It doesn’t seem long since Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or ‘drones’ to most novices – were celebrated as a new technology and, in recent months, their presence in the media has been largely negative, being dominated by stories of near-misses with passenger aircraft. Often overshadowed by this coverage, the positive benefits of UAVs in film and television are overlooked, yet they offer cinematographers a far more cost-effective, practical and unobtrusive alternative to traditional methods of obtaining aerial footage. Drones for filming movies are now commonplace among the many methods used to obtain those all important shots.
Ultimate practicality at a fraction of the cost
UAVs can produce the same high-definition aerial and crane shots as traditional filming methods, rendering costly alternatives, such as cranes, jibs and cable cameras, redundant. Consequently, cinematographers can enjoy a variety of benefits, from faster set-up times (typically, UAVs can be ready to fly inside 10 minutes) to less bulky equipment transportations to and from the filming location. Not only does this mean increased productivity, with less emphasis on the physical management of equipment, but much lower costs which, for most film projects, is a triumph worth celebrating.
Jibs, crane and cable cameras have their strengths, but the field of vision from the lens is still restricted, with a limited variety of angles without the inconvenience of repositioning equipment. UAVs offer complete 360° sight, with a change in height, depth and angle all possible with little more than a flick of the wrist, much like the ease of altering the direction of a remote-controlled car. With unsurpassable manoeuvrability, UAVs give filmmakers complete control of their project and the ability to cherry-pick the optimum angle and distance that simply isn’t possible with any other form of aerial or crane photography.
UAVs also offer filmmakers the possibility for venturing safely into inhospitable or dangerous terrain – there’s pretty much nowhere they can’t fly. From erupting volcanoes to the rock face nesting sites of sea birds, locations once accessible only by manned helicopter – with the associated costs and environmental damage – are now easily reached by cheaper, quieter and more cost-effective unmanned alternatives. Put simply, UAVs can travel just about anywhere in the world, transportable in hand luggage, and are able to send high-definition footage wirelessly to a mobile device close by. For cinematographers and documentary makers, this represents exciting potential to move filmmaking onto a new level.
For amateur cinematographers and Hollywood directors alike, UAVs are creating a tsunami in filmmaking techniques, expanding opportunities for creative and factual filmmaking to levels never experienced before.