro cameras, but not for 3D as some may think. The thing is, GoPro 3 doesn't support simultaneous image output on its screen with transmitting it to the external monitor. Therefore, the second camera was necessary for playback output. There was another reason: if one camera went off or glitched, which happens with GoPro, the other one secured it.

 Ilya  Naishuller, Seva Kaptur and Sergey Valyaev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

The whole movie was filmed in 1440x1080 resolution with 48 fps. We could not film it in 2k, because the fps was low that way. We sometimes needed a slow-motion effect - and 48 fps allowed us doing it.

Interaction with a Director of photography.

Seva Kaptur and Sergey Valyaev on the set of  "Hardcore Henry"

We had three D.O.P. and three P.O.V. - operators:  Me, Andrey Dementyev and Ilya Naishuller. Although, directors of photography didn't shoot anything - they didn't carry the cameras, and did not build a composition during the shooting. Though Pavel Kapinos worked in scenes with Tim Roth and Fyodor Lyass filmed some rapids from the Andrey's shoulder with RED in final scenes. They were busy with preparing, light, and interaction with production designer and helped Andrey and me with advices. I can call Seva Kaptur my inspiration. Due to him I highly improved my professional skills. Working with him, we argued a lot at first, we adapted to each other. I wanted to see the monitor, which would help me to recompose the shot. And Seva gave very simple solution - just remember that camera had its own angle of view and frame borders. When I realized and accepted it, I managed to think more about the scene and the character I played. Now, I always use this technique in my work, not only when I carry the camera, my main feature is to know how to shoot complicated one-shot scenes nicely, during the running and jumping. It is dumb to look in monitor while you must keep a hero in a frame, jumping from roof to roof with heavy Gimbal and a camera in your hands.

Filming process: overtime, reshooting and hernia

Sergey Valyaev on the set of  "Hardcore Henry"

All the filming process was extraordinary. Project was not big budget even for Russian measures. Therefore, we had to sacrifice the comfort for the descent result. Every day we worked for different time. One day there were only few hours, the other day we could work with the huge overtime, to 15-16 hours. And during the shifts I was in Adventure mask all the time.

Ilya Naishuller and Sergey Valyaev  on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

It is hard to define the share of the movie, which I personally shoot. Maybe it is about 40-50%. It's hard to say exactly because we had a bunch of scenes which I filmed, but they did not make it in the final cut. The first version of movie was about 2.5 hours long, and in the result its length was shortened to 1.5 hours with the titles. Besides, many episodes we remade several times. For instance, I shot absolutely crazy scene with a tank, which we tried to film a few days in a row. But during the rough montage Ilya disliked the tank itself(it was old and ridiculous), so he decided reshoot it with another machine. Andrey Dementyev worked

in that scene.

 Andrey Dementyev on the set of  "Hardcore Henry"

The second operator was required because in the initial stage already, it was clear, it was physically impossible to shoot the whole movie by oneself. When we worked with Ilya on the clips, it was easy; short chronometry, only few shooting days. In a full- length movie we planned to work 115 shifts. With that number, I understood that I would just die there. So I called my best friend - Andrey Dementyev. Andrey was the best candidate, of all I could imagine. He is doing parkour for ten years already. Andrey followed my work on mask since the beginning and knew all the specifics for POV-shooting. Also he was a professional actor and worked on clips with us, playing one of the characters. And Henry, the main hero, must be played by someone, even if he was not seen in frame. I think that fact, we both played him, was good for a character development. Andrey as an actor put some life in his image, living that role, and I as an operator tried to add some non-ordinary solutions and visual features.

On the set of "Hardcore Henry"

Andrey replaced me in a very difficult moment - I damaged my neck due to overload and got myself a herniated disk. As far as Andrey trained with me during the initial stage and developed many ideas for a movie, he could instantly get into gear. I think, he played his role perfectly. Especially in that scene where hundreds of cyborgs were attacking Henry. He had to suffer there as no one suffered before him, - he was hanging on the ropes for hours, laying in uncomfortable poses waiting for an action, and earning some injuries. I can say that only living the role of Henry there was prohibitively hard.

Ilya Naishuller on the set of  "Hardcore Henry"

In addition, Ilya himself filmed some scenes. He tried to wear it several times before, on the set of Bad Motherfucker clip and he liked it very much then. In "Hardcore Henry" he decided to shoot just because he could afford it, you know, because he was a director and a producer. There was another reason, - in that way Ilya could work with the actors face-to-face and prompt them some things, that actor could respond to.

Interaction with an actor

Sergey Valyaev and Sharlto Copley on the set of "Hardcore  Henry"

Our Henry character was an actor, an operator and a viewer simultaneously. He was a partaker of the action but with a helmet and a camera on his head. Imagine, how to interact with that strange creature. Partner was getting lost because he did not know in what camera he should look. To make things easier for an actor and to help him focus on the role we marked one of the two cameras - we put foam-rubber lining under it, so actor could see which camera is main and which is secondary. Besides, I wore reflecting glasses. On the one hand, an actor could look in them to know how he looks, on the other hand, operator s eyes did not distract him. In that way, simple reflecting glasses made actors' work easier, and fastened the whole process. By the way, the ideas of glasses and marked camera was brought to us by Sharlto Copley. When he appeared on the set, everything became right, - he knew exactly what to do, how he should act, and was raising the morale of the whole crew. Despite the difficult conditions, in which we worked, he never complained about anything. And if a Hollywood actor behaved like that, no one could complain either.

Stunts: belay, stuntmen and ambitions

Sergey Valyaev  on the set of "Hardcore  Henry"

We had stunts, performed with and but also without a belay. being a tracer, I am used to perform the stunts without a belay, I am fine with it. I know the limits of my body and realize what I can or cannot do.

When there are ropes, I am personally disoriented by it. I am jumping better without it, in contrast with stuntmen-riggers who used to wear it. Although after the "Hardcore Henry», I learnt as working with belay, as reloading a machine-gun on the run, as many other thinks I did not think I could.

A  shot from "Hardcore Henry"

There were scenes in the movie, which were made with very serious belay. There were moments, filmed by professional stuntmen. For example neither I, not Andrey, not Ilya could not perform car stunts. Just because we were not professional car racers. And to put Sharlto in a car with the man who can barely drive was a real crime. So all of the car stunts, burnings, a flight on a rope under helicopter, a jump from the high-rise were performed by our stuntmen crew. We put the mask on a stuntman, adjusted it, told him how to move, and he worked. The difficulty was in that stuntmen were not used to wear the rig, didn't feel the rhythm and the calisthenics of a hero, didn't get the composition so well. Therefore every time we filmed their scenes, the number of takes was rising.

Sergey Valyaev and Andrey Dementyev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

Some stunt scenes were performed without any belay. For instance, during the bridge chase for the Slick Dmitry we just went for a run as we could do while training in the real life. You don't see it in the movie, but the bridge was wet and sloppy after the rain. The belay could distract us there. However, the other stunts we tried to perform more professional.

It is important to hold your ambitions. For example, the scene with a jump from high-rise was filmed by professional rigger Alexander Kraevskiy. He forbade Andrey or me perform that stunt, although we were willing to. Or when we filmed Bad Motherfucker, I was very mad because of Ilya who forbade me to jump from one moving car to another, that was easy, I knew, how to do it. But Ilya said: «I can replace

a stuntman, but me can't replace an operator, so I would better ask a professional than would risk you."

After that I calmed down and was cool about the willing to make all stunts by myself.

About the future of P.O.V. - movies.

Andrey Dementiev on the set of "Hardcore Henry"

I think, we and our «Hardcore Henry" movie are on the doorstep of something. Few years ago, videogames were attempting to become more cinematic; today the movies take inspiration in videogames industry.

If we, with a rig and a camera, made the first- person movie, then the next step will be involving the viewer in film with adding the interactive scenes. In this way, our picture is on the border between present and future, which tied with the VR. In addition, I think there will be a wave of the POV-movies. Such precedents are always inspirational. I hope other film makers won't copy us, but will try to re-imagine what we did. Besides, comparing what we had three years ago with today technologies, there are more perfect devices now. We filmed with an old GoPro, now there are advanced versions of GoPro and BlackMagic, and many other stuff. New cameras allow reaching the real cinematic image, they weighted less, the stabilization is clearer; also, there is Adventure Mask rig, designed especially for POV-shooting. And of course, people will use it.


Sergey Valyaev

Extreme-operator, producer, tracer. Worked in the "Hardcore Henry" movies and also the Biting Elbows clips: Stampede, and Bad Motherfucker.