Over the past decade, drones have existed as a revolutionary technological innovation that have redefined our space as voyeurs. But just within the past five to ten years, that drone technology has made its way into the world of cinema, subsequently transforming the way in which we experience films––in short, drones have allowed filmmakers to manipulate the camera in ways that simply were not possible previously. We’ve curated the four most memorable and innovative movie scenes featuring drones that have really blown audiences away.
Sam Mendes’ 2015 take on the classic 007 franchise was done with respect, love, and innovation. A collection of films such as the James Bond flicks have survived through the decades, each director taking a stab at their own rendition. However, Mendes’ work on Skyfall stands out amongst the franchise for a myriad of reasons––but his strategic and skillful use of drones makes this film truly special. The opening scene pulls the audience in through a rough and tumble motorbike chase scene, with Bond heroically chasing after the baddie across the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. But what is so compelling is just how impossible it would have been to shoot in a pre-drone era. This scene focuses predominantly on capturing aerial footage. The two zoom around, take tight turns, make dangerous jumps––all of which are captured by the drone. And it’s not just the variety of twists and turns that the drone captures that is impressive; it’s the speed of the bikes and the drone’s ability to keep up, that makes this opening scene so exciting to watch. While some of the shots are clean and steady, reinforcing the drone’s impressive shooting abilities, there are also moments of strategically used shaky-cam, making the viewer feels as if they, too, are on the roofs of Istanbul. This particular scene was shot by Flying-Cam, a drone company that has been used in movies such as “Oblivion,” “Prisoners,” the “Harry Potter” movies, “Mission Impossible,” and “Transformers.” Flying-Cam was awarded the Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. According to Derek Kuhn, vice president of sales and marketing at QNX Software Systems, “For motion pictures, there is no greater honor than the Academy Awards, and we are thrilled that the Flying-Cam SARAH system, which features QNX technology, has received a 2014 Scientific and Technical Award in recognition of its significant contribution to the movie industry.”
The Greatest Showman, 2017
Proudly boasting the first ever “drone catch” in a major motion picture, Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman (2017) stunned box offices and tech lovers alike. And in case you’re wondering, a drone catch is just that: the catching of a drone. It’s a literal handoff of a drone from air to hand in one fluid motion. While this may sound relatively straightforward, it’s actually quite an expert maneuver, the challenge being keeping the camera completely steady. Founder of JonnyDrones, Jon Graham, was the man behind the film’s impressive drone shooting and drone catching. His work focuses specifically on what he calls “cinema drone piloting” and camera operating, a field that has become more and more popular as drones make their way into an increasing amount of films. According to Graham, “Custom designed handles were used to carry the camera from the air to handheld operation. Richie Guiness, key grip, did a fantastic job catching the drone.” The scene in question was a particularly challenging one in its utter simplicity. As a result, it needed to be quite steady in order to capture Hugh Jackman at center stage, as it were. There weren’t any fancy camera tricks or on-screen tactics to distract the viewer––that camera needed to be steady as it circled around Jackman and the various dancers. “The beauty of filming with a drone is that every shot is different,” explains Graham. “This makes perfecting a take incredibly difficult. Just a millimeter off-target will totally change the look and feel of the drone footage. Add a custom-engineered rig to the equation, and the feat becomes near-impossible.” But with the hard work and technological prowess of Graham’s team, the scene was executed flawlessly, ultimately resulting in the film’s enormous success.
Jurassic World, 2015
Just when you thought you’ve seen everything a drone is capable of doing, Colin T. Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015) swoops in and changes the narrative. Amongst the various usages of aerial footage shot via drone throughout the film, there is one scene in particular that manages to reinvent the standard drone-captured footage. A drone swoops down, mimicking the movements of a pterosaur, flying over a crowd of people who are running away from danger. As a result, the audience feels that they, themselves, are this flying dinosaur as they inhabit its point of view, adding a whole new layer of fear and intrigue. Trevorrow could have decided not to shoot this way––he could have used any standard camera angles, or simply relied on CGI. But instead, he and the people at Team 5 Aerial System Rentals used this scene as an opportunity to show just what drones are capable of shooting. Team 5 has been involved in a myriad of well-known blockbusters, including The Purge (2013), Taken 3 (2014), San Andreas (2015) and Straight Outta Compton (2015).
The Expendables 3, 2014
With a whopping 30 scenes of Patrick Hughes’ The Expendables 3 (2014) being shot via drone, it’s no wonder this film has been deemed a pretty epic threequel. But for this discussion, the shot in question is the film’s titular opening scene––and it’s a scene that’s got it all: explosions, helicopters, fast-moving trains, and so much more, all of which were successfully and skillfully captured on ZM Interactive drone.“We flew right next to a train and helicopter,” explains Pilot Zim Marom. “We shot everything from chasing tanks to explosions to flying over buildings and motorcycle jumps. We can also do shots that a real helicopter can’t do. We can do lower altitudes.” Indeed, these shots would have been virtually impossible to capture without a drone, due to the speed, heights, and generally dangerous feats that involved in this epic opening scene. When it comes to Hughes’ directorial style, more is certainly more.
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