Alex-Honnold

Filming on the edge: Making The Soloist VR

New virtual reality documentary film ‘Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR’ charts the breathtaking journey of the ‘Free Solo’ star as he makes his way across the USA and Europe including the iconic El Capitan ascent in Yosemite National Park and Mont Maudit – the Cursed Mountain.

Now the Red Bull TV series ‘Making the Soloist VR’ goes behind the scenes to show just how this innovative technology was employed to capture the 3D 360° experience in the most extreme environments.

Alex Honnold is a professional rock climber whose free-solo ascents of America’s biggest cliffs have made him one of the most recognized and followed climbers in the world. Honnold is distinguished for his uncanny ability to control his fear while scaling cliffs of dizzying heights without a rope to protect him if he falls in a climbing style called free solo climbing.

In 2017 Honnold completed the first and only free-solo of El Capitan’s “Freerider” route (5.13a, 3,000 feet), hailed by many as one of the greatest sporting achievements of our time. Free Solo’ the film documenting this climb, won the Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.

Alex Honnold and Nicolas Hojas climbing Digital Crack (8a) on the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix. Credit: Renan Ozturk / Red Bull Content Pool

The two-part ‘Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR’ immerses viewers alongside the 36-year-old Californian as he exhibits the talent that has captivated people globally. The film is only available for Oculus TV, on Meta Quest VR headsets.

The film, which was shot over two years by award-winner producer Johnathan Griffith of ‘Everest VR: Journey to the Top of the World’ – uses the latest in high-resolution 3D 360° to capture Honnold in some of the most remote and wildest locations possible.

VR Producer Johnathan Griffith added: “After seeing how audiences were enthralled by Alex in Free Solo, we thought that VR could bring people even closer to being on the wall with Alex as he continues to push the boundaries of the sport and human achievement.”

The three-part series ‘Making the Soloist VR’ on Red Bull TV, follows the production team and provides an inside look at the challenges faced with shooting VR in these environments. Honnold, filmmaker Jon Griffith and a group of climbers take us through the journey, struggles and rewards of creating such a film.

Episode one follows Honnold to Yosemite, home of the fearsome 7,573 ft (2,308 m) El Capitan, and Red Rocks. The action then switches to Europe where Honnold teams up with Swiss mountaineer Nicolas Hojac to tackle tough Dolomites free solo climbs. Episode 2 culminates with Honnold and Hojac battling a snowy and wet summer to free solo American Direct on the Aiguille du Dru in Chamonix and the Kuffner arete on Mont Maudit – the Cursed Mountain – the second-highest peak in the Mont Blanc Massif.

Alex Honnold soloing high up on the American Direct on Les Drus, Chamonix. Credit: Renan Ozturk / Red Bull Content Pool

As shooting in the mountains means uncontrollable circumstances, every aspect revolved around the crew’s ability to handle themselves in complex and often dangerous situations. While they were documenting the stars of the climbing world, the team had to have a high level of mountain skills themselves and put together a support crew that can keep up with Honnold.

Leading the artistic vision of this behind-the-scene series was Director Renan Ozturk, and helping the team navigate the high alpine was professional mountaineer Nico Hokjac. Ozturk works on getting great images – both on film and stills, while Hojac’s principal job is to rig the cameras and keep the team safe.

Honnold explained: “For anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into the world of free solo climbing, The Soloist VR is the perfect opportunity to do so from the comfort of your own home. Viewers come along for the ride as we climb some of the most beautiful rock faces on earth.”

Alex Honnold, Jonathan Griffith, Renan Ozturk on the ground after capturing the last shot of the film on Desert Gold. Credit: Renan Ozturk / Red Bull Content Pool

Nicknamed Alex “No Big Deal” Honnold, the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston conducted a functional MRI scan in 2016, which showed little to no activation in Honnold’s amygdala which is responsible for fear responses.

Of Sacramento, California, Honnold’s most celebrated achievements include the first and only free-solos of the Moonlight Buttress (5.12d, 1,200 feet) in Zion National Park, Utah, and the Northwest Face (5.12a) of Half Dome (2,200 feet), Yosemite, California. In 2012 he achieved Yosemite’s first “Triple Solo”: climbing, in succession, the National Park’s three largest faces—Mt. Watkins, Half Dome and El Capitan—alone, and in under 24 hours.

Watch ‘Making the Soloist VR’ on Red Bull TV HERE.

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