Emergence of drone cinematography

Everyone likes a good story, and while books rely on the reader’s imagination, moving pictures have the ability to augment a thrilling story with incredible sceneries and accurately depicted characters in a way our mind could not even begin to imagine. They let us travel to places we have never seen before and allow us to see the world from perspectives very much unlike our own.

To create these unique impressions, moving camera shots are a very basic element to master for camera operators. Indeed, the problem of creating smooth camera movements has been addressed in the very early days of cinema with the invention of camera dollies and cranes. However, handling such heavy equipment is time-consuming and operating them remains cost-intensive. For instance, in the 2012 James Bond blockbuster Skyfall, a camera crane and a whole crew were installed on a moving train to record a fighting scene between the protagonist and some bad boys. Working with bulky and inflexible equipment on a moving plaƞorm is not only expensive but also raises safety issues (making of – 0:20 to 2.08).

To overcome the problem of high-cost setups, as well as to generate completely new visual content, the film industry started to animate scenes or even entire blockbusters. Due to the technical progress of computer graphics over the past few years, these films have started to become more and more photorealistic (Planet of the Apes, making of – 2:28 to 2:51). Computer-animated content provides us with many more possibilities and far greater flexibility. Nevertheless, an incredible amount of knowledge, technology and time is needed for its generation and its post-production.

With the aim of reducing costs, studios nowadays use a so-called motion-capturing technology, which draws on people’s natural movements. This involves installing several infrared cameras around a film set, which detect reflective markers placed on actors or animals (illustration video). Using such a combination of technology allows the cameras to capture their motions in real time. It does not only save time but also results in animated characters with natural, human-like movements. Beyond the film industry, motion-capturing is widely applied in the video game industry. Although motion-capturing solves many high-priority issues, several disadvantages still remain. For example, specialized hardware is needed and the costs for even small productions are immense; meaning it is not practical to use such systems on a large scale. Quick setup changes or motion-capturing of long-distance and dynamic sequences are thus extremely difficult and expensive to model.

In summary, it can be said that the usage of bulky and heavy camera equipment is a general problem in classic filming as well as in motion-capturing. In order to possibly solve the mentioned problems, drones have become an increasingly popular opportunity. Drones can be equipped with high-end film or even infrared cameras and they can fly low to the ground, providing smooth camera shots. Not only could they potentially replace heavy equipment such as dollies or cranes; they also serve as flying motion-capturing plaƞorms to reduce the number of camera operators and allow motion-capturing independent of fixed infrastructures. However, film sets are highly dynamic working places involving many people, objects and environmental challenges. As a result, using drones for filming purposes requires very precise and repetitive flight trajectories. Our team at Tinamu Labs dedicates all its time and efforts to close the remaining technological gap; meaning that we want to provide precise and repetitive drone flights inthe very near future. With our drone expertise acquired over ten years of research, our vision is to bring filming drones to the next level and thus change how film sets are equipped.

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