Making The Soloist VR shows how a virtual reality climbing movie is created
This three-part series goes behind the scenes of a climbing movie that was made exclusively for VR headsets – join Alex Honnold and co to learn how The Soloist VR was made…
Alex Honnold’s fingers are jammed into a small crack in the granite. His big toe is perched on a tiny little nub of rock. Below him, many metres separate him from the valley floor. Of course, he wears no harness or rope, as is typical for him.
To his side is a heavy-looking black camera on a stick that has various different lenses and is seemingly pointed in almost every direction.
The film (produced by filmmaker Jon Griffith) brings the viewer up close to the action, visualising how it feels to ascend a cliff or a mountain alongside some of the world’s best climbers.
The caveat? For The Soloist VR, you'll need a Meta Quest VR headset – because this experience has been filmed in 360-degree virtual reality, allowing you to look up, around and even down as Honnold free-solos his way through iconic climbs throughout the world.
You'll need a Meta Quest VR headset, and the experience is available to view via the Oculus TV platform. No VR headset? You can dig in here to see our special behind-the-scene series to get a sense of what it's like instead. The whole thing represents a chance to experience some of the incredible thrills and chills of climbs that are simply inaccessible for most.
But Honnold’s daring style is not the only risk-taking that’s happening here. The use of a 360-degree camera adds significant challenges and complexity to any film shoot, even while simply on flat ground. Hanging off the side of a massive vertical face? Even trickier.
In our behind-the-scenes series, Making The Soloist VR, we see Honnold, filmmaker Jon Griffith and a group of climbers take us through the journey, struggles and the rewards of creating such a film. Watch the first episode in the player above now.
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’re 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 Hojac. Ozturk works on getting great images – both on film and stills, while Hojac’s principle job is to rig the cameras and keep the team safe.
"It’s much safer to have small teams,” says Ozturk. “That’s why it’s so helpful to have people along who can do multiple jobs, like Nico is doing – shooting, rigging, and climbing.”
Born in Bern, Switzerland, the former ice hockey player is at home on all sorts of mountain terrain – whether it's sport-style climbing on vertical faces or grabbing the crampons and ice axe for the high alpine to set speed records on summits like the Eiger. This made him the perfect multi-use tool to accompany the crew into the mountains. "I’m quite a good all arounder in alpine terrain, fit and fast, decent sport climber," says Nico. What was really important was keeping up with Honnold's speed on the rock. It's few that can say this, but Nico Hojac can say it with pride: "I don’t slow him down!"
The takeaway: you can’t just be a climber, or just be a cameraman – to make a movie like this, you’ve got to do it all. For serious climbers, aspiring filmmakers or even just the casual viewer, the film is a raw look into the realities of movie production on a mountain.
While Honnold’s normal climbing style is unrestrained by piles of ropes and gear, for Griffith and the crew, it’s quite the opposite. Due to the unprecedented nature of this film, Griffith and his crew needed to invent new types of equipment and custom build rigging in order to be able to manage their 5.5kg VR camera during the shoot.
Alex said it was the maybe most extreme high alpine experience of his life
For Honnold – one of the biggest stars in the climbing world – it was also a learning experience. For all his success on rock, he doesn't spend a lot of time at altitude. "He wasn't used to crampons or ice axes," says Hojac. "We did some acclimatisation trips around the Aguille du Midi, and Alex adapted quite well. In the end, the first climb – the Gelbe Kante, a 14-pitch VI+ climb in Südtirol – was the hardest. Alex said it was the maybe most extreme high alpine experience of his life!"
Over the three episodes of Making The Soloist: VR, you’ll get an up-close view of all the challenges they faced – weather, timing, logistics, planning. You'll also meet the people who made the movie and get a real feel for what they’ve gone through to do it. Experience it now.