Drones have gone from mere toys to an indispensable tool for film makers, and have had an immense impact on the industry, opening up possibilities not previously available.
Drones are remote controlled aircraft that can be operated autonomously. They have proven to be very successful in military operations with the ability to perform dangerous operations without risking lives of human pilots. However, drones have also had a major impact on the film industry. Their relatively low cost, small size and manoeuvrability have changed the way films are made, even big budget films like the recent Marvel blockbuster ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.
According to 10 year film industry veteran Andrew Pollock, who has worked on numerous commercials, film and television productions, the popularity of drones have had two major effects on the film industry:
“[Drones] have lowered the cost of shooting aerial footage significantly making it affordable to productions with much smaller budgets [and] they also make it possible to get shots that were previously impossible to get,” Pollock told me recently via email. “For me its changed how I do things quite dramatically since shooting aerials is pretty much all I do now.”
This is especially true for sports filmmakers who are constantly looking for interesting angles, and for whom it is often a labor of love.
Pollock points out that camera technology has also been instrumental in the success of these little remote controlled flyers. Over the years cameras have become small enough for small drones to carry. Camera manufacturers have taken notice of the popularity and potential that drones hold and major camera manufacturers like Arri have released smaller cameras that can be used in drones more easily.
Before modern drones like so-called ‘multirotor’ or multicopter’ (drones with more than one rotor) arrive on the scene, remote controlled helicopters were used, but these posed a number of risks. First of all they’re tricky to fly and learning to fly one properly can take hours of practice. Then there’s the safety aspect, and Pollock tells of a radio controlled helicopter pilot who was decapitated in New York a number of years ago when he lost control of the craft. Multirotor drones are not only safer due to the smaller blades, but they’re also more reliable and some have what Pollock calls redundancy features, meaning that a drone with more than six rotors will still be able to operate if one of the rotors fail.
Despite the popularity of drones and the advantages they have for film making, Pollock believes they won’t completely replace helicopters. He says that helicopters can fly much higher, faster and farther than drones at this stage, and they’re able to carry more complicated camera setups often used in high budget productions.
As civilian use of drones increase, safety and privacy concerns are moving governments to try and regulate this relatively new space, and Pollock says that some countries are already close to introducing legislature that requires professional operators to undergo training and receive certification for drones.
While there is tremendous scope for drones outside of the film industry, within the entertainment industry these little flying machines have already made their mark in everything from sports, nature, tourism, and even (somewhat bizarrely) soft-core porn.