Drone Nation

Ah, the aerial shot. Its appeal requires little explanation. Not only does it offer the viewer a perspective that we are unable to see from the ground, but it also lends production value to any project, large or small. The problem, until recently, was that aerial shoots were very costly. If you wanted that shot, for decades your only option was to rent a helicopter. Rates for renting a chopper vary greatly but could easily run between $800 to $2,000/hour. Add in cinema stabilizing tools and safety personnel and you might be up to $10,000 before you even leave the ground.

Consequently, only major film studios could afford to pay such a premium. Consider recent action blockbusters like Skyfall, Spectre, Taken 3, Jurassic World, San Andreas and Captain America: Civil War. Only films with enormous budgets like these could afford such dazzling aerials, right? Wrong. Each of those films shot their airborne scenes with drones rather than helicopters. So how did all of this happen? How did such a costly enterprise become so inexpensive that even hobbyists could afford them – all the while the quality remained so high that major film studios were simultaneously confident in using them?

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In January of 2013, the Chinese technology company DJI unveiled the Phantom 1, a new product they hoped would shake up the camera business. A remote-controlled drone equipped with a camera, its max speed was just 10 meters per second and its flight time was limited to 10-15 minutes before needing a recharge. To be clear, there are a multitude of different drones on the market today, but no single release did as much to popularize the technique as the Phantom series. In 2011, DJI reported annual earnings of $4 million. This increased by $130 million after the Phantom 1 was released less than two years later.

Subsequent releases from DJI would continue to refine and perfect the product. The Phantom 2 added Wi-Fi capability. The Phantom 3 offered drone users the capability to shoot footage in 4k for the first time. Flash forward to 2018 and the premium offering, the Phantom 4, offers unparalleled resolution, detail and features for the modern videographer. Flight time and top airspeed have also doubled since the Phantom 1.

Most industry professionals estimate sales from the Phantom series to be well over $1 billion. In addition to the Phantom, DJI has launched the Mavic, Inspire and Spark models with varying price points and users in mind.

When compared to helicopter shots, drones offer additional advantages. The remote capability allows you to place the camera in dangerous places that human beings can’t or shouldn’t go. Imagine how useful a drone could be for a news organization when needing to capture footage from wartime or a volcano blast up close and personal – all the while keeping personnel safe and sound. Portability is also an advantage. Some drones are so small that they can be thrown into a backpack and taken on hikes up mountains for nature or mountain climbing documentaries. The small size allows you to fly them between trees or underneath a bridge to capture an immersive shot that you couldn’t get with a helicopter.

Here at MCC, we regularly source stock drone footage for client work on a wide range of projects. Clients like Houston-based Speedcast, which specialize in satellite connectivity for ships at sea, have required drone shots on more than one occasion.

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Videographer Zachary Rutledge of Songbird Media Group & MCC Video Producer Michael Zynda on site at the Kinetrex LNG South Facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, with the DJI Phantom 4 PRO.

A couple of months ago, we proposed a number of ways to enhance the web content of one of our newest clients, Kinetrex, a natural gas company in Indianapolis. Our recommendations included videos to be featured on their website. Not only would they be the first videos we’d ever produced for the client, but it was also clear early on that one video would require all original drone footage on-site at their facilities in central Indiana. So we packed our bags, flew up there and started shooting. I’m very pleased with the results, but why take my word for it? See for yourself.

At MCC, we’d love to help up your video game with drones and other high-end production techniques. Just ask, and we’ll elevate your brand!

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