Drones are becoming an increasingly everyday piece of equipment in our lives, whether you hear of ecommerce retailers planning to deliver via drone, or you see a hobbyist out flying one over the countryside.
But one place where many of us have experienced a ‘drone’s eye view’ without even realising it is in the cinema, where film studios all over the world are making use of the technology for aerial tracking shots.
Drone cameras are more mobile than setting up a large crane-mounted camera, and even more manoeuvrable than filming from a helicopter – with the added benefit that they cast less of a shadow on the ground below.
Naturally you might assume Hollywood is leading the way in the use of drone cameras, and while this may be true in very recent years, it wasn’t the case to begin with.
Skyfall was released in 2012, the 23rd movie in the James Bond franchise and the first to use drone cameras, notably in the tracking shots across the rooftops of Istanbul during the opening motorcycle chase scene.
It’s interesting to see how subtly the technology is used here – just a couple of swooping shots following the riders, cut with plenty of fixed-position camera angles from further away.
The result cleverly merges new technology with classic techniques, so there is no jarring transition between the two.
CHAPPiE, from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, was released in March 2015, but began filming in Johannesburg in October 2013.
Again drones were put to good use, offering smooth, natural motion for aerial shots, but they were also used for purposes other than piloting airborne cameras.
In some scenes where flying or tall objects were to be added later using CGI, a drone would be piloted into position to provide the actors with an eyeline – a physical reference point to ensure all the actors were looking in the same direction and focused on the same point.
It was not until September 2014 – after the release of the British-produced Skyfall and a year into filming on CHAPPiE in South Africa – that the American FAA granted permission for unmanned drone cameras to be used on film productions in the US.
Up until that point, some Hollywood productions had already featured scenes filmed using drones, but that footage had to be captured elsewhere in the world to avoid breaking US aviation law.
Finally, one of the most cinematic TV shows ever produced, HBO’s Game of Thrones, stands as proof that drones are not just a technology for big-screen movies, but can have a huge impact on the small screen, even right down to the commercials.
Game of Thrones regularly uses drones to capture swooping aerial views that even the most dexterous of cranes would struggle with, conveying both the sense of scale and grandeur it seeks to portray, and also the motion of mythical creatures like its dragons.
With the seventh season due to hit screens in 2017, and having overtaken the books on which it is based, Game of Thrones has staked its claim as a trailblazing event in television history – and has already helped to cement drone cameras’ place in production history.