Perhaps you’ve seen the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale. If so, you’ll remember the opening scene, an adrenaline-fueled foot race through an unnamed Madagascan city, Bond pursuing his target—Mollaka—along and above the city streets. Mollaka leaps impossible gaps, rolls, dives, drops to his feet from vertiginous heights, and climbs vertical surfaces with skill and panache that Spiderman, at his best, would be hard-pressed to match. And Spiderman had green screens and a wire team to help him. The actor playing Mollaka? Not so much. It’s all him, start to finish—no tricks, no special effects. Just skill, strength and a whole lot of training. He’s Sébastien Foucan, French traceur and one of the founders of parkour.
For the uninitiated, parkour, or freerunning, is a physical discipline focused on overcoming obstacles by adapting your body’s movement to the immediate environment. In theory, it involves climbing up, vaulting over, or leaping around obstacles. In practice, it’s more like ignoring them completely. For experienced practitioners it’s not about defying gravity, it’s about denying its existence, about reducing its laws to mere suggestions that can be disregarded at will. The best traceurs and traceuses—male and female practitioners, respectively—move like a mélange of acrobat, gymnast and superhero. And they make it look easy. Search “parkour” on youTube, and you’ll see what I mean: there are literally hundreds of videos of people performing feats of extraordinary strength and agility.
At least, they’re extraordinary to some of us. Gamers do this everyday—virtually, that is: Parkour-like moves have been a staple of videogames since the days of Super Mario 64 and Prince of Persia, and the capabilities of today’s gaming consoles have allowed game developers to expand parkour into major elements of gameplay. Mirror’s Edge, Crackdown and Crackdown 2, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland all incorporate, and even rely on, elements of parkour to move their characters through the game.
But there’s one series in particular that’s helped bring parkour out of the game world and back into the real: Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed is an action-packed historical-fiction adventure that focuses on stealth and, yes, parkour—and it inspired amateur filmmaker and avid gamer Devin Graham to create a series of videos centered around one of the game’s main characters. He contacted traceur and professional stunt man Ronnie Shalvis to embody Syrian assassin Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad. Ronnie played the game to capture Altaïr’s style of movement, and then incorporated it into his own, bringing the character to life. To complete the transformation, Devin enlisted the help of freelance costume designer Allison Dredge, who created a custom outfit that mirrored the character’s look and provided Ronnie the freedom of motion he needed to pull off stunts and help realize Devin’s vision.
And then the fun began. Devin and Ronnie scoped out their location—downtown Salt Lake City—and then created a two minute and forty-one second video that defies reality (spoiler: the only shot that uses any special effects is the first fall). You can check it out here, and while you’re watching, consider this: a videogame, inspired by the real world, creates real-world inspiration.
And the line between real and virtual blurs again.
*pwned=owned, beaten severely, shown to be inferior.
To see how Devin and Ronnie created the video, check this out.
Here’s a link to Devin’s YouTube channel.
And here’s Ronnie’s YouTube channel.
If you’d like to learn more about Allison’s costume work, check out her facebook page.
This link gets you to the Assassin’s Creed main page.
For more info about parkour (including videos!), check out this link…
and this one.