The latest release from some of our favorite ski filmmakers showcases the creativity, visual mastery, and commitment to excellence that define Sweetgrass Productions. And this time, they did it all at night.
“We had an odd life of eating pancakes at 9 p.m. and drinking end-of-day beers at 9 a.m.,” says director Nick Waggoner of making the film Afterglow. Capturing the joy of skiing deep pillows and Alaskan spines cloaked in darkness required massive lights, custom-made LED suits, and a confounding puzzle of logistics, planning, and engineering. This team suffers for their art, and that passion is felt in every shot.
This short film follows up on last year’s feature-length Valhalla—including the incredible summer forest skiing segment—and Solitaire, a film which made Nick Waggoner and the team some of our Adventurers of the Year.
Adventure: Did you all hike to get all these shots? How did you get the floating aerials?
Nick Waggoner: Both at Golden Alpine Holidays and in Alaska, we used helicopters to access the mountains, but, once there, it was all human power, hiking the lines in the middle of the night, man-hauling equipment around via brute force, sleds with multiple person teams and ropes, and a whole lot of sweat. The aerials were all captured by a three-person team led by Octacopter pilot and all around awesome dude Nick Wolcott. While he was piloting the drone, Zac Ramras and Max Santeusanio controlled the camera angle, pan, and tilt watching a live feed on a small monitor placed on a tripod in the snow. We used this incredible stabilization rig called the MOVI M10, which is a three-axis gimbal, kind of like a hand-held Cineflex. It definitely took a lot of time to setup that many moving parts in the snow, but the shots those guys captured is incredible.
A: What kind of camera can handle such low, gorgeous light in falling snow?
NW: We talked about exposure and the camera for a long, long time. Ultimately, we chose the RED EPIC, even though it’s not known for it’s low light capabilities. But using incredibly fast prime lenses, Zeiss Super Speeds sometimes opened up to a T1.3, we were able to compensate a little bit. The snow also helped as this massive reflector, giving us a lot more fill light than we expected, raising exposure overall.
A: How did you all do the color effects on the snow?
NW: We had an amazing lighting team: Mark Stuen, Kyle Metzger, and Shane Treat. With eight main lights setup, we’d “gel” different lights with different color films that would give the slope its rainbow tones. Unfortunately, the gels also cut exposure by a few stops, so it was a give and take on every shot, and we were constantly radioing up to them with micro changes. Considering the conditions, those guys did such an amazing job.
A: Explain to us the two light suits at the end? Did you all make those yourself? Are they covered in LED lights?
NW: We had those manufactured by a custom designer in San Francisco, who made surfboards for us around the same time. He sewed the LED strips onto the athletes clothes, and made it as custom fit as you can. It’s a rugged environment though, and the athletes would break them almost every night. Max and Zac Ramras would have to jet back to the lodge to solder the connections back together at 4 a.m., and then get the athlete right back out. They were also incredibly hot to ski tour around in, bulky, heavy, and restrictive of movement, but, that said, the athletes killed it!