When it comes to technology, the cutting edge is a rapidly moving target. Countless products and services come and go, like hurried travelers in a busy airport.
For a tech-oriented company like ours, it’s often unclear which new technologies we ought to adopt, ignore, or observe from a safe distance. With drones, however, we had no hesitation. After seeing the first HD footage captured from a drone-mounted camera, we knew we had to get our hands on one.
Having used drones in our video projects for the last four years, we’ve gained a wealth of knowledge and insight into these technological marvels – their capabilities, limitations, and future potential. The more we learn, the more excited we get.
However, we recognize that most folks don’t have a professional reason [excuse] to purchase and employ a fleet of drones. Many of you are likely still observing from a safe distance, harboring legitimate skepticism about all the hover-bots that have taken to the skies, seemingly overnight. Allow us to turn your skepticism into excitement.
THE BIG PICTURE
Drones in their various forms are fundamentally changing a number of different industries, not just filmmaking. They’re already affecting the future of mail delivery, land surveying, agriculture, even internet access. Many of these subjects merit their own dedicated blog entries, so we’ll keep this one focused on our first love, video production.
A decade ago, aerial footage was all but impossible to capture without renting a helicopter – a major expense, and still limited in many ways. But quadcopter drones, like the one pictured here (our DJI Inspire 2), can move freely through the air in any direction with remarkable speed and precision.
Nearly all camera drones are quad-copters, and for good reason. Their four high-powered propellors (two clockwise, two counter-clockwise) allow them to achieve near-perfect balance when hovering, and impressive speed and agility when moving. Our Inspire 2 can accelerate from zero to 50 mph in five seconds, topping out at about 60 mph. Plus, the dual remote system lets one of us fly while the other controls the camera, allowing for greater precision with both.
Over the last few years, aerial enthusiasts and professional pilots have enjoyed an abundance of innovations and upgrades like these. It's how drones became one of the most fascinating and momentous consumer tech products in recent memory.
To demonstrate just how useful drones can be for video production, a team of Hollywood filmmakers recently shot an entire short film using nothing but drones – specifically, the DJI Inspire 2. Small world.
The film stars Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) and Noah Schnapp (Stranger Things), and it takes place in Depression-era America. The fact that these buzzing quad-copters are capable of filming a quiet and dramatic period piece like this is a testament to the versatility and potential of this technology.
AERIAL FOR EVERYONE
Remember the climactic airport battle in Captain America: Civil War? The overhead shots of Leo’s yacht parties in The Wolf of Wall Street? James Bond's rooftop motorcycle chase through Istanbul in Skyfall? All spectacular scenes, and all filmed by drones.
That's all well and good for Hollywood, but the real creative revolution of aerial filmmaking is taking place everywhere else. One of the most compelling things about aerial video is that the same tech used in big-budget blockbusters is also available (and affordable) to smaller and leaner production crews, which often have more freedom to experiment. Under the right circumstances, a single drone pilot can now execute better and smoother aerial camera shots than Martin Scorsese's crew could a decade ago. With tools like these, the bounds of creativity can truly be explored.
Take this impressive and entertaining video from Corridor Digital. Using sped-up first-person drone footage and some 3D printed props, they pieced together a thrilling Star Wars themed aerial dogfight sequence.
No helicopter could possibly maneuver like this. Even if such a thing were possible with manned aerial vehicles, and Corridor Digital had the budget to rent them, the risks of flying them around this recklessly would be far too great to attempt such an ambitious aerial sequence. We can't all be Tom Cruise.
Shooting with drones still likely required extensive planning and highly skilled piloting, but thanks to the times we live in, it's now physically and financially possible. For young and hungry video agencies like us, the cutting edge is now closer than ever.
When the concept of robots emerged around 1930, science fiction often portrayed them as giant death machines from outer space. But once people began to see the enormous potential of automation, optimism won out, and fiction adjusted accordingly. Nearly a century later, almost none of our robots are armed with laser cannons or the will to conquer humanity.
Powerful new technologies tend to invoke alarmism and paranoia at first. Before drones reached consumers, they were widely known for being instruments of military surveillance and intimidation, and were portrayed as such in movies like The Bourne Legacy, Mission: Impossible III and Body of Lies.
But the consumer drones of today are being created by the optimists. In the film industry, drones have graduated from on-camera villains to camera-wielding film set heroes. But are they here to stay? No certainties, but our money's on 'hell yes'.
First of all, 'drone' is already a broad category, and it's only getting broader. They're basically defined as any aircraft with no pilot on board – hence their government name, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Interestingly, even that simple definition is being challenged with inventions like the 'passenger drone', an autonomous aerial vehicle that picks up passengers and auto-pilots them to their destination. Yes, that exists now.
Drones are also getting smarter and more upgradeable. They can be adapted to a range of tasks and surroundings, in some cases taking on a whole new skill set with a single attachment. Case in point: we originally bought our Inspire 2 for some fairly specific reasons – it's light, fast, has a dual pilot system, obstacle avoidance, terrain mapping, and aerial live streaming, to name a few. We never anticipated that within a few short months of buying it, we'd be flying it with a 360º virtual reality camera (pictured above –the black sphere mounted to the bottom).
With a single attachment we had a full 360º video of rural Minnesota from a birds-eye view, for miles in every direction. Feed that footage into a virtual reality headset, and you're Princess Jasmine on her first carpet ride. A whole new world... that's where we'll be.