In c.1505, Leonardo Da Vinci published his codex named ‘The Flight of Birds’ compiling notes and findings of his extensive research into what enables birds to fly. Along with this analysis, Da Vinci proposed mechanisms facilitating flight by machine, and even tested a few of his proposals himself.
Fast forwarding roughly 500 years, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Martin Scorsese’s BAFTA nominated 2012 film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, with an impressive production budget of $100 Million. However, what you might not be aware of is that the film’s director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto, employed the use of cinematography drones to capture famous shots featured within the film. Secondary Unit Director, Rob Legato, was in charge of bringing Prieto’s dream to life, making use of a Cannon C500 which was rigged to an Octocopter drone. An Octocopter drone device features eight blades which are located on top of the drone, allowing to both film and photograph aerial shots, which later can be edited for the final production.
(Octocopter Photo via Mighty Sky Film)
The footage in the clip below was filmed by an octocopter drone similar to the one pictured above, and then edited by production staff to portray a boisterous, heavily populated rooftop party, in Jordan Belford’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) beachside home in the Hamptons.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is not alone in its use of drone technology to captivate the eyes of its viewers. In fact, this method of cinematography has vastly grown in popularity. Other high grossing films have acknowledged the advantage of using drones to film scenes that would have been otherwise impossible, or at the very least extremely expensive to capture. A prime example of this would be in the 2012 James Bond film, ‘Skyfall’. In which the opening scene features a high intensity action sequence, film directors made the decision to use drones in replacement of traditional film cameras in order to keep up with the action, preventing choppy clips which would impact upon the general flow of the film. The footage provides both a birds-eye view of Bond chasing an assailant, but also features fast-paced twists through the streets of Istanbul, drawing viewers in and creating the impression that they are witnessing these scenes first hand.
Alternatively, in one of the more contemporary Jurassic Park films, ‘Jurassic World’ (2015) there is another excellent example of how drones can be employed to create a visually captivating and engaging cinematic experience. As drone technology can manoeuvre in ways which a normal film camera cannot, in this case following the bird-like movements of a flying dinosaur's attack, it provides a stylistic edge to the cinematography within the film. Using drones to film these segments is not only appealing to the viewers who are thrust into this change of pace rather suddenly, but also to those behind the camera, as it offers up a whole range of new ideas on how movies are filmed and enjoyed. In the clip below, the camera switches from the perspective of the protagonists to that of the antagonists, or in this case, carnivorous Pterosaurs diving down from the sky to attack the crowd of visitors to Jurassic Park.
Though the previous examples are some of the most popular films and franchises of all time, the use of drone technology for filming is not reserved only for the big screens. With popular series such as ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Narcos’, and ‘Outlander’ all making use of drone equipment to create the perfect viewing experience. While drone technology makes the filming process easier for directors behind the camera, it also helps to elevate the production value of the show in the eyes of the audience, adding another layer to the illusion of storytelling at hand.
The use of drones within cinematography truly is an indispensable tool for directors to revolutionise the way audiences watch movies. By offering up new angles and perspectives for filmmakers to toy with, drones arguably have introduced a completely new era of visual storytelling. Drone technology in film has not only proven to be durable, versatile, and affordable, but also demonstrated its ability to capture amazing footage that has reformed the way stories are told through film. It's fair to say that we’ve come a long way from Leonardo Da Vinci’s visionary codex to the contemporary era of filmmaking, and though the use of this technology is relatively new in film, what can be said for certain is, that drones will play an integral role in the not-so-distant future of filmmaking.
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