How Six Of The World’s Most Difficult Ballet Moves Were Captured In Slow Motion

When we came across this video, we were captivated. I’ve always been in awe of ballet dancers. They possess the most amazing hidden strength, machine-like precision, and grace beyond words.

What happens when you ask six incredibly talented ballet dancers to show you their hardest move and film it in slow motion? You gain an even greater appreciation for the skill they possess. This is exactly what Jason Aldag from the Washington Post’s PostTV did and the results are fascinating.

6-ballet-moves_1Aldag told me he wanted to show the Washington Post audience “something unexpected.” But, in doing so, he’s shown the world what these dancers can do. He even admitted that he “knew that ballet dancers were athletic but [he] was blown away by what the Washington Ballet crew showed [him] that day.”

Check out these amazing performers in the video after the jump

For me, beyond the dancers, which were graceful and eloquent all on their own, I loved the video in and by itself. Shot in natural light within the dance studio, the multiple camera angles and the slow-motion effect grabbed my attention. Dabbling in video from time to time, I wanted to know how Aldag achieved the effect. He was generous enough to share the process in detail — so much so, that I wanted to just quote for you exactly what he shared:

I brought five cameras to the shoot but used footage from only three: a Mark III w. a 24-105L, a Sony EX1, and a GoPro. The MarkIII was handheld on a camera ribbon with a Rode mic.  The EX1 and Go Pro were on tripods.  The EX1 was shooting in slow motion (S&Q mode) and the GoPro was shooting at 120FPS.  I had a MarkII with a 70-200 2.8 to get details but decided not to use that footage and a second GoPro that worked before we left but decided to die on me as soon as we got there.  I set up the shots and ran around with the Mark III and my colleague Randy Smith rode the cameras on the tripods.

I used the MarkIII and Rode mic to capture the interviews and the moves in real time. I controlled the GoPro footage with the speed ramp in FCPX and used the Optical Flow option to  make the footage a bit smoother. I think it works similar to Twixtor, not 100% on the details though.  I used the EX1 footage as well and slowed it down even more using FCPX and the Optical Flow option. The EX1 doesn’t shoot a fast as the GoPro so having the 120FPS footage to work with was great.

That’s got me thinking of whether I can pull off some slow-motion capture with what I have at my disposal and how I can implement some slow-motion footage into the next video I work on. Might be time to break out the GoPro to have some fun. Leaves me wondering, though, what would be good to capture in ultra-slow-mo. What would you like to slow down and capture?

  • Scott

    This might be a dumb question, but with such big beautiful windows, why was he shooting against them, rather than with them? The slow-mo footage shows that it wasn’t lit properly. He could’ve made his life a lot easier with a few daylight 2k floods, or maybe a few bright LED panels.

    I filmed & photographed dance for years, and it takes planning (and an eye & knowledge for dance). The framing on a few of the cameras was completely off, with almost a “shoot first, crop later” feel. If you want to make dance feel spectacular, you need to get slightly lower than eye level as well… Each move should’ve been rehearsed, framed, and oriented appropriately to the cameras.

    Better input into twixtor would obtain better results, as well. shooting them against a simpler background like a black curtain (usually fairly easy to find at a dance school) or white seamless (quick rental) would’ve helped the post processing…

    I’ll get off my soap-box. This got far rant-ier than I intended. I appreciate the post though… this has served to remind me how much I miss shooting dance photo/video. I should see if there’s any companies operating locally that wouldn’t mind a quiet cinematographer around during rehearsals.

    • Peter Bower

      All fair points.

      For me, as an outsider who knows little about dance, I was in awe. I still am. I’ve watched this countless times now during the last couple of days.

      I found the natural setting of the studio just as important as the dancers, as it highlighted a place in Washington, which I believe the story was just as much about — showing the people of Washington different locations in their home city. Going from the lighting during the interviews, the windows are just as large on most sides of the studio, and, while, yes, cutting down the background elements may have made a difference, I enjoyed seeing them in their rehearsal space without an over the top production.

      That all said, I do truly appreciate your comment (as will Jason, I’m sure, who will read it, and perhaps even respond to the points you’ve raised) as it does inform me of ways that the video could be improved that I had not thought of. None of us are ever done learning; it’s great to get different perspectives.

    • Rich

      Scott is so right.