August 13th, 2014

There’s no way to avoid the intense buzz around drones and their inevitable transformation of our world. We previously shared the amazing dronography of Iwan Zwarts and explored the beautiful photos the artist captures with UAVs. Now we’ll dig deeper into the world of drones and filmmaking with Andre Slaughter as he shares his experience operating UAVs on the set of projects ranging from music videos to television shows.

Andre discovered drones over four years ago, but the addiction really kicked in when he saw that a camera could be mounted onto the flying devices and realized their potential to play a huge role in the future of filmmaking. The Mill 3D scheduler has always been passionate about filmmaking, and works on drone-related projects with his mentor and business associate JJ Trinidad, CEO of Skyecam, a professional aerial video & photography service.

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Tools of the Trade

Skyecam uses custom built drones constructed to meet the specific needs of the job. The custom UAVs are made from various parts purchased from Asia (as they are a bit more advanced with the technology) built onto sturdy frames from DGI, enabling the team to also be able to repair their own gear as needed. There are three different setups that they can select from depending on the needs of the job: QUAD Copter (GoPro Setup), Hexocopter (DSLR SetUp) or an Octocopter (Red Cameras/Black Magic etc). Each setup provides a range of benefits, allowing the team to use a range of cameras and fly varying distances.

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Becoming a Drone Pilot

JJ took the aspiring filmmaker under his wing and taught him the technical side of operating drones, which was key to becoming an expert. Andre explains, “A good pilot is one who fully understands what they are doing and can adjust to make decisions on the fly. Sometimes there are weather conditions that need to be factored, weight of cameras/lens which can change the way your Drone is flying, being able to reprogram gimbals, etc. It takes time and dedication to make sure your setup is dialed in and running correctly.” A good team to act as a spotter on your rig is also important for the safety of your craft and others, especially when flying FPV (First Person View).

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The Benefits

One of the big benefits of the tool is the freedom it provides filmmakers to capture aerial cinematography without having to use a costly helicopter or operating crane, previously restricted to big budget productions.

The flexibility of the tool also provides the opportunity to get creative with shots. Andre gives an example, “In one continuous shot, we could fly in from 500 feet away in the sky, drop down to a house, fly through the any window, track down the staircase and then fly out the front door. That would be a full sequence shot that has an innovative feel and has never really been done before.”

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The Work

Music Video: Gavin DeGraw ‘Make a Move’

We did a Gavin DeGraw music video where we used our dual operating set-up, one guy flying the drone and a second guy (me) operating the camera/gimbal This was a really fun video we captured in the desert, where we were filming a car chase scene.

Television: The Mentalist (CBS) - Episode #602 "Black-Winged Redbird"

The quadcopter used in this was the Bumble Bee which carried the explosives. Also you will see the Tricopter, Hexacopter and F450 Quadcopter custom made by Skyecam.

Commercial: Banana Boat ‘Defy the Sun’

Filmed in Palm Springs, the teams used Canon's 5D, 16mm-35mm f 2.8 Lens. See behind the scenes image on Skyecam’s Facebook page.

An Everyday Tool

Like all emerging technologies, there's still some uncertainty and fear around the potential uses for drones beyond filmmaking. As the world scrambles to regulate and legislate the tool, enthusiasts like Andre are already forging ahead and exploring the exciting possibilities. It's definitely a space to watch with anticipation and excitement.

On the future of drones, Andre predicts,"I see these drones being used more and more in the production world but also just for everyday use. More and more people are hearing about these things everyday. They are the way of the future." Here's to a future with speedy drone-delivered pizza AND a bevy of breathtaking new shots and perspectives from filmmakers.

See more of Andre's drone-work on and YouTube.