It started with a phone call. ”We want you to shoot skiing, alpine climbing, and glaciers in the middle of August.” This is the type of challenge we really thrive on!
We had been tasked with finding dramatic, aw-inspiring terrain as the backdrop to shoot the new Polartec Alpha® campaign. A handful of well designed sketches from the creative team at Doner and our client at Polartec challenged us to depict athletes performing highly aerobic activities in out-of-this-world landscapes. Polartec Alpha® is a breakthrough in thermal performance fabric technology. The free exchange of air flow that prevents overheating and provides adventurers new breathable puffy insulation can now be taken anywhere and used in rigorous activities and extreme environments. Polartec Alpha® changes the way puffy fabric technology will be used and worn around the world.
Doner, an award winning an ad agency based in Detroit - Michigan, is accustomed to developing creative for high end international brands. For this project, Doner anchored their beautifully designed campaign and concept on dramatic, vertigo inducing climbing and high alpine expedition imagery. It was fun to learn that Doner used one of my favorite photographs of Craig Lubben crack climbing over Lake Powell, as inspiration for one of their concept drawings. From the beginning it was obvious that we needed to find an authentic environment that met the high standards of Doner’s creative. We needed terrain that accurately represented the natural elements, technical challenge and extreme weather conditions in which adventurers would use Polartec Alpha® technology. Location was paramount to the success of our project.
Doner Creative sketch inspired by Corey's image of Craig Lubben climbing in Lake Powell, Utah
It was August in the States as our still and video production got under way and we needed a winter location that would allow us to shoot our three main shots: an approach, a skinning and an alpine climbing shot, along with accompanying video elements. Additionally, we needed to shoot two studio athlete portraits, video interviews and general adventure video b-roll footage to supplement the existing Polartec NeoShell® campaign. Given the time of year, our budget, our production timetable, creative deadlines and athlete availability our location options quickly narrowed. We scoured the globe, looking for one location where we could produce all of our content. We researched New Zealand, France, Ecuador, Chile, the US & Canadian Rockies, Alaska, and ultimately ended up in Northern Patagonia, Argentina despite the fact that it’s infamous for some of the world’s worst weather.
We spoke with several of the world’s top adventure athletes and found the perfect fit with Willie and Damian Benegas, twin brothers from Argentina with enough collective high alpine mountaineering experience to make your jaw drop. We rounded out our talent roster with Pip Hunt, a young, energetic, bad ass free-skier making her name in the industry from her home in Jackson, WY. With location and athletes locked up, we needed to sort our equipment and finalize the camera crew and production team before we could hit the road. The shots quickly defined the physical and technical requirements that we needed. Our crew had to be highly skilled and capable of delivering in high alpine mountain environments and our equipment needed to be lightweight, yet capable of capturing high quality content while exposed to cold temperatures for long durations.
Our strategy is to always hire the most over qualified and experienced crew possible. Our guides, athletes, film and production teams could physically hold their own in the mountains and had strong problem solving, creative personalities. Weather delays, big location moves, long strenuous set ups, below freezing temperatures and technical rigging days were expected. Led by Benegas Brothers Expeditions (BBE), our local production team could not have been better suited to meet the high demands and technical challenges of our shot list. BBE’s incredible skill level, athleticism, local knowledge and long history of guiding expeditions on the world’s tallest peaks, gave us the ability to move spontaneously and freely create throughout our production. Our crew gave us the versatility we needed to pull off our aggressive schedule. We could not have done it without them!
Our team relied on BBE’s complex rigging setups to get Dane Henry and me into the most desirable camera positions. We carried two sets of cameras and lenses into the mountains; one for stills and one for motion. We wanted small compact camera packages. Each kit consisted of one Nikon D800 body, SanDisk Extreme Pro CF and SD cards and a selection of Nikkor glass: 16mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/4, and a 70-200mm f/2.8.
(L) Crew reviewing footage from RC Helicopter (C) Dane Henry + Lucas Jacboson operate the jib (R) Another day in the office for Corey Rich
Upon arrival, our teams never stopped moving. We were constantly monitoring the weather and shifting our shoot schedule to maximize our weather windows. Our lightweight Full HD Nikon D800 camera system, allowed us to move freely within our locations while still providing the high resolution, 36 mega pixel image quality the project required. During our inevitable weather days, we planned to shoot the Polartec NeoShell® portraits. Traveling with all of our studio lighting gear, 2 x Profoto 7b packs, 2 x Litepanels kits and Chimera light modifiers, we turned our rental home into a make shift studio. There’s nothing like carrying several hundred pounds of lighting equipment half way around the world, but we knew if we were missing any gear it would be impossible to source additional lighting equipment in Patagonia.
Polartec NeoShell® portrait ads. Pip Hunt and Willie Benegas.
We had a few close calls; we saw our good friend Mike “Patrol” Hagadorn, narrowly escape a fall through glacial ice into a frozen lake, thankfully saved by the quick thinking of a man who has summited Mt. Everest 22 times - Mr. Guillermo “Willie” Benegas. We watched Pip Hunt take a world class front flip / head plant, while shooting ski turns in a remote backcountry location. We almost had to send a search party for our good friend and client, Allon Cohne, who took a wide turn on a lunch break powder run. Fortunately, Allon had a few extra Clif Bars and hiked his way back to the shoot location. Hagadorn showed his piloting credentials, by ditching an RC helicopter camera into the side of the mountain, avoiding what surely would have been a several thousand foot tumble and the end of one of our RC helicopters and Nikon D800.
In the end, the shoot was a huge success; we captured stunning still images and video, made new friends and had a blast in the process. Doesn’t get any better than that! This entire shoot and project would not have come about without the support, commitment, creativity and friendship of Allon Cohne and the entire team at Polartec. Also, a huge thanks the creative team at Doner, Murray White, Virgil Adams, Judy Ratcliffe, Kellie Kafantaris, Rich Toltzman, Theresa Bland and Karen Frey for adding their brilliant vision to this project. Additional thanks to Nikon for the most cutting edge camera and lens technology, Schneider and B+W Filters for helping protect our glass and making beautiful ND’s and glass grads, Lowepro for safely getting our gear into the mountains, Litepanels, Profoto and Chimera for helping us light our portraits on location, Clif Bar for fueling us on the hill and Julie Schaffner at Revo for protecting our eyes and making us look cool at the same time. Also, a huge thanks to Pip Hunt and the incredible crew at Benegas Brothers Expeditions; Willie & Damian Benegas, Georgina Davenport, Lucas Jacobson, Tomas Aquilo, Pablo Pontoriero, Inaki Odriozola, Adelina Odriozola, Indio, Alvar Puente. Without our camera crew and production teams we’d still be carrying loads of gear out of the mountains - huge thanks to Dane Henry (DP), Mike Hagadorn (Camera Assistant + RC Heli Pilot), Marina Rich (Make-up + Hair + Gourmet Chef), Josh Dick (Producer) and Julia Arcamone (Production Assistant).