Jul 22
FILMING WITH DRONES by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Wed, Jul 22, 2015

One aspect of film production is the position of the camera. To a director, the best presentation of a scene is one that is captured in consonance with the placing of camera and camera movements as well.

In the olden days, typical of French movies, the camera was always in a stationary position. Even if the scene had a variety of camera placings, there was no camera movement that would spice up the scene. That was the reason why the dolly and crane were invented.

The dolly is the most commonly used rig for camera movement. It is where the camera is mounted that includes the operator and focus puller. The dolly runs on double rail made of steel that is similar to a railroad track.

Providing smooth camera movement, the dolly can run on straight rails or curved rails with curvatures up to 180 degrees. Some directors say that a moving camera enhances the shot by 50% in quality as against a stationary camera.

The usual shots taken with a dolly are the moving subjects like when the characters are walking and the camera walks with them or the camera moves in the opposite direction. There are also shots for stationary subject where only the camera moves.

For more intricate camera movements, the crane was invented. It affords the camera to take shots from above. Particularly for scenes that show the entire setting, a bird’s eyeview shot is provided by the crane.

The crane of yore which was used in Hollywood. Take note of the weight at the bottom to counter the weight of the crane’s other end. Photo from Wikipedia.

Made of steel, the crane towers over the set and allows movement not only for tilting up or down but also for camera panning (left and right) as well. The camera operator is equipped with a headset that provides him communications with the crane operator.

Taking crane shots is not that simple because the movement should be choreographed, that is the desired camera movement is virtually executed by the crane operator. Compared with dolly shots, crane shots take more time to accomplish the task.

Lately, the crane is not only used in film or TV shootings but sometimes also used for live show coverages. Unlike before when cranes were too difficult to assemble, there are small and flexible cranes that can easily fit inside auditoriums.

A newcomer in the field of camera movement is the drone. A radical invention that is threatening to change the landscape of film-making regarding camera movement, the drone is hitting the movie industry like a storm.

The drone is similar to the toy helicopter that flies. And like that toy, a drone is operated by a remote controller with 2 buttons – one for flying and another for the camera operation. Like the battery-operated toy, the drone is powered by a rechargeable battery.

Like the crane or dolly, the drone has a place for the camera but unlike a passenger, the camera is at the bottom of the drone to give it a clear view of what’s below. If you have used a monopod for the selfie, it is a minor version of the drone.

The GoPro camera, which is an action camera that has a resolution of 2k – the desired resolution for the theater screen – is the most popular camera used in drones. It is called an action camera because it specializes in movement shots and moving shots as well.

However, drones are commonly generic in camera as long as the camera fits in the assembly. But for newcomers, it is advisable to buy a complete set because assembling a drone set is not that easy (different drone and different camera).

The drone can hover just above the head or soar higher to the maximum altitude or just roam around the set. Being a new technology, users of drone are still to discover possible variations of movements.

Costing more than P100,000 when it was born in the market, there are now drones that sell for less than P10,000. However, the cheaper the drone, the lower the quality. A low quality drone can be prone to accidents that could destroy the camera.

The Phantom 3, a modern crane that is affordable to enthusiasts. However, there is no warranty for the unit.

One ideal drone that costs P55,000 has 4 propellers and vibration absorbers that give the camera ample protection from jolts. It also has an intelligent flight battery, i.e. a sensor that defaults to force landing of the gear when the battery charge is getting low.

The camera on the drone is set on a 3-axis gimbal for stability. It is like in a floating state even when the drone is flying. The 1080p full HD video recording can be seen via live streaming on your smart phone with the use of an app connected to the website.

And like the crane, the drone can also fly indoors provided there is ample space and a well-trained flight operator, of course. Manipulating a flying rig, flight operators should know how to maneuver the drone to avoid obstacles whether outdoor or indoor.

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