Log on and you will quickly discover it plastered all over the Internet: first-person video footage of snowmachining, water skiing, motorcycle riding and other sports. Most of these videos are shot with GoPros, small, light, durable cameras that are easy to use and can be mounted in different places.
In this increasing GoPro culture, nearly every adrenaline junkie and outdoor enthusiast seems to be filming. Unfortunately for viewers, unless there is some serious editing or the person has a knack for shooting, exciting adventures can turn into a blur of shaky shots. This was the case for Rodger Dean, an Eagle River resident, who was given a GoPro for Christmas by his wife.
Excited about his new toy, Dean mounted the camera on his helmet and spent a day filming a snowmachine trip with his buddies. After a few hours of editing the footage, he was excited to show his wife. But when he unveiled his masterpiece, his other half was less than thrilled. "I wasn't very good at getting footage on top of my head because I was moving my head and looking at things," said Dean. "She said, I can't watch that, it's too shaky and too sporadic."
His wife's reaction got Dean thinking, and he quickly developed a system to cut down on the shaky shots and put himself in the middle of the action. He built a pole that would fit inside a backpack with a mount for a GoPro or other camera on top. The mount kept the camera facing forward and put Dean in the shot, "either behind you or in front of you looking back." Instead of shaky shots, the third person shots were engaging and smooth, making them easier to edit into short videos.
Dean decided to test out his new invention at Arctic Man, a multi-day snowmachine festival in Interior Alaska and a paradise for GoPro'ers. According to Dean, there were about four other riders with similar setups, but his was the only one still standing by the end the weekend. Dean left Arctic Man with additional ideas for his mount and a list of people wanting to purchase the finished product.
Using Kickstarter, a fundraising website for creative projects, Dean raised around $20,000 and began building mounts out of his garage. He developed the name VuVantage and started selling his products online and through a few local dealers, including Alaska Mining & Diving Supply and Mad Hatter Alaska. After launching a second Kickstarter campaign, Dean was able to raise enough money to design a backpack for the mount.
He's sold about 1,200 VuVantages worldwide. "The third person perspective gives the viewer the sense they are looking over your shoulder and are part of what is taking place," said Dean.
Dean's VuVantage has a ball joint design keeps the pole out of the shot and allows the mount to absorb the shock of the activities. "It's better footage, people are like 'wow how did they do that,' " said Dean.
The VuVantage mounting system uses carbon fiber and aluminum (plastic or PVC would break too easily, Dean said, especially in cold weather). It weighs 2.8 pounds, including the backpack. The ball and joint creates "give": if the filmer gets entangled in branches or crashes, it will rotate with the impact. The product costs about $140 for just the pole and mounting system and about $170 with the backpack. Dean's customer-base continues to grow, he said. He's sold to both the occasional recreationist and professional videographers who have used VuVantage for shooting commercials. But by far the strangest use he's heard of are people using VuVantage to record auditions for symphony conductors. "They made them wear it during the interview. The footage that was captured of them conducting was sent to people throughout the United States to grade them for the interview."
VuVantage is making its way into the outdoor sporting world but Dean's target audience remains the same as it has from day one. "The niche I am trying to fill is making that whole process much easier, not the professional."
As product sales continue to pick up, Dean also has no plans to quit his day job or expand to a work space somewhere other than his garage. For now, he will continue to make a few hundred VuVantage products a month and look for new ways to improve the technology. "I'll ride the wave until somebody else makes a better one." While he may not make enough to outfit every GoPro'er but he sure enjoys saying goodbye to the shaky shots.