What’s So Good About Drones in Film? (Besides Being Super Cool)

Drones, aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), are an increasingly integral part of film. Filmmakers are exploring the possibilities of this new, game changing technology and shooting scenes in ways never done before.

As film gear has gotten lighter, more compact, and more sophisticated, filming with drones has become, not only feasible, but often the right tool for the job. More than that, the tech has become more accessible to filmmakers of all levels, breeding new perspectives and dynamism from diverse sources.

This is a huge deal for the indie film community, where money and resources are often tight. Even our own InFocus Film School students have used drones in their student films!

 
 
SO WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT DRONES?
 

  1. More Affordable

Off the bat, drones are considerably cheaper than using helicopters or cranes. While helicopters can cost you thousands of dollars, the price for a drone and crew can start around a few hundred, depending on the size and weight of the gear. In fact, here’s a list of budget drones if you’d like to get one yourself.
 

  1. Safer

Since helicopters are manned, in the case of an accident, it’s inevitable that someone will get hurt. Their size, weight, and components also mean the clean up is a big, costly undertaking. Drones, on the other hand, are unmanned and small. This means the impact of an accident is greatly reduced, and usually the only clean up is throwing out the pieces.

 

  1. Saves Time

Stressing out about the production schedule? Drones reduce the amount of setup time needed. While setting up a shot with a helicopter can take hours, setting up one with a drone can be done in a matter of minutes.

 

  1. More Flexible

Their compact size allows drones to fit into tight spaces and film from a fresh, difficult perspective with ease. They’re also great at filming an uninterrupted shot with multiple views. You could shoot a scene that begins indoors and then swoops outside–up into the sky–without a single cut.

Their small size and noise also mean they create smaller shadows, less air disturbance, and can fly lower than helicopters.

 

 

AN UNEXPECTED EXAMPLE

Chappie (2015) by Neill Blomkamp used drones in various, distinct ways. In one instance, the movie follows a robot character’s POV as he flies through a window. A scene like that is impossible with a helicopter. It can be done on a cable cam, but it wouldn’t give the same organic feeling captured in the scene. Chappie also used drones without cameras as a point of reference for actors dealing with a CGI character that isn’t really there.

You can find out more in this interview with Chappie Drone Operator John Gore, from The Credits.

 

 

DRONE SAFETY AND REGULATIONS

 

Drones may be safer than helicopters, but you still need to worry about safety. Injuries have happened (though mostly involving hobbyists)–including Enrique Iglesias, who may have injured his hand permanently from reaching for one and slicing his fingers on the rotors. With drones still so new, we still have yet to see the full extent of risks and legislations.

 

If you want to use drones in your own films, here are some things you need to know:

Transport Canada regulates the use of drones (UAV/UAS) and the penalty for misuse can include $25,000 fines and/or jail time. The consequences are so severe because the potential to do harm is enormous: you can put aircraft at risk, endanger lives and property, trespass and violate privacy.  

The legal and safety requirements of using drones in filmmaking depend on your proximity to airports and populated areas.  A Special Flight Operations Certificate is typically required (with a few exemptions) and the operator must abide by specific conditions. This determines usage times, maximum altitudes, minimum distances from people and property, and will coordinate with air traffic services in the area. Remember to allow plenty of time to make the application and secure the certificate–they are processed first-come-first-served and can take up to 20 days!

Indoor use, extreme weather and radio interference can also adversely affect the flying characteristics of the drone, so cleared flight paths and perimeters must be established and adhered to. Crew and cast must be notified of the use of the drone (the ACTSafe Bulletin is typically attached to the Call Sheet) and a clearly defined safety meeting must be held in advance of drone use. (See #5 – Safety Meetings)

 

References for the Bulletin and regulations:

ACTSafeBC – UAS (Drone) Safety Bulletin

Transport Canada – Rules for the safe use of Drones

 

 

Though drones have been creating tension arising from safety, legislation, and the opinions of filmmakers on the usage of drones, no one can deny their place in film. Drones are reshaping the way filmmakers see the world and they’re here to stay.

Introducing Our Compositing Program & VFX Diploma Program

Chris Pratt in front of a green screen for Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) VFX breakdown

By Renée Sutton

 

From creating fantastical landscapes to trapping a boy in a boat with a tiger (Life of Pi), Visual Effects (VFX) have expanded the possibilities in film and television and made it cheaper to fulfill them. But visual effects are more ubiquitous than you think. For every alien planet or flashy explosion, there are many “invisible effects” you don’t spot. Consider the beachside mansions in Wolf of Wall Street or any car in a car commercial—all of these are the work of VFX artists.

 

With the pervasive integration of VFX in both the entertainment and advertising industries, it’s not surprising that the demand for VFX artists is only growing. Vancouver is a major VFX hub in North America, and you can quickly begin working in the local industry with InFocus Film School’s new 3-month Compositing Program and 10-month Visual Effects (VFX) Diploma Program.

 

According to curriculum developer and instructor Amir Jahanlou, these courses were developed after seeing a demand in the local industry. Vancouver is home to many of the major VFX companies, and the 3-month Compositing program was specifically designed as a fast track into the industry. “The Compositing Program is for someone who wants to find a job right away,” said Jahanlou.

 

Jahanlou has worked in Visual Effects for over 12 years, primarily in TV commercials and advertising in Dubai. He said there are currently three streams of professionals needed in the VFX industry: compositing artists, lighting artists, and effects artists. The 10-month VFX Diploma Program covers each of these streams in detail, such as lighting 3D models and environments or creating explosions and weather simulations. The 3-month Compositing Program is primarily focused on 2D effects, composited effects, and preparing students to enter the workforce right away.

 

While not every shot you see on TV needs a lighting or effects artist, Jahanlou explained, almost everything professionally produced will have a compositing element added. This is the reason why the demand for compositing artists is higher, and why the 3-month Compositing Program was created. “The goal is, you come out and you get a job. The goal isn’t to try to teach you every feature of every software or the history of compositing – no, the goal is that you learn the tools that are needed in the industry today,” he said.

 

The Compositing Program covers a variety of skills, such as keying, tracking, stabilization, adding 2D effects and exporting for different types of mediums. Jahanlou said some positions in the VFX industry require years and years of training, but with these well-developed skills, students will be industry-ready and hirable as a junior compositing artist, roto/paint artist, Nuke artist, or compositing artist.

 

Not only do students learn the skills necessary for entry level positions, but they also have dedicated studio time each week to create and understand the full process involved in VFX and compositing. “You get to work on existing footage while you learn the technology and the techniques, and then you end up working on footage you shot yourself so you can understand how the footage could have been better,” Jahanlou said. He said this is the best of both worlds, and having a good understanding of the studio will create a better compositing artist.

 

Each week of the program, students learn and master a new skill, building upon the previous week’s knowledge. Students work with industry standard software, such as Nuke, under the close guidance and mentorship of their instructors. Jahanlou likened the course to a 3-month internship, learning from people who really work in the industry. With a maximum class size of 10, instructors get the opportunity to work with students individually and provide personalized coaching.

 

Applications for both programs are now open and the Compositing for VFX Program intake is for Winter 2018. The VFX Diploma Program will begin in Spring of 2018. Please contact us for more information on costs and course details.

 

Violence and Weapons Safety for Films

Bruce Willis fires a weapon in Die Hard

Though we’re no longer building Colosseums to watch people die gruesomely, violence is still a fan favourite on the big screen. But just because the fights aren’t real doesn’t mean filming them isn’t dangerous. Having violence and weapons on set means you must follow strict rules and guidelines to ensure everyone walks away intact.

Note: Much of this advice is from a Vancouver perspective. However, these are still solid guidelines for anywhere.

 

  1. Blanks Can Kill

In 1984, Jon-Erik Hexum fired a blank-loaded pistol against his head as a joke and sent pieces of his skull into his brain. He died days later.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Blanks might sound harmless, and they’re definitely safer than real bullets, but an explosion is driving air out of the narrow barrel of the gun at an extremely high velocity. This means they can still easily rip bone and metal apart at short range.

Safe distances can vary depending on the load and the width of the barrel. Always heed the safety precautions set by your expert.

 

  1. Have a Police Officer On Set

Big or small, any scene of violence (not just those involving weapons) that can be seen or heard by the public must have a police present on set. No matter how obvious your film set seems to you, the public may misinterpret a glimpse of violence (including screams or gunfire) and call the police–potentially culminating in a SWAT team descending on your set. The situation could dangerously escalate.

Misunderstandings with the police can be intense, like in this incident, so do your utmost to keep authorities in the loop. If in doubt, consult your police department.

 

  1. Only Hire Qualified Weapons Handlers

Don’t try and save money in this area–pay for the trained expert.

Inexperience killed Brandon Lee. The inexperienced prop master on set of The Crow modified live bullets into blanks and dummy rounds (these don’t have gunpowder but keep the lead tip). Unbeknownst to anyone, during a scene where an actor was loading the dummy rounds into a gun, the lead tip became lodged in the barrel. The next scene the same gun was used was where Lee was to be shot at with a blank. The explosion of the blank projected the lead tip into Lee’s abdomen, killing him.

Saving a few dollars cost the lead actor’s life.

 

  1. Never Lose a Weapon

If a weapon, fake or real, goes missing from a film set and is used to commit a crime, the production can become liable.

Ensure all actors return weapons promptly after their scenes. If you have lots of armed background actors, establish a perimeter they can’t take weapons beyond. For example, they must surrender their weapons before leaving the direct area of the set to go to the bathroom, catering, dressing rooms, etc.

PAs and ADs should assist in keeping an eye on weaponry, especially since a misunderstanding can arise if the public sees armed people wandering around.

 

  1. Hold Safety Meetings

In pre-production, you must discuss with your experts (a qualified weapons handler/armourer, stunt coordinator, and effects coordinator) the use of weapons, protective equipment, precautions, and how a scene is to be conducted and draw up protocols.

Go through these protocols in your Production Meeting for the heads of departments. Attach the relevant safety bulletins, guidelines, and directions to the call sheet the day before the scene.

Before shooting the scene, conduct a scene specific safety meeting with the entire crew, relevant cast, and armourer/weapons handler present. Make sure your location is also notified ahead of time of such scenes.

 

  1. Give Actors Ample Time to Train

Allow enough time for actors to learn how to use the weapons without feeling pressured. Send them to the range with the armourer/weapons handler so they can be properly trained. The actors must remain under the armourer/weapons handler’s supervision at all times.

 

  1. Consider Using “Non-guns”

Because they only have a small, electronically triggered squib in the barrel and don’t require blanks, non-guns are significantly safer and quieter than guns.

The fact that they don’t eject shell casings or have moving parts means they can’t be used in a scene where the gun is being loaded, the hammer is being cocked, or a casing is ejected. However, for simple firing, these are a much safer option.

 

  1. Nobody But The Armourer or Trained Actors Handles Weapons

This should be straightforward but bears repeating–loudly: NOBODY but the armourer/weapons handler or trained actors handles the weapons. NO EXCEPTIONS.
 

 

People are killed on set too often due to mishandling of weaponry, but injury and loss of life can be prevented. Safety should always be the top priority. Your creative vision is not worth dying for–no matter how you might feel.