If you’re into hiking or climbing, it’s very easy to get a little bit obsessed with the kit. Whether you’re a gram-hunter (someone who is preoccupied with finding the lightest possible gear) or watching tent unboxing videos like an addict (me!), the descent into nerdiness is swift and all-consuming. For James Earls and Jack Featherstone, founders of digital design studio Tomorrow Bureau, their love for hiking and camping soon blossomed into geekery around outdoor wear and technical equipment and, being creatives, a revelry in the aesthetics of technicolour ropes, nifty gadgets and precision instruments. Their two-part film, Xtreme Scenario, is a study of how nicely bits of gear interact with the elements, and was created over a year and a half, in between projects for the likes of Kenzo, Dekmantel and Heresy.
“We began the project with a lengthy visual research period, collecting tons of images that related to the outdoors. From this research small concepts start to form,” Jack tells It’s Nice That. “Essentially we set out to make studies of seemingly mundane outdoor related objects and elevate them by placing each one in a crafted environment. The challenge was then to find something unexpected to happen to them.”
Mixing different types of equipment with different outdoor environments, the films show the sensorially pleasing nature of kit through sound and texture. From the jangle of a perfectly locked carabiner, a tent crunching in the breeze or the suction of vacuum packing, there are some real ASMR moments in the films, especially for anyone a little excited by the technical properties of a roll mat. “We had fun with water and cloth simulations, as well as some dynamics,” says Jack. “But the bulk of the film was about getting the lighting and compositions looking interesting to us.”
But part way through the first film, things start to feel a little bit odd. The lack of human presence is unnerving and we start to wonder, as the back-lit display flickers and fades, what will the hiker do now he’s dropped his GPS in the river? “The weird macabre narrative kind of just evolved on its own, it wasn’t planned at all,” says Jack. “Some of the scenes started to feel a little bit dark and desolate so we decided to embrace it and use that tone to inform new ideas. We found ourselves cracking up at a lot of the scenes we were making, which is always a good sign I think.”
From frozen tools to an airbed blowing off the site of a mountain, as we move into the second film, we start to suspect that the campers involved are really not ok. “A friend of mine said that the tone of Xtreme Scenario reminded him of that Eastpak skeleton advert from ages ago which I think is wicked,” says Jack, when quizzed about injecting humour into work that at first glance appears very serious. Although the piece is made from a series of separate studies, the addition of a worrying undercurrent makes the film feel like one cohesive artwork. “The slightly dark vibe that evolved really helped to glue all the scenes together conceptually,” Jack adds.
The film is the first in a series of projects from TB Lab, a space for design duo Tomorrow Bureau to develop new ideas. Jack says, “It can sometimes be difficult to dedicate time to one’s own practice, so having this space reminds us to be disciplined and create work for ourselves.” Even when inundated with back-to-back client projects, Xtreme Scenario shows the importance of finding time to make work about your passions, and to have a bit of fun doing it too.
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