Drones Revolutionize Aerial Cinematography

The DJI Phantom is shown in action during the 2015 NAB Show.

Getting shots from tall cranes and helicopters has been in the filmmaker’s toolkit for decades. However, the rapid development of camera-bearing and highly agile drones has brought new dimensions and perspectives to aerial cinematography.

That will be the focus of today’s Super Session “Drones Opening New Vistas to Content,” 10:30 a.m.–noon, which is co-produced by the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG), Local 600.

Drones can quickly put cameras in places where it is otherwise difficult or dangerous. As quality cameras shrink, it is increasingly possible to get complex shots that bend perspectives and seek new angles.

Michael Chambliss

Michael Chambliss

“Changes in both image capture technology, like smaller and lighter cameras, and stabilization technology, like Steadicam, profoundly impact the way we tell stories,” said Michael Chambliss, the session’s moderator. “With drones, we can now do spontaneous handheld type of work from a couple feet to 400 feet in the air with minimal environmental disturbance and physically independent camera motion. We’ve never had that capability before. The technology opens up entirely new kinds of shots.” Chambliss, a technologist and business representative for the ICG, is joined by a panel with deep experience in film and television camera operation.

Of course, the integration of drones into film and episodic TV production is evolving as rapidly as the technology itself — even the regulations and safety protections for drones are often the source of confusion. He noted that the ability to fly a drone does not necessarily mean the ability to do so in the demanding requirements of film production.

“Drones have a lot of applications with widely varying skill requirements. It’s one thing to fly a pattern over a rural privately owned field of soybeans, and something completely different to do complex flying in close proximity to human beings and often moving vehicles or aircraft in an urban environment,” Chambliss said.

“In the discussions surrounding the drafting of the Industry- Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s bulletin on drones, the studios showed little interest in ever backing off from the current requirement for a pilot’s license.”

This is a hot topic, both with the general public and within the film and video production industry.

Jason Toth

Jason Toth

“We’ve never had an image technology this disruptive, involving federal regulators, public safety officials and legislators on the state and local levels, let alone producers and directors trying to understand how to work with it,” Chambliss said. “Each of the panelists is a pioneer, with two being members of the original seven who worked closely with the [Motion Picture Association of America] to pave the way for the first exemptions. In a field that is just emerging, this is a group that already has the ‘been-there-and-done-it’ experience.”

The panelists for the session include Jason Toth, Tony Carmean, Drew Roberts and Dylan Goss.

Toth has worked as an on-set VFX supervisor, second-unit director, cinematographer and compositor, and founded two post-production facilities that included clients such as Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Nestle. In 2012, he co-founded Revered Cinema with his partner Derek Heidt, to work with clients on specialized camera needs specific to high-end feature film and commercial productions. Among other credits, Toth worked on the films “The Revenant” and “Minority Report.”

A founding partner at Aerial MOB LLC, Tony Carmean was instrumental in working with the FAA to gain the first Section 333 exemption to use drones on closed-set film production. Aerial MOB is the only drone company that has been approved by Panavision for use with that company’s products. As producer at Aerial MOB, Carmean’s credits include the feature films “The Circle” (summer 2016) and “CHiPS” (summer 2016), HBO’s “The Leftovers,” “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” (ABC), and “Scorpion” (CBS Studios). He has also worked on major sporting events such as The 2015 PGA Championship (CBS Sports) and the 2015 Kentucky Derby (NBC Sports).

Drew Roberts

Drew Roberts

Drew Roberts is the founder, CEO and chief pilot of Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions. He is an Art Center College of Design-educated commercial photographer and FAA-licensed pilot. As one of the top UAV pilots in the industry, Roberts has logged thousands of hours on sets piloting for commercials, television shows and feature films. Some of his credits include more than 50 national car commercials, FX’s “The League,” Hulu’s “East Los High” and Fox’s “Gracepoint” and “Wayward Pines.” Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions recently won its category at the New York City Drone Film Festival.

Dylan Goss is the aerial cinematographer for Team 5, one of the original seven UAV cinematography operations approved by the FAA for closed-set filming. Goss’ industry credits include aerial cinematography for “Independence Day: Resurgence” (summer 2016), “Straight Outta Compton” and “Terminator Genisys.”

The Super Session promises to put the right people in one place to discuss this exciting and quickly evolving topic. Show attendees involved in film/video production probably have a drone in their future — maybe sooner than they might think.