FUSE is Dave Wortley’s entry to the Kayak Session Short Film Award 2014. Many of you may have seen the edit over the last few months but here is the background info on what it took to make it happen.
It’s a project I’ve been working on for a few years, I’ve taken lots of photos and videos at Hurley and I wanted to make something new and different. I’ve always been interested in night-time photography, shooting blurry water long exposures and I’ve taken photos at most of the Thames weirs at night where we go paddling. I’ve done a few night-time sessions with lights and had been thinking about a way to film something at night which would be visually interesting. I had thought about using spot-lights or flash-lights but I wanted to find a way to illuminate the kayaker.
I looked at making an LED suit, or putting LED strip lights on the boat but I couldn’t find a way to reliably power them with batteries that could be made safe, and the amount of LEDs required would make it too expensive to create.
The other thing about LED strips was the dotted effect you get from LEDs, it didn’t have the look I wanted and I felt if anything it would be too bright and over-powering, too much light reflecting and it would be difficult to see the definition and form of the kayak.
I found Electroluminescent Wire and immediately knew it was what I needed to make this work. It was mid-winter 2013/2014, the Thames was really high and I had to wait a while for the conditions to come in. I got a sample kit of EL wire and late one Sunday evening I met up with Alan, attached it using some transparent Mammoth Tape to his boat. We then went out onto the water and as soon as Alan was on the flat water we could see that it was going to work, there were beautiful reflections and colours on the water.
Alan paddled around and did some flat-water tricks, he dropped onto the wave and threw a huge pan-am. Bang, the sound of his hull slaps the water and in an instant the lights go off. One of the batteries had been thrown out of the pack and in the process of trying to fix it I got water into the system. The night was over shortly but we had proved it could work. I had a small bit of video footage which gave me enough hope to know that it was going to be bright enough.
The next step was to measure out and draw out a plan of what we could make, I looked at colours and the different brightness of the EL wire and ordered all the necessary lengths, and enough battery packs and controllers to power the lengths. I took Alan’s boat away from him under the promise to guard it with my life. Dan Crowley came and helped me rig up the wires on the boat. We carefully laid out each bit of wire, trying to follow the lines of Alan’s Wavesport Carbon Mobius. Each bit was taped down with small bits of tape before each tape being covered to solidly make a waterproof seal over everything. The ends of the wires were all fed back into the cockpit and collected and joined up to the batteries. It was a long process, it took several hours, and there were a few trials and errors laying out the wire. The most tricky part was the logo on the front of the boat. We had several short white sections that had to be finely twisted and contorted to fit. After much tweaking we had the boat rigged up with Blue, White and Orange Wire.
Sadly the Orange wire proved to be temperamental only the final shoot day but it worked well for the test shoot. Alan had also donated a spare set of paddles to be rigged up, so we had a boat and paddle combo which looked incredible sat in my living room. Each connector had to be waterproofed, we had all the batteries in a Tupperware box, sealed, with a towel around it in a drybag, but there was always the chance of leakage around the wires, so everything was taped over again.
The second test went really well, Alan went out on the water with illuminated boat and paddle, the moon was out and the wave was naturally lit up so we could see what we were doing and Alan could see the wave without much night-vision. The wires on the boat were bright to the eyes but didn’t really illuminate much around him.
With all the extra weight the boat was a bit unbalanced the battery in the rear of the kayak didn’t help and this made it quite a challenge to paddle. Alan played on the wave whilst myself and Dan played with cameras, seeing what settings we could use to shoot photos and film. F1.8 ISO3200 was still dark… time to have a think…
We shot a lot of test footage and there’s even a small edit of the footage we shot that night which worked quite well as it’s own film but it was lacking a few things. The Cag, the Helmet and the Buoyancy Aid…. For the Cag and BA I had contacted Palm Equipment Europe, I showed them my concept and asked if they wanted to get involved. Much to my delight they were happy to get on-board and once they received the wire they got about sewing it into the seams of the cag and buoyancy aid, even managing to spell out the word Palm on the front of the BA.
For filming I knew I needed a better camera than my Canon 60D, I needed something which could shoot low noise at a high ISO and something that could also shoot some high frame rates for slow-motion. My friend James ‘Pringle’ Bebbington has a really nice Sony F700 and he agreed to come down and help film. I managed to borrow an 80mm F1.2 Canon lens which could fit on the camera as well which would help us in the low light even more. We made some adjustments to the wiring of the boat to allow the battery pack to sit more centrally in the boat, rigged up the helmet and finally combined all the kit parts to give us our first look at the electric kayaker. Everything was checked and was working, we walked to the river, and that’s where things started to fall-apart.
The first thing to go was part of the Wavesport Logo on the front of the boat, I ran back to the car, grabbed some spare bits and we quickly laid a new spare bit of wire down with the very last of the mammoth tape. Problem solved we put the boat on the water and as Alan sit in the boat, the Orange goes out, we spend 30mins trying to fix it and after much temperamental activity we thought we had fixed it. Alan gets in the boat for now part of the paddle to go out taking out the entire paddle, Dan pulled apart the waterproofing, disconnected 1/4 of the paddle and the remaining 3/4 turned back on. This would have to do, no time to fix and no spare long enough to cover that much of the paddle. Alan finally gets on the water properly, as he paddle overs the Orange wires go out. I look down at the boat, and look at it thinking, well at least it’s symmetrical! We had had enough delays the Easter night had turned chilly and we knew from the test shoot that the wires allowed water to sneak into Alan’s boat so time was of the essence.
Before the shoot I had story-boarded out the sorts of shots I wanted to get, both on and off the water. With the stress of things breaking and time, and cold it was really important to have a plan and this allowed me to direct Alan and work with Pringle on camera angles and made sure we captured as much as possible. Alan performed a mixture of wave and hole moves. The wave moves are far more impressive from a kayaking perspective but the hole moves allowed the lights to blur in the foam pile and gave amazing light refractions that diffused around the boat, even a simple cart-wheel looked incredible. The best move was the Pistol Flip Alan threw in the hole gate and I was glad to be able to play this back in slow-motion. Here it is from another angle.
The filming conditions were challenging, the full moon was hiding low on the horizon behind trees so the ambient light was low, we had the ISO cranked up and filmed at F1.2 to get as much light in as possible. We filmed from as many angles as practical and then we lost half the blue wires… A few more shots were done but with the boat now looking wounded we moved on to shooting some flat-water shots carefully choosing angles that showed the remaining working wires! Alan tried to do some flat-water cartwheels but the boat was now half full of water and with the blue lights half off it didn’t look impressive. We did a few shots on the bank and went back to the carpark, feeling exhausted from the cold and stress of shooting. Job done, we packed up and drove home feeling slightly disappointed we had so many issues but confident we had enough to make the edit work.
If wiring and shooting weren’t hard enough, the challenge of editing and colour grading was equally difficult. The first part in a project like this is to cut down to the best bits, but with so many different pieces it was difficult to decide what to include and what to cut. Pacing the piece to have an introduction and not reveal exactly what it is straight away was always part of the plan, but lacking some of the flat-water section meant I had to drag out what I had and steal a shot from the first test piece for the opening shot. Each cut had to be colour balanced to extract the most from the footage without amplifying the camera noise, a very difficult job to do well and required several weeks of playing to find the best settings. In the last week before uploading I re-edited the film 3 times, each making it completely different, but when I got to the final edit I knew it was just as I wanted it. Challenge complete, film created it was time for the big reveal.
Keeping the project secret was hard, even some of my closest friends knew very little about it, Palm Equipment dropped the video on a Friday on the home-page of their site and by the end of the weekend it already had 12,000 hits! It’s been featured in several magazines and I’ve found it linked from several interesting websites across the web.
Thanks to everyone who helped making this idea a reality.
Alan Ward for allowing me to deface his kayak with an entire reel of Mammoth Tape
Dan Crowley for his technical wizardry being a wire monkey
James ‘Pringle’ Bebbington for driving down and bring his awesome camera
Paul Cheesey Robertons and Peter Woods at Palm for creating the Cag and BA.
Dave Molz at EL Wirecraft for supporting the project
And everyone else who helped out with advice and feedback of some of the early edits.
It’s great to see so many amazing creative kayaking films about at the moment, it’s really inspiring to see things like DREAM taking kayaking into the mainstream media. Hopefully the back-story behind this project will inspire others to go out, be creative and most importantly have fun on the water!