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UAV Cameras an Eye In the Sky For Adventurous Filmmakers

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the lights-drone-action dept.

Movies 63

First time accepted submitter NRI-Digital writes "Could the use of unmanned aerial vehicles open up a whole new world of filmmaking? UAV manufacturer Schiebel and media company Snaproll Media recently teamed up to test Schiebel's Camcopter on an aerial film shoot. Whether filming volcanic eruptions or zipping through forest tree-lines, UAVs have the potential to get shots that manned helicopters would struggle to manage. It's still a young, niche industry, but as costs come down, these little vehicles could become a common sight on the film shoots of the future."

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Helicopters (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 2 years ago | (#40548283)

Helicopters are where it's at.
Unless you want your video looking like it was shot on an iPhone, you'll need big, heavy, expensive cameras.
UAVs can't deal with those.

Re:Helicopters (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | about 2 years ago | (#40548323)

BULLSHIT. You dont need a $200,000 camera to take utterly fantastic shots.

Re:Helicopters (2)

sidevans (66118) | about 2 years ago | (#40548405)

I agree, I've seen it done with a Fishing Rod, a Helium Balloon and a Go-Pro camera.

I am the Eye in the Sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548653)

Looking at you.

Re:I am the Eye in the Sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549253)

... oooo arrrrr

Re:I am the Eye in the Sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40551129)

I can read your mind

Re:Helicopters (3, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#40548419)

A small consumer-grade HD camera won't do either, at least not for anyone wanting to make good quality film. With proper exposure, colour balance, and contrast (no overexposed backgrounds on pitch black foregrounds - OK that's exaggerating of course but you get the idea).

Those UAVs the US army is using nowadays can carry weapons and bombs. Those bombs could be replaced by movie cameras - the carrying capacity is not an issue. The air resistance of a camera mounted to the plane could be, though nothing a stronger engine can not overcome; the lower operational range will still be good enough for a movie shoot.

The main drawback of plane over helicopter type UAV is that a plane must maintain a minimum speed. And for many shots, like filming a walking/running person from above, that minimum speed is far too high, and one would need a helicopter for that.

And then again I don't see why we can't build unmanned helicopters like we can build unmanned planes. It's not that they are that different. Navigation is the same; flight control is different of course but I don't see why a computer wouldn't be able to handle that as it's pretty straight-forward.

Re:Helicopters (1)

dumbo11 (798489) | about 2 years ago | (#40548755)

We do build automated helicopters - I think the news reported that a US helicopter drone was shot down over Libya during the uprising... and that small drone used by the US army (I think) seems to have similar flight properties to a helicopter.

Re:Helicopters (2)

bosah (2117736) | about 2 years ago | (#40548923)

Yep , small helicopters work much better for the reasons you say. Plus a consumer HD camera is up to the job, I think this was shot with a hacked Panasonic GH2 IIRC (higher bitrate and maybe with a shorter GOP, could even be a GOP1 hack). [] the showreel is worth a look too.

Re:Helicopters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549175)

There are multi-rotor helicopters on the market designed for professional film makers. They cost less than $10,000 and can easily lift a full size DSLR and fly more than 5km. The major roadblock for most users is getting public liability insurance and being certified by the relevant civil aviation authorities to fly one in a public place. Crashing one on top of people would result in a world of legal pain.

Re:Helicopters (3, Informative)

jeti (105266) | about 2 years ago | (#40549183)

Isn't the RED Epic considered to be good enough for cinematography? There's a more compact setup using this camera on an octocopter and the output looks adequately stabilized to me: []

Re:Helicopters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40551263)

Holy shit that site sucks. It's all Vimeo crap that won't even play if you have Adblock/Flashblock/whatever.

Re:Helicopters (3, Informative)

Shoten (260439) | about 2 years ago | (#40550833)

Very simple: try flying an RC helicopter sometime. (Hint as to the outcome: helicopters meant for beginners...also the easiest ones to fly...come with extra replacement rotors for a reason.) They are incredibly difficult to pilot; just getting them off the ground is a herculean task. A perfect example of the learning curve showed up on a Mythbusters episode, the one where the myth was that you could cause a helicopter to crash by putting a postage stamp on the end of a rotor blade, thus destabilizing it. They were going to do it at scale with a decent-sized RC copter. They ended up having to abandon that approach because after a whole day of trying to learn how to get the thing off the ground without making it crash, not one of them had managed to do it.

Now, take that intense learning curve, and think about this...small UAVs [] are the main thrust of the UAV market now. Man-portable and carried by platoons or squads, they allow troops to see what's over a hill or in a neighborhood themselves, without the need for them to have a Predator tasked to them, without the need for them to have someone else try to interpret the view without the context of what things look like for the ground forces, or the need for a high-speed data link so that the ground forces can see for themselves. And unlike a Predator, it doesn't take over 160 people to maintain and keep one going. They're cheap, they're flexible, and they're actually better-suited to the intended mission of providing tactical real-time data to small units.

But here's the rub, and why these squad-level devices are all airplanes. Remember that learning curve for a helicopter? Apply that at the squad level. You have just added a new skill set that at least one person in each squad would have to develop, one that has nothing to do with any of their other skills, and is harder than any of their other skills. Imagine if shooting a rifle was so difficult that for the first few days you were learning, not only would you miss the target completely but the rifle would explode. How many riflemen would there be? How would that affect military doctrine? I bet you'd still see archers on the battlefield.

Re:Helicopters (2)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#40551213)

Yes I know those RC choppers are tough to fly. But that are RC aircraft, not drones. Drones are supposed to fly themselves, as in operator gives instructions like "go from A via B to C and then back to base". Drone does the rest.

The small planes carried by troops to look over the next hill, that's more like an RC plane than a drone. Those things are usually flown within eyesight of the operator, who manually steers the craft. And even then one needs serious practice to fly one.

Anyway it should not be too hard to make a "fly-by-wire" RC plane, in between the pure RC and the drone. With that I mean the operator gives basic instructions to the aircraft (go up, down, left, right, faster, slower) and the craft is smart enough to just follow those instructions, setting trim and engine speeds and whatnot in a manner that it won't fall out of the sky. That way it should be possible for an absolute beginner to fly a helicopter: you tell where it's going, the computer takes care of keeping the thing airborne and going where it's instructed to go. It's just the operator's responsibility to make sure it won't crash into something.

Re:Helicopters (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about 2 years ago | (#40554687)

Quadrotor systems is the solution to this issue. I suspect that over time RC helicopter use will decline as quadros come on the scene more and more. Also, couldnt even regular RC helicopter be fitted with auto stabilization like the quadros?

Re:Helicopters (1)

z0idberg (888892) | about 2 years ago | (#40548351)

I'm pretty sure the UAVs in the FA are helicopters......

RC Aircraft = UAV (5, Informative)

bluescrn (2120492) | about 2 years ago | (#40548855)

Go to, visit the multi-rotor forum in the RC helis section ( [] ) Hundreds of amateurs tinkering with 'drones', some just flying them around a field for fun, others doing a bit of aerial photography with 'em. And they've been doing it for quite a while... A lot of the lower-end builds are stabilised by a combination of an Arduino, Wii Motion Plus, and the open-source MultiWii software. Higher-end multicopters can have actively stabilised camera mounts, and be carrying fairly high-end camera gear.

Re:RC Aircraft = UAV (1)

spikestabber (644578) | about 2 years ago | (#40551153)

People are actually shoving Red Epic's on modded 700E's with stabilization gimbals. They use GPS flight stabilization and automated flightpath software. The price of the camera itself can easily buy a few of these full helicopter setups. AP isn't expensive anymore.

Re:RC Aircraft = UAV (1)

bobbutts (927504) | about 2 years ago | (#40553993)

mod parent informative, is the place to find info on this

Re:Helicopters (1)

NRI-Digital (2676943) | about 2 years ago | (#40549085)

Helicopters are where it's at. Unless you want your video looking like it was shot on an iPhone, you'll need big, heavy, expensive cameras. UAVs can't deal with those.

Evidence to the contrary - the article is about a UAV filming with a bulky HD camera attached to its undercarriage. So it is possible, probably just a bit too expensive at the moment.

Re:Helicopters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549641)

This schiebel camcopter actually lifts a cineflex v14hd camera which costs $500000

Umm, I suggest you check the OMCopter out... (1)

cyclocommuter (762131) | about 2 years ago | (#40550845)

The OMCOPTER gives wings to the Red Epic [] Also a bunch of amateur aerial videos posted on youtube using various quad, hexa, or omni rotor UAVs.

Re:Helicopters (1)

Snaller (147050) | about 2 years ago | (#40564629)

Naa, you live in the dark ages. Many of these small gizmos can carry the RED camera

old tech (2)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#40548291)

I have an Air Hawk with built-in cam and with a little tweaking of the airframe, it now holds a digital HD camera (Hammacher Schlemmer pen cam, minus the ink barrel!), so two for the price of one (almost, the whole setup costs £90 including batteries).

Re:old tech (1) (245670) | about 2 years ago | (#40548347)

Do you mean one of the Air Hogs planes? You can get a non-HD Air Hog plane for around $50 at Wally-World. I know 'cause I seen me do it. I've been thinking about getting the new Parrot but they apparently shipped it missing quite a few advertised features. Waiting to see if they've addressed everything with the new software.

Re:old tech (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#40548655)

nope, it's a Blitz Air Hawk with custom shell modeled on the Bell 222, in Airwolf paint scheme; SD camera mounted in the nose at 45 degree downangle and the H/S HD pen cam is mounted in the belly - pointed vertically down. Depending on the weight I may add another channel and put in a rotating axis for the belly cam.

There again I might go out on a limb and buy an Eskey.

That would be the same drone that was GPS spoofed (2)

garymortimer (1882326) | about 2 years ago | (#40548355)

This is actually an old story a couple of weeks later very sadly the same type of UAS flew through its control cabin killing the operator. [] Don't expect it to be operating in civilian hands until that little issue is sorted out. Schiebel also have to answer questions about the few they sold to China.

Re:That would be the same drone that was GPS spoof (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#40548441)

Your headline jumps the gun; as the article you link to also says: it is a possibility, but we can't say what really happened until the crash investigation has finished.

Re:That would be the same drone that was GPS spoof (3, Funny)

z0idberg (888892) | about 2 years ago | (#40548451)

Lost control of the UAV and it crashed into the control cabin. Wow. Seems like a pretty big coincidence that it crashed directly into the control area.

Possibly this is a screwed up version of "return to base" type of failsafe if comms were lost?
Surely the "return to base" would be "return and land safely" rather than "return directly to base and fly straight into it".

Fox: When UAVs attack! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548509)

Lost control of the UAV and it crashed into the control cabin. Wow. Seems like a pretty big coincidence that it crashed directly into the control area.

The moral is treat your equipment right, and it will not kill you.

Re:Fox: When UAVs attack! (4, Funny)

drkim (1559875) | about 2 years ago | (#40549143)

Strangely enough, the last message transmitted from the UAV to control was, "I'm afraid I can't do that Dave..."

Re:That would be the same drone that was GPS spoof (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548493)

Regardless, I feel we need to require pilot licenses for any UAVs heavier/bigger than a certain amount/size. We also need laws protecting the privacy of private property owners before it gets too difficult to control.

The Camcopter S-100 UAS making dreams a reality... (1)

sidevans (66118) | about 2 years ago | (#40548391)

"Now with the use of the Camcopter S-100 UAS my dreams have become a reality and I'm very excited for what the future holds with these advancements."


When did /. start promoting advertorials ?

Re:The Camcopter S-100 UAS making dreams a reality (1) (245670) | about 2 years ago | (#40548439)

Yeah, because this place is the target market for $400,000 items. :rolleyes:

Wow! Cutting edge technology! (2)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | about 2 years ago | (#40548431)

...That was used in 1985. The films "Natural States" and "Desert Vision" come to mind. [] and []

Re:Wow! Cutting edge technology! (1)

rasmusbr (2186518) | about 2 years ago | (#40548505)

I first heard about this idea in the mid-90's when it was used for a long flying shot in a big film (don't remember which) where they didn't want downwash to disturb the grass/water/whatever. I'm not surprised to hear about even earlier use. It's a simple idea.

I bet a hobbyist could do this for under $500 today.

Re:Wow! Cutting edge technology! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549575)

Less than 500$ with a camera that is worth around 50k dollars and weighs around 10kg with optics?* No way.

I'm assuming that the camera was the highest end model with an ARRI Alexa M integrated. The camera by itself weighs around 7.5kg without optics. Zoom lenses weigh an extra 2 to 3 kg. And this doesn't include the weight of the mechanics required for stabilizing the camera, operating the zoom and focus and the electronics package required for recording and/or transmitting the high quality live image.

Re:Wow! Cutting edge technology! (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#40551585)

The newer one has GPS control, which wasn't true in 1985. It seems like you might be able to do some pretty tricky shots using a GPS-enabled UAV shooting a GPS-enabled subject. We've all see onboard shots from cameras like the Hero Go-Pro. Imagine a UAV that could follow you from above up a twisty canyon road, jumping ahead to position itself for tight corners and so forth.

A heavenly sight. (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | about 2 years ago | (#40548537)

It's still a young, niche industry, but as costs come down, these little vehicles could become a common sight on the film shoots of the future.

Porn! And don't give me that look. You all were thinking it too.

Re:A heavenly sight. (3, Informative)

Exrio (2646817) | about 2 years ago | (#40548627)

I wasn't. I like my porn to be filmed from a little closer than that.

Old idea, old teach, cheap slashvertisement (1)

ModernGeek (601932) | about 2 years ago | (#40548553)

This is a hammered out idea, and just pandering for a small company looking for some VC money, and maybe a pre order.

Re:Old idea, old teach, cheap slashvertisement (1)

Myself (57572) | about 2 years ago | (#40551967)

Yeah, I know Rotomotion [] has been doing this for years. Their YouTube channel [] is pretty badass.

Lame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548565)

This is being done already, and is anything but cutting edge

It's already being done, its called FPV! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548629)

It's already being done, its called FPV or First Person View flying and it's a LOT of fun! Check out some of the videos made by these users

If you want to find out more check out:

frosty niggler (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548651)

frank ocean is gay

informative fu3k3rfucker (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548759)

Happy BirdDay Amerika! Land of Lost Souls! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40548939)

It reminds of occupation of irish? Souls of Lost leave from potato lack and arrive post facto ipso? Externally present, Yours (-1, Offtopic)

lienbien (2677419) | about 2 years ago | (#40548943)

Han hanh gioi thieu voi cac ban quoc te website chuyen nganh ve giao thong van tai. Minh hy vong trang web nay se mang den cho cac ban nhung tin tin bo ich link web:

Certainly (1)

Pf0tzenpfritz (1402005) | about 2 years ago | (#40549041)

Could the use of unmanned aerial vehicles open up a whole new world of filmmaking?

Sure. The bad thing is just that most of us, even if we might be playing a major role in one of these newly made films, are unlikely to ever see them.

Thanks... (2)

NRI-Digital (2676943) | about 2 years ago | (#40549043)

...for the comments. I know RC helicopters have been used on plenty of shoots before, but I thought the use of advanced UAVs with automatic navigation functions, coupled with an integrated HD camera system like the Cineflex, seemed like enough of a step up to be worth posting about. The video linked from the article shows some pretty impressive stuff being filmed. As for my headline jumping the gun, my original header was actually posed as a question rather than a statement; I'm aware that this option is still massively expensive and in the very early stages...

Nothing important has changed (1)

ocularb0b (1042776) | about 2 years ago | (#40549061)

There have been remote coptercams for for at least 20 years. But a camera that can record 2k images with nice fast lenses is still around 10lbs bare minimum. A copter that can carry that with any stability is still kinda big and very loud. There have been some advances in drone tech but nothing that makes a real dent in noise, safety, logistics or cost. It's still a toy pulled out only when really necessary.

Re:Nothing important has changed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40553841)

Maybe you haven't seen any of the other links to the OMCOPTER [] , but if you can afford to use a RED Epic, the cost of a drone similar to what they're using wouldn't be an issue at all. Especially when compared to the cost of renting a helicopter.

Re:Nothing important has changed (1)

ocularb0b (1042776) | about 2 years ago | (#40559509)

EPIC is pretty cool and can shoot huge resolutions for a pretty small camera. The real cost is time and logistics. Real helicopters are fairly "crashy" and sensitive, smaller remote copters even more so. I've been on sets with remote copters that crashed twice and once where they scrapped the flight after several hours. Adding the word "copter" to any production day adds at least 6 hours. Regardless of rental price that time is very costly.

I'm just shooting a moving story (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#40549263)

about women changing too close open windows

Already happening (4, Informative)

headfirstonly (2526698) | about 2 years ago | (#40549307)

At least one noted film director is already using UAVs. Werner Herzog used a Skybot UAV made by British Technical Films [] for the opening sequence in Cave of Forgotten Dreams [] - the camera moves through a vineyard before soaring up and revealing the countryside of the Combe d'Arc where the cave art was found. It's an impressive shot in 2D but in 3D it takes your breath away.

sh1t!? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549515)

and arms 4nd dick thE project faces, OF AMERICA irc

How far things have gone (4, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#40549679)

My father was a tremendous model airplane, and photography, enthusiast. In 1962 he strapped his Leica to the bottom of one of his radio-controlled models and took black-and-white photos of the airfield where he flew his models, and the adjacent industrial plant. The shutter was tripped by the Leica's built-in timer; he got pictures of approximately what he wanted by running a second timer on the ground and ensuring the plane was in right place at the right time. The timer was used because the radio-control equipment of the day (at least, the equipment he could afford) had only one channel, used for rudder control. He used black-and-white film so that he could do his own developing; besides the fact that he just liked doing it, doing his own developing allowed him to compensate for things like underexposures. (To compensate for vibration blur, present despite all of his anti-vibration efforts, he was always underexposing these shots.)

By 1971, the R/C art had improved to the point that multichannel radio equipment (4 to 6 channels) was commonplace, and the photographic art had improved to the point that small, lightweight motion-picture cameras were also affordable. To take advantage, he took a handheld Super 8 mm movie camera and mounted it on a wire frame on the fuselage over the wing, pointed ahead and slightly down, so that the arc of the propeller was just visible in the resulting images (to give scale). He quickly learned to fly very slowly and gently; images taken during even the most mundane of maneuvers would be enough to induce nausea when viewed on the screen later.

Because of the consumer-grade equipment used, these photos and films will never win any prizes for photographic art; still, it is always a pleasure to see something state-of-the-art in its time, turn into something available at Wal-Mart a few years later.

mod uP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40549959)

in posting a GNAA -3lected, we took

This isn't new! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40550347)

Waaaay back in 1999, while in university, I had a small acting part in a movie. For some of the outdoor shots, they used a radio-controlled helicopter.

The rotor radius was about 6 feet (1.82 m for our euro friends), and it had a gas engine. The camera was on an anti-vibration mount, could pan & tilt, and carried about 10 minutes of film.

Digital video cameras have come a long way since then, so the costs must be much less today.

Shot Down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40550355)

It is very likely that drones seen in some areas will end up getting shot down, no matter who pilots them.

Added benefit for producers (1)

Shoten (260439) | about 2 years ago | (#40550901)


I have a close friend who is a line producer and has been behind a lot of different shows you've seen on a particular set of science-oriented cable TV channels. I've listened while she's made phone calls for work, sorting out logistics and other such's incredible what goes into a lot of this programming. Absolutely fascinating stuff! Well, there are a lot of challenges to the traditional way of shooting aerial, many of which have to do with nothing more than liability. There's the question of the pilot, and whether or not they have experience doing that kind of flying. There's the model of helicopter, and its suitability to having a rig put on its side (because that's how it usually pans out...special-purpose helicopters are almost never available for things that aren't major motion pictures). There's the rig itself, and how suitable it is for being on a helicopter. And then there's where you'll be shooting and how. All of this ties into the insurance coverage that you really need to have in order to shoot an aerial. The helicopter alone is worth millions; the liability risks related to what would happen in a crash go substantially beyond that.

Having a cheaper device with no humans aboard that is significantly smaller, inherently proven to be stable and effective for aerial shooting, is relatively easy to ship over distance and which has (as a whole package) a proven track record of safety would be a HUGE benefit with regard to the logistical planning and insurance costs. And if it's more flexible than a full-sized copter AND more effective? Total win.

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