Xavier de la Rue has been a pro snowboarder since he was 17 and has been world champion seven times. Although he still boards, de Le Rue’s life has recently taken a different course, he tells the audience at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna. He is now also a filmmaker, an inventor and a tech entrepreneur.
Perhaps none of this is particularly surprising since as a snowboarder, de Le Rue’s career has always been somewhat unconventional. “My career is not really like a traditional athlete,” he says. He has no coach and no one result he looks toward achieving as his goal for each season. “My job is about pushing the boundaries of my sport.”
Following on from his physical achievements, this has meant capturing the sport on film in the most unusual ways. “You always need to find a new angle, a new way to film, a new way to tell the story,” says de Le Rue. Innovation in technology has allowed for increasingly exciting and ambitious filming of adventure sports over the past few years. The proliferation of GoPros and other wearable action cameras has played a huge role in this, allowing people to capture point-of-view shots, the likes of which had never been possible before. “Action sport footage used to always be filmed from the outside; now we are able to help people really live the moment.”
But the generic distance shots and the POV shots were not enough for de Le Rue. “I wanted to show more than just the action,” he says. “Often the most important part of the story is before the action happens or just after. The moments I was scared, the moments I had to turn back, the moments I succeeded.” And there were plenty such moments, given that he had also become more and more focussed on specialising in filming snowboarding in places no-one had been before.
“There was a moment when things changed in my head,” he says. He’d been on a glacier in Alaska, where he and his crew had camped for two weeks, hiking everywhere with their kit in order to tackle an incredibly beautiful and incredibly dangerous bit of mountain. When de Le Rue watched the resulting film a few months later he remembers feeling frustrated. The camera was too far away and captured neither the emotion of the scene, nor the drama of the descent — he was just a little dot on the screen. “I could have been anywhere… it was really bland.”
He became obsessed with the idea of capturing decent aerial footage, without needing to splash out vast sums of money on — or find sponsorship for — a helicopter. “The aerial angle really brings the emotion and allows you to really see the dimension of the place. I swore that there would be no way I would go into an expedition without a way to capture it from the air.”
At first he was experimenting with paragliders, but more recently a new technology came along that offered him the potential solution he’d been searching for. De Le Rue started using drones about two years ago, and like everyone else, he says, he presumed they would be really easy to use. Quickly discovering that this was not the case when it came to framing a shot, he found that the time had come to collaborate.
He partnered with a group of entrepreneurs and software engineers trying to tackle exactly the same challenge. They brought the entrepreneurial knowledge and programming skills and he brought the snowboarding and filming knowledge, as well as the platform he’d built up to show off the resulting videos. “Our goal has been since then to build the first autonomous flying camera,” he says.
You control the drone with your phone, using it to choose the altitude, angle and pitch, and capture all manner of different shots. Once it’s been set up, you can hit “follow me”, to get the drone to track your movements. In a few months’ time the team will be able to combine all these camera movements, pre-programme them and launch the product to the public.
There are still flaws in the technology — the short battery life and the fact that it can’t automatically dodge objects, in particular — but nothing that de Le Rue doesn’t believe can be ironed out.
“It’s hard to imagine the implications of such a system,” he says. “Imagine an Olympic athlete training and analysing every single one of his movements from the air.” There are Olympians, in fact, among the team of 20 ambassadors that the Hexo+ team has recruited. In the last few weeks, they’ve started to collect footage using the drones, in the hope that the message of what the technology can achieve will spread.
Just like the GoPro, the Hexo+ will not only open up a new filming option to pros, but has the potential to revolutionise the video-making options for everyday consumers too. “Now you can be alone — all you need is your phone, your drone and off you go.”
Source: Wired UK