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Jim Rodnunsky, the developer of the Cablecam system used in sporting events. concerts and Hollywood films, died June 10 in Los Angeles after a three-year battle with brain cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was 54.
To capture footage for a ski simulator in 1989, Rodnunsky strung 1,400 feet of steel cable above Saudan Couloir at Blackcomb Mountain in British Columbia, anchoring the cable to rocks at the top and bottom. Lying face down in an aluminum basket, he zipped down feet first, reaching speeds of 50 mph and using motorcycle hand brakes to slow his descent — all while peering through a lens.
During the ensuing two decades, Rodnunsky developed that “eye in the sky” prototype into an industry standard.
“He was just one of those brilliant guys who could really adapt that camera and his systems to what you needed to take your production to a place you’ve never been,” Fred Gaudelli, producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, told the Times.
Gaudelli ranked Cablecam, along with instant replay, hand-held cameras and the computer-generated yellow first-down line, as the most significant innovations in the history of sports coverage.
During football games, the Cablecam is typically suspended about 12 feet over the players and 10 yards behind the quarterback. Using a joystick, a controller has the ability to tilt and pan the gyro-stabilized camera in all directions to capture unique shots.
Steven Spielberg used the Cablecam to make Hook (1991), and the system was later employed in such movies as True Lies (1994), Happy Gilmore (1996), Miracle (2004) and Dreamgirls (2006).
Rodnunsky earned three technical awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and six Emmy Awards. Cablecam and its affiliate Skycam now provide coverage of about 200 events per year.
Survivors include his wife Lisa; his children Tatiana, Daniel and Alexandra; and his brothers Serge and Pierre.
Donations in his memory can be made to the Heschel Day School in Northridge, Calif.
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