Las Vegas provides the stunning backdrop to a new Formula 1 Grand Prix and a golden opportunity to showcase Red Bull and RED Camera’s power and pedigree.
This November, Formula One races in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first time in over 40 years presenting a rich backdrop to tell the latest chapter in the story of Red Bull Racing. Vamos, Vegas! is the fourth in the series of F1 Road Trip marquee films produced by Red Bull Media House and follows a winning formula.
“Shoot some of the best action from the highest performing car in the world and mix it with light-hearted storytelling while juxtaposing performance action against iconic landmarks and enviroments,” explains Nick Schrunk who has directed a number of high-octane short films for Red Bull including Race to Miami ahead of the Miami Grand Prix.
“Ultimately, we are making an action film, but our take was how can we make it cinematic and unlike any other sports film?”
Creative development began with the aim of embracing the diversity of Las Vegas. This included and executing a full, 15-person pit-stop on the Las Vegas strip, a race with a 1,000-horsepower trophy truck in the surrounding desert and driving inside an actual active casino. A storyline featuring Mexican driver Sergio Perez (who goes by the name Checo) and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner set in a casino elevator unites the elements into one grand day-night journey through Sin City.
Schrunk explains, “These iconic locations have been shot many times before, so our task was to tell our story using the language of cinema. We wanted to do it without artificially handicapping ourselves to an anamorphic frame, which might be challenging to compose for. I didn’t want vintage glass with any idiosyncrasies and surrealism that might make this tricky or, even worse, make it seem that we didn’t shoot everything for real.”
It was a four-camera shoot featuring a RED V-RAPTOR VistaVision mounted on a camera car, two V-RAPTOR VV ground cameras and a lightweight RED KOMODO for the FPV drone.
“We wanted to keep it all in the RED family because the post workflow is very streamlined and it’s a format, we are very familiar with,” Schrunk explains.
“I was keen to use the aesthetic of the V-RAPTOR’s large format sensor to capture a pronounced depth of field and to cover what we knew would be lots of wide shots. We didn’t want the distortion that’s more apparent with Super 35mm but instead to keep everything sharp corner to corner – and that was helpful in storytelling.”
Schrunk also appreciated the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor in being able to cover night and daylight and interior locations.
“You couldn’t have two more contrasting environments than a neon-lit dark city street one day and the next we’re out in the blazing heat of the desert with sun beating down.
“Our Director of Photography Will Roegge and our first ACs could really commit to one format that would work across everything we planned. The flexibility of the V-RAPTOR allowed us to do this and is ultimately why we chose it.”
They shot 8K full frame with the additional resolution allowing them freedom to manipulate picture in post. “We wanted every bit of resolution for the down-sampling advantage and so we can move the frame around as needed to find the best composition.”
The V-RAPTOR was paired with a set of MasterBuilt lenses including a 25-125mm zoom on the camera car. A set of Laowa lenses were chosen for KOMODO on the FPV drone modified by taking off some coating to match the rest of the show.
“We are proud of the fact that there are no additive elements in post. There’s no CG car, there’s no fake casino. It’s all done for real. That is a real F1 car perched precariously on the roof of Caesars Palace. Even the smoke as the magician disappears was essentially comped from the same shot.”
Running a F1 car inside a casino had never been attempted before, not least because of the sonic roar of the car’s engines and difficulty in gaining access. The entire lower floor hotel rooms of the Wynn were booked out by the casino so as not to disturb guests.
In a lakebed to the south of the city they set up a racecourse where Trophy Truck racer and Red Bull athlete Bryce Menzies challenges Checo to a duel.
“It’s a beautiful place but the dust turned to dirt explosions as the cars ripped through it,” Schrunk recalls. “Preplanning was essential so that we could shoot an authentic street-style race that was advantageous to camera whether that was time of day or capturing the best angles.”
The race was so carefully planned that they were able to shoot the entire sequence in just 45 minutes during golden hour.
“We did lots of testing and had GPS coordinates for the whole course so we knew we could put the camera car in a safe place where it wouldn’t be crossing the other vehicle’s racing line.”
Running an F1 car in a race configuration is very challenging especially in this extreme environment where the more time you take the more chance there is of technical malfunction.
“Preproduction mitigated the risk of dirt and safety issues and allowed us to put all our focus towards perfect light at the end of the day and on getting the shots we wanted.”
The other big set piece shoot was on the Vegas strip. Naturally, for a car with an incredible 0-60mph acceleration of just 2.5 seconds and a straight-line speed in excess of 220mph, the strip was shut down for the night. The team liaised with the Bellagio resort to programme its famous fountain for a ready-set-go race with the F1 car, repeated several times in two-minute chunks over a two-hour period.
“Safety was the paramount concern. We had a 60-person team stationed along the strip to make sure there were no issues and they each had to give the OK on the radio before we greenlit the car.”
As the only production team globally to use a real Formula 1 car for filming and to insist on practical production, the Red Bull team have established a gold standard in a realm often dominated by CGI.
This commitment involves shooting on public streets with real drivers and a real car it has presented unique production challenges but also earned critical acclaim, including a recent 2023 Sports Emmy win for "outstanding camera work - short form".
Schrunk adds, “We've curated a camera plan that reflects the realities of filming in public, high-stakes environments, often limited to a single, defining take. As we prepare for the world's largest sporting event of 2023, the Las Vegas F1 GP, we are riding the wave of America's escalating interest in Formula 1.”