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National Geographic Channel – Framestore Reaches Peak Perfection for Free-climbing Documentary

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Framestore and National Geographic release Free Solo 360°, a short film profiling a climber's remarkable rope-free ascent of Yosemite's 3,200ft El Capitan. Debuting last month at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival, the short can be seen in its full 360° glory on National Geographic’s YouTube channel.

Created in partnership with award-winning, husband-and-wife filmmaking team Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the short accompanies the duo’s feature documentary, Free Solo, which is due out in December and profiles the climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: to be the only person to ever scale El Capitan—a formidable rock wall rising out of California's Yosemite Valley—without ropes or any safety equipment. 

The short is a fascinating portrait of the bogglingly brave (or bonkers) Honnold, who describes the peak as a "just a big wall – though it's at least 1,000 feet taller than anything else that's ever been 'free soloed' in the world."

His free climb has been re-created for the 360° film to give viewers the full experience of climbing alongside the intrepid mountaineer. Virtually standing in his place, viewers are transported to Yosemite as they ascend with him the monolithic lump of granite he describes as "the centre of the rock-climbing universe". 

For the feature photographer/mountaineer Jimmy Chin spent nearly three years climbing the route with Honnold; to prepare for the 360° film Chin and DP Justin Bastien (below) worked several days on El Capitan, placing cameras in the right locations and anchoring tripods up to 3,000 feet above the valley floor on the sheer granite wall.  

Aron Hjartarson, ECD at Framestore said: “It can be tricky in traditional filmmaking to portray a good sense of scale and context, but it’s all there in the 360° footage. You are transported thousands of feet above the ground, hanging out with Alex as he weaves his way upwards, with the beauty of Yosemite National Park spread out below and reaching to the horizon. It was also a great project to play with the emergent art of 360° cinematography, using camera moves to add drama to the piece and lead the point of interest around the environment.”

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