LOS ANGELES -- Filmmaker Jim Rodnunsky took a backward (and facedown) approach to developing Cablecam, among the most revolutionary innovations in the history of sports broadcasting.

Rodnunsky's system of using a cat's cradle of synthetic ropes to suspend a remote-controlled camera over an event began in 1989 when he constructed a Rube Goldberg-type contraption to capture footage for a ski simulator.

To get his first overhead shots, he strung 1,400 feet of steel cable above Saudan Couloir at Blackcomb Mountain in British Columbia, one of North America's most harrowing ski runs, anchoring the cable to rocks at the top and bottom. Lying face down in an aluminum basket, the one-time world-class freestyle skier would zip down feet first, reaching speeds of 50 mph and a height of 80 feet, using motorcycle hand brakes to slow his descent -- all while peering through a camera lens.

During the two decades that followed, Rodnunsky developed that prototype into an industry standard not just of sports broadcasting, but of concerts, conventions and major motion pictures.

Rodnunsky of Granada Hills died June 10 after battling brain cancer for three years. He was 54.

"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," said Fred Gaudelli, producer of NBC's "Sunday Night Football," who ranks Cablecam as one of the most significant innovations in the history of sports coverage.

In big NFL and college football games, the high-definition Cablecam -- or the competing Skycam, developed by filmmaker Garrett Brown -- 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, snooping in on huddles, and gliding along with players, all from angles once only imaginable in video games.

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