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Watch the Entrancing Hacked GH2 and JamCopter-Shot Aerial Nocturne 'FIREFLY'

12.14.12 @ 10:46AM Tags : , , , , , , ,

We’ve posted about minicopter-mounted cinematography before by the companies Helicam and omstudios — both of which created some spectacular RED EPIC aerial shorts — thought they require a rental/operation package. This is more simply to say that you can’t purchase the minicopters directly from these companies. Recently, another impressive aerially-shot short has surfaced — that’s a bird’s eye night view of a traffic circle (or rotary, or round-about, depending where you’re reading from) at left. This time, the company supplying the minicopter — czech manufacturer JamCopters — actually has their quadrocopter, hexacopter, and octocopter for sale. Read on for some details and the beautiful and quieting FIREFLY short.

Having seen the video a bit out of context, I found myself immediately confounded by how the shots I was seeing were possible — was this a combination of truck-mounted rigs, jib, the borrowing of some news helicopter, and some type of cable-running system? It quickly became clear there was no way to accomplish these shots other than with a remote-operated minicopter, which was exactly how it was done. Here’s FIREFLY:


A bit of looking into JamCopters (Google translate is a godsend) finds a Mr. Jan Dojcan listed as the primary Czech contact for the company — you may notice Dojcan is also listed as the the pilot and technical support advisor for FIREFLY. It must certainly have helped to use an operator so close to this type of gear — the value of an experienced pilot really shows through in the quality of the moves achieved in the short.

Regarding how the short was accomplished, director Jan Minol of Samadhi Production had this to say in the comments on Vimeo:

It was filmed 22:00 – 3:00 so the streets were empty. It was shot with hacked GH2, lens Tokina 11-16 f2.8, sigma 30mm f1.4 and amazing hexacopter from jamcopters.com using Brutus camera head!

JamCopters has a number of gear available for purchase, not least of which include the Quadrocopter and Octocopter. Here’s a beauty shot of the Hexacopter, the model used by this short, and the camera gimbal head Jan mentions above:

The Hexacopter goes for 49,900 CZK, which equates to about $2600, while the Brutus head goes for 19,900 CZK, which converts to a little over $1000. If you’re unconvinced of what these types of minicopters can achieve, check out this demo video also posted by JamCopters:

Needless to say, the amount of finesse is incredible, combining all the best abilities of dollies and jibs, while adding mobility (and some danger in inexperienced hands, as well) to boot — of course, a qualified flyer is necessary for such smoothness and safety. I’d also love to see how a DRAGON-equipped EPIC would’ve resolved those night-scapes — but I do think the GH2 performed admirably, especially in terms of color representation.

What do you guys think of the short, and of the shots such minicopters are able to achieve? Do any of you have experience shooting with such devices, or been involved in a production where one would’ve been useful?

Links:

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  • That’s awesome! I think I know what my next toy will be! :)

  • That’s nice, but if you are more into the “scene” it’s normal flying what you see there. the idee to use it at night and with the led on the skateboard is what makes it so great. i have a quadrocopter and hexacopter and produce some aerials too. it takes some time to fly safe, so try to learn with a small one.

    here is my aerial showreel
    https://vimeo.com/49634005

    regards
    Marcus

    • @Marcus Gelhard: Totally agree. The actual flying is fairly standard stuff but the idea with the LED illuminated skateboard at night is what makes it. A very nice video – although the soundtrack in the ‘Making Of’ is about the most annoying, aggravating song I have ever heard. Had to watch it silent.

  • Yes, we used an octo-copter for an upcoming documentary on the Cathedral in Baltimore. The shots add a great deal to “b roll.” A “wow factor” that trounces a Steadicam.

    The key here is that an octo-copter is the ultimate NOT-DIY project. You want a trained professional pilot using quality gear. There are risks associated with amateur operations — like crashing into things, damaging property, and destroying your camera. A pro will not only know what he/she is doing — but will also be insured.

    We used Chris Baldwin at http://www.grahamriver.com — and I can’t say enough good things about the guy. A true professional who did the job, safely, and with outstanding results. He is based in Ohio — and travels almost anywhere. I can’t say enough good things about the guy. Heck, we even had a flat tire at the end of the day and Chris was the first guy on the ground to fix it — and that’s exactly the kind of guy you want to hire for any production.

    I’d link to sample footage — that is stunning and matches any of the above — but the film is months away from being released and various entities are touchy about footage released from the film prior to the film’s release.

    Again — hire a professional for aerial footage — DO NOT do-it-yourself.

    • Yup. I second that. Thought I could do it myself and the second I saw the helicopter in person I knew I needed to hire a pilot. These aren’t those small little toys copters you buy in the mall. These are little lawn mowers flying around in the air.

  • I’m excited about this gadget. Granted, the short wasn’t much beyond the style — didn’t really go anywhere, in my opinion — but the cinematography and the LED on the bottom of the skateboard made in interesting. The most exciting thing about the movie is the Jamcopter. I love the GH2′s visuals but the Jamcopter took it to a new level for me.

    I flew around in a helicopter to help shoot a feature I worked on last year and to think that it’s possible to get the same quality shots with this kind of gear is thrilling.

    I do agree with the comments about hiring a professional to get your aerial footage, but I’m also of the mind that with enough practice, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to do it on your own. I guess that’s the time vs. money trade-off.

    • That and it takes a LOT more time than you think it will. I thought the same thing “hey, I’m good at video games…this should take only two weeks”. Ha ha. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Wouldn’t feel comfortable being out on a shoot even after a year of practice flying one of these. Who knows, maybe you would pick it up faster though!

      • i did my first job after one year of flying and now i’m doing it for the second year and still found some situations where i feel uncomfortable. it’s possible to learn, but start small and plan some money for that, because you not only need a copter, you need a remote (starting at 400$), batterys (one around 80$ and more), charger, videodownling… and most of the stuff you can buy will fly vibration free, so a lot of finetuning etc. it’s a long way, but if you mastered it, it’s fun and great to see the pictures after a job on the screen.

      • Stu MacQuarrie on 12.14.12 @ 1:39PM

        Amen. I always thought, “that looks easy!”

        Then I went up with a pilot in a real helicopter, and was stunned to realize that all of those “yanking and banking” maneuvers you see in movies don’t require significant hand motion. In fact, keeping the thing level and stable requires just the lightest touch with 2 fingers on the cyclic — more touchy than any video game. If you “yank”, you crash.

        I looked into the smaller hexacopters, but it’s almost more trouble than the “wow” factor of the shot. Especially in terms of weather conditions where you’ll get tossed around by the slightest gust of wind. Very difficult, and definitely the realm of a professional who is passionate and expert at all aspects of flight. Stick to the story, and hire someone good.

        Marcus … that stability is outstanding, and it doesn’t look like warp-stabilized jelly! How did you manage to achieve that kind of stability? It looks like you’re shooting with a much bigger rig!

        • These small octo or hexa coptors don’t fly like large single rotor helicopters AT ALL. The large number of rotor blades gives them great stability, and added to that they are mostly flown by computers, not the pilot. You can get models where you can pretty much say “start at point A and go to point B” and the copter does all the work.

          • thats right Asdf, but with waypoint navigation you didn’t get a smooth path like you get when you fly manual.

            @Stu
            It’s warp stabilised, but there are only small shakings most of the tme which you can smooth with the warp stabiliser pretty good as you see. but when you have something in near to the camera passing by, you get problems with the stabiliser. so it’s always the goal to get less vibrations possible.
            my quadrcopter which all of this stuff is made with it’s actually smaller then this hexa. i used a lighter cameragimbal and a sony nex5n, which is also lighter then the gh2. so overall with battery and camera it’s 2,5kg

      • This is the exact same idea as a Steadicam – it won’t do the work for you. It takes a trained, seasoned professional to get professional results. That shouldn’t discourage anyone from learning, but it should give them a reasonable expectation of what to expect when learning any of these skills.

        I know almost nothing about shooting with helicopters, but I assume its products are full of the same marketing nonsense in the camera stabilization market, promising easy setup, a fast learning curve and professional results out of the box.

  • Be aware that using RC helicopters for commercial work is currently in regulatory limbo in the US. The FAA shut things down last year. Before anybody starts buying gear I would check into that.

    http://mi6films.com/2011/rc-helicopter-mikrokopter-hexa-helicopter/faa-has-restricted-all-rc-helicopter-flight-in-the-usa-airspace/687/

  • What exactly are the laws related to using these to film with? I know that not until long ago, the FAA was saying you had to have a real “pilots license” as in an airplane license to operate one for commercial purposes, and that it was a $10,000 fine if you didn’t follow that. More recently the FAA announced that it’s working on new rules to accommodate the industry somehow–meaning regulate it, charge fees probably, etc.

    Just not sure exactly how they can be used in the U.S. now legally. Does it depend on how high they can go, or distance from the controller, or what?

  • Should’ve painted out wheels and call it MCFLY

  • Here is another link to aerial shots.

    http://vimeo.com/49676154

    This is our Airreel 2012. It shows, what can be done with multicopter aerial filming nowadays. These shots are possible with rc controlled helicopters but they are difficult to achieve by manned aircraft. Don´t be fooled though, as a couple of guys already mentioned above, this is NOT a DIY project.
    We have seen DOP´s in the past, thinking, they could just pick a cameraman and have him learn to fly such an aircraft in a couple of weeks. That idea cost them a tonload of money. To get the shot you want it requires a highly sophisticated flying machine that can not be purchased off the shelf (even though a couple of manufacturers will tell you differently), tons of surrounding equipment and most importantly a very experienced pilot knowing exactly what he is capable of and what he can and can not do.

    These aircraft nowadays can be flown with waypoint navigation and GPS and have electronic stabilization circuits on board that keep them stable, which mostly fools people into believing, it is easy to fly them. It is NOT! Especially not, when you equip them with a RED or other expensive camera equipment.

    We are lucky to be based in germany, since here it is allowed to use them for commercial work. A growing number of directors and DOP´s want them for their film projects and so we are working on interesting projects. We would like to film stateside as well but as of now it looks like this will not be possible for commercial work until the FAA has figured out what she wants.

  • Out of curiosity, anyone know about the legality (in the USA) of flying RC choppers over areas like the highway intersections at 2:04 in the Firelfly video? Are permits needed? I’ve been envisioning a similar shot for a concept film but I know law enforcement types get very antsy when doing anything unconventional around significant public infrastructure.

  • Our aerial reel.

    https://vimeo.com/45939653

    Just to relay similar sentiment, multirotor aerial platforms are an extensive investment of time and resources. Anyone considering flying their cameras in the air should plan at least a year of constant practicing, tweaking, adjusting, etc. There is currently no commercially available platform this is truly plug and play if you want to fly anything heavier than a GoPro. Keeping a level horizon, minimizing vibrations, keeping copter shadows out of shots, smooth fight… the list of potential issues go on and on. That said, there so many amazing applications for this, and Firefly shows a little creativity can go a long way.

  • Hey Dave

    Loved FIREFLY. Any idea which hack was used in the GH2? Cheers.