Local artec rider Will Hughes recently starred in a revolutionary art film by Jacob Sutton. Possibly the coolest video to come out of Tignes!
Fashion photographer and filmmaker Jacob Sutton swapped the studio for the slopes of Tignes in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, with a luminous after hours short starring Artec pro snowboarder William Hughes.
The electrifying film sees Hughes light up the snow-covered French hills in a bespoke L.E.D.-enveloped suit courtesy of designer and electronics whizz John Spatcher.
"I was really drawn to the idea of a lone character made of light surfing through darkness," says Sutton of his costume choice. "I've always been excited by unusual ways of lighting things, so it seemed like an exciting idea to make the subject of the film the only light source."
Sutton, who has created work for the likes of Hermès, Burberry and The New York Times, spent three nights on a skidoo with his trusty Red Epic camera at temperatures of -25C to snap Hughes carving effortlessly through the deep snow, even enlisting his own father to help maintain the temperamental suit throughout the demanding shoot.
"Filming in the suit was the most surreal thing I've done in 20 years of snowboarding," says Hughes of the charged salopettes. "Luckily there was plenty of vin rouge to keep me warm, and Jacob's enthusiasm kept everyone going through the cold nights."
See more on Nowness.com and watch the film here:
Interviews with the team:
JACOB SUTTON, Filmmaker
How did you come up with the concept for the film?
NOWNESS approached me to make a skiing film a few months ago. Its not a subject I've thought about before for film making, but I liked the idea of an unusual challenge. I did quite a lot of research into Skiing and Snowboarding films of which there are thousands of good ones. Most of them shot from helicopters featuring huge cliff jumps and vertical slopes. I wanted to approach Snowboarding in a more textural aesthetic way that felt more emotive and expressive. I was really drawn to the idea of a lone character made of light surfing through darkness.
Where did the 'glowing man' come from?
I've always be excited by unusual ways of lighting things and it seemed like an exciting idea to make the subject of the film the only light source. Flat Cat productions produced the suit for me. Its quite experimental technology and required quite a bit of testing with a number of prototypes.
My Dad came to Tignes with the rest of my crew to maintain and fix the suit. The extreme cold meant that wired became quite brittle so there was quite a lot of soldering to be done throughout the shoot.
And why snowboarding?
Snowboarding felt like a much more intuitive movement than skiing. I wanted him to feel like the silver surfer.
How was the shoot?
The shoot was really challenging. Not only were we using experimental technology in terms of the suit, but we were shooting in deep snow at night and the temperature was -25C. We were shooting for between 6-8 hours a night for three nights.
We used two skidoo's to ferry us up the slopes then two cameras followed Will (in the glowing suit) down the mountain, One hand held by James Sweet (Snowboarding cameraman) and I shot with one from the back of a skidoo.
How did the shoot compare with other sports/fashion films?
The speed of the movement was more extreme than I'm used to and as a result we had to move the camera really fast. It was also quite different in that it was on the side of a mountain at 2500m and I'm used to studios.
How long did it take?
We spent 4 nights in the the mountains, prepping in the day and shooting at night.
What camera did you use?
We shot the film on 2 Red Epic cameras.
How did you come across the snowboarder? Did you know him before?
I'm met the snowboarder through a friend. He rides for the Artec Team. It was probably one of the most challenging shoots I've ever done but definitely one of the most enjoyable.
William Hughes, Snowboarder
Filming in the suit was the most surreal thing I've done in 20 years of snowboarding. It was cold, minus 20 cold, but luckily kit kat cooked up a storm every night and there was plenty of vin rouge to keep me warm. jacobs enthusiasm was what kept everyone going through the cold nights up the hill. he's rad.
John Spatcher, Suit Designer
The initial design was for a suit with passive reflectors, using a tracking mobile light source. Several concepts were explored but trials indicated that contrast ratios between the subject and background would be unacceptable. Also, in practice, the changing distance between the light source and subject would vary the apparent luminosity of the subject.
It was decided to actively illuminate the suit using led strips powered by batteries. First trials with the leds applied to the suit with 40mm pitch showed a castellated effect at the profile edges so the pitch was reduced to 25mm to partially eliminate this effect. Further trials indicated that this would be acceptable and the final design embodied this method.
Suit fabrics were little problem, the main requirement being a smooth lint-free surface to ensure good adhesion for the led strips. Some research regarding battery energy at low temperatures and safety considerations during sport maneovres led to Nimh being chosen. Temperature tests at -18degC proved satisfactory. Leds are more efficient at low temperatures than warm ones.
From the start of the project until delivery of a final suit just over 300 man-hours were expended. I could perhaps be best described as a jobbing electronics designer. Most of my previous career has design work, initially for hifi products, but mainly for projects for the defence industry.
Jake Sutton, Jacob’s dad who helped repair the suit on the shoot
Having been involved with my son's idea for the glowing suit from the first tentative inquiry of 'is it possible' made it was very satisfying to be responsible for its maintenance when in use. The technology is relatively simple but it was stretched to its reliability limits by the extreme cold temperatures of -28 degrees and the stress dynamics of the suit when worn for snowboarding. The suit required almost continuous repair throughout its three day working life when we were dependent upon the help and hospitality of bars and hotel reception areas at the piste resorts. 'Incredulity' is the term which springs to mind when you request facilities to repair the 'glowing' man standing next to you at the reception desk! The final nights shooting amongst the trees were the most punishing on the suit and it is fair to describe the suit was effectively worn out once its mission had been completed.