My first foray into drone cinematography began three years ago. Like most outdoor hobbyists, as soon as I purchased the commercially produced first-generation DJI Phantom, I began to modify its base. The immediate realization was that this incredible device would allow a small team to get shots once only considered accessible by monster-budget. The web gave way to a variety of add-on options: gimbals, handheld monitor receivers, and cosmetic alterations.
Many of those DIY modifications had their pitfalls — image destabilization, battery life, etc. My company, Squatch, found using a two-man team, one pilot and one viewfinder, even a five-minute flight could harvest powerful shots. By all means we had a fundamental set-up but the aerial footage provided a priceless contribution to creative projects. With the emerging trend of short impact segments for web use we saw an immediate application.
Squatch has since grounded its drone operations to await regulations from the FAA. Our office sets a priority of keeping an ear on emerging trends in the unmanned flight arena. Almost daily it seems that the industry grows while the FAA struggles to grasp the full potential of civilian-operated remote controlled aircrafts.
Fortunately, the state of Delaware benefits from the passion of an innovative droning community. Throughout our exploration with aerial footage we have received guidance on the limitations of our rig from Skygear Solution’s founder Daniel Herbert. Our team is looking forward to the investment of a stronger machine capable of carrying a heavier payload once firm regulations are in place. Like Squatch, Skygear Solutions is another Delaware organization patiently waiting for guidelines to operate within.
Currently, the video department at Squatch has found new ways to involve drones in our creative process without necessarily incorporating the footage. Over the past two years Squatch has been aiding BPGS Construction in documenting the build of many new Wilmington properties. While the right contact will get you on the roof of any building downtown for scouting purposes, the drone cuts that time dramatically.
Using a live feed from the drone’s camera, we can investigate potential shot locations that might otherwise offer limited access. From the ground we can assess safety and determine the equipment necessary to capture a shot before transporting the gear.
Although not much can match the wow factor of high-flying drone imagery, we are mindful that the topic deserves deliberation from a national security standpoint. Whenever we decide to operate the quadcopter, it is after we’ve taken into consideration the surrounding airspace and exhausted a preflight safety checklist.
Lately, drones have developed a social stigma based on the brash actions of the few. Through informed choices and proper education on domestic policy, Squatch is hopeful that droning will continue to develop as a widely accepted commercial practice. ♦
Evan Lober, Director of Cinematography at Squatch Creative, is also a member of the DBT 40 Class of 2014.