How Sports Illustrated shot Kate Upton in a bikini and zero gravity

Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue has just hit newsstands, and it contains photos of a weightless Kate Upton. But shooting a supermodel in zero gravity turns out to be a lot more chaotic than it appears.

What you don't see is the dozen people flailing around behind the camera. Video Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

As the father of a young girl, I'm a little less enthusiastic about Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue today than I was as a 14-year-old boy. But I did take interest this year to learn that model Kate Upton was asked to go beyond our already ridiculous cultural expectations for beauty and go entirely weightless.

Actually, this is worth putting aside my parental indignation for a second to clarify that I'm not referring to extreme dieting or airbrushing, but instead a parabolic flight where Upton was photographed in the padded interior of a modified Boeing 727 in simulated zero gravity and lunar gravity conditions.

NASA
The trajectory of a zero-gravity flight. (Click to enlarge.) NASA

Zero Gravity Corporation, which conducts the commercial reduced-gravity flights, called the weightless shoot "a way to bring modeling to new heights." Perhaps, or maybe modeling has just reached a new low when it comes to draconian weight management practices.

Joking! I kid the fashion and beauty industry...mostly.

The shoot took place last March with a Zero Gravity flight out of Titusville, Fla., that performed a series of 17 parabolas, an old technique used by NASA since the "vomit comet" days that basically involves the plane ascending at a steep angle before slowing, straightening out, and then quickly descending at a steep angle. Weightlessness occurs in the moments between slowing near the top of the arc and pointing the plane straight down at high speed to begin the next parabola. According to Zero Gravity's Web site, about 20 -30 seconds of each parabolic cycle are weightless.

An unfortunate side effect of escaping gravity via a parabolic flight is that on the other side, or low point, of each cycle, gravity is basically doubled. So after that amazing floating feeling of freedom, you get slammed to whatever surface is beneath you and basically get the feeling of being smothered by somebody that weighs exactly as much as you. Awesome.

While the final product of the shoot, which hits newsstands Tuesday, looks as effortless and elegant as you might expect from the most anticipated bikini pics of the year, what went into creating them was utter chaos.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video below to watch an entire gaggle of photographers (see how many GoPros you can spot); lighting folks; and other support staff repeatedly bouncing around the interior of the padded 727, frantically trying to grab those shots.

 

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