How was the location chosen? Were there specifics you were looking for?
As we were filming at the very, very start of the ski season, the early stages were all about finding resorts that were high enough to have some snow. Sölden in Austria seemed to have the best likelihood of some good snow, but to everyone’s surprise, they had too much! In typical ‘scout curse’ style, the sunny blue skies and crisp untouched snow was quickly replaced with extreme winds, white-outs, avalanche warnings and closed ski runs.
The general approach was to look for the most epic-looking areas on the mountain that had a great sense of scale and visual splendour without being too unsafe or vertiginous. We also wanted to incorporate a more built-up wooded area into his journey as well as the typically expansive empty slopes.
We were lucky enough to scout an area of the mountain called The Plateau that had an almost 360 degree wrap-around mountain view, and relatively easy access to it (I use the word “easy” with a strong pinch of salt!)
The advantage of this flatter space was that it worked for many parts of the story. Simply by looking in a different direction it felt like we were on a different part of the mountain, which meant we could follow the sun’s path round the sky and plan our beats accordingly.
We ended up filming a lot of the more elaborate in-camera stunts here, including the swimmer’s initial dive, his moment of pause, where he pops his head out of the snow and looks around, and his epic salmon jump across the crevasse.
Without ruining the illusion, how much was on location and how much in a studio?
That’s for me to know and for Ben Turner at The Mill never to reveal. HA!
But actually, quite a lot of the specific beats were shot on-location. Having spoken to The Mill early on, we all agreed that in order for the snow to feel believable, the close-up moments where our snow-swimmer interacted with the snow, had to be captured in-camera.
For the general travelling moments, we shot empty tracking plates on location (taking down the specific details of camera height, speed, lens size, swimmer’s distance from camera, his axis, incline etc etc etc…) and doing multiple takes. After all this we lay our actor in the snow and got him to pretend to swim on the spot so we had both a movement and light reference.
Then we constructed a 10-metre long snow channel in a studio – that was basically an ironing board in a trench filled with ‘magic snow’ that was operated with a winch (when it worked!) so we could create the illusion that our actor was indeed swimming through, and actually interacting with the snow around him.
We then referred to our on-location notes and tried our best to match the lighting, camera angles, speeds etc…. using mix-and-overlay playback to get a rough sense of whether we were close or not. We also had Ellie Johnson (editor) on set, so that we could feed in specific shots and moments into the assemble, to see if they were working.
I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when the first two plates were crudely mixed together, and the angles matched!
It goes without saying that simple garbage matte comps are very different from a finished composition, and a crack team of 2D & 3D artists at The Mill worked round the clock, adding snow sprays, textures, interaction elements, backgrounds etc etc… to bring the finished film to life!