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The VERTIGO effect: A camera technique never done with a drone by Tim Sessler and Brandon Bray

4/22/2016 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

Today we have the pleasure to feature to  Tim Sessler (website) and Brandon Bray, we hope you enjoy with this story about drones and cinematography:

 BALANCE is the latest collaboration between Brooklyn Aerials and Freefly Systems and Brandon Bray. We had a chance early on to bring along one of the first ALTA 8 prototypes and test it out on a shoot in Kenya in some of the harshest environments, but due to strict Kenyan drone laws we were unable to make a piece with it. Though on the flight back I was already thinking of ways that I wanted to use this new tool to make another aerial film in NYC.


The three preceding collaborations with FREEFLY have all been based in New York and focused around very specific and revolutionary camera techniques and concepts:
  • STREETS: Super slow-motion on the FREFLY TERO
  • MOMENTS: Using the Mimic-Controller for natural camera moves
  • NOSTALGIA: Infrared aerial cinematography with the ALTA 6

The ALTA 8 is the octocopter version of the previously extremely popular ALTA 6 hexacopter. The two additional motors allow for higher payloads, which means that the ALTA can reliably lift a RED CF Weapon or ALEXA MINI with bigger cinema lenses and a total payload of nearly 20lbs.

About a year ago I shot the aerial piece "BECOMING OCEAN" with a MD-500 helicopter in Hawaii - you can read more about the technique and the piece here: BLOG: HELICOPTER + MoVI Aerials

This year I finally had the opportunity to use the same technique in NYC and fly above Manhattan to capture my view of this epic city. Given the current FAA regulations, flying any kind of drone above Manhattan would be considered “reckless operation” and illegal - that means a full sized helicopter is the only reasonable option for those kind of shots.

To execute our idea, we used two new camera techniques:
  1. Extreme roll moves with the MoVI M15
  2. A vertigo drone effect

BALANCE (Behind the scenes short version)

If you look at the majority of today's multicopter and aerial footage in general, you will find a lot of very stable, composed, and mechanical-looking footage. As previously described in my post about the FREEFLY MIMIC: stabilizers like the Freefly MoVI or DJI Ronin have become hugely popular in the last few years because they are such simple tools to achieve hyper-stable results. In comparison, a Steadicam rig would need a lot more experience (both balancing and operating) to get solid results - or a dolly would need much more time and manpower to set up and would limit the amount of coverage that could be shot from this one setup.

So here we are - in a time where 3-axis gimbals are accessible to nearly every level of production and have with no doubt changed the cinematography of the 21st century; for better or worse, replacing both steadicams and dollies in a lot of productions. Though I have no doubt that we are just in the beginning - there is still so much more potential yet to come. With the latest MoVI firmware update, FREEFLY opened up doors to use the gimbal as a timelapse remote head - the MIMIC translates real motion into a stabilized system or acts as a camera tracker. How amazing is that?

To get back to the point that I originally wanted to make: aerial footage these days is perfect. Maybe too perfect? The horizon is always perfectly level, shots for the most part are very straight tracking or push-ins without much life or human feel to them - in other words the technical perfection nearly adds to how removed a lot of these shots feel. By adding even slight roll motions in combinations with tilts and pans you can change footage that feels mechanical and distant to something that feels a lot more natural and motivated.

We definitely pushed the roll moves in our piece to a maximum - to further exemplify the imbalance of our modern day world. But shots like these really speak the most to me, where subtle moves change the whole feel of a shot and scene:


The second technique that we used is something that hasn't been done with a high-end cinema drone before: the VERTIGO effect (or dolly zoom), that we are all familiar with from Hitchcock's masterpiece to films like Goodfellas and Raging Bull.


The basic premise is simple: the move starts at a 45mm focal length and while the camera moves towards the subject you zoom out to the maximum wide angle, while keeping the subject at the exact same size. We achieved this effect with a Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm cine zoom lens and with the help of the RT Motion FIZ that allowed us to control the zoom even from far away.

An accurate zoom that perfectly matches the motion of the camera is one important element to achieving this effect. Though a lot more critical and unfixable in post is the accuracy of the camera movement itself - this really pushed the ALTA 8 to its limits, as the slightest divergence from its path or the most subtle change in altitude would have been extremely visible.

I hope you enjoyed this and I can't wait to see how these camera techniques will be further developed and used in the near future!!



Behind the scenes photos by Sam Hicks. Copyright Brooklyn Aerials, Inc.

This article and all the images were originally published on (here) and shared with his permission

About Tim Sessler:

Cinematographer, MoVI and aerial specialist, visual storyteller and filmmaker based in New York City.

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