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Game of Drones

Filmmakers are increasingly using drones to get close and wide-angle shots of the action.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul |
Updated: September 9, 2015 11:22:42 am

As a first-time director of a high-octane action film, Sajid Nadiadwala wanted the best of technology to assist his skills behind the camera. Apart from foreign locations, he opted for a few international technicians. But, for the kind of fight sequences he had planned for the film’s lead, Salman Khan, which involved scaling and descending from highrises while pulling off a heist, he didn’t want to kill the impact by using long zoom lens. That’s when he decided to adopt the Hollywood practice of employing drones in the film Kick (2014).

“In locations where the result of a long zoom is too dull and helicopters are too huge to be used, drones work perfectly. In scenes shot between two high-rises, we could film Salman from multiple angles, from bird’s eye view to worm’s eye view,” says the producer-turned-director. His production house, Nadiadwala Grandsons, has since used drones for the shooting of Kabir Khan’s latest, Phantom, and is in further talks with drone companies.

The use of drones is becoming common in filming. This isn’t limited to feature films alone but also includes documentary and ad films. Most large-scale live events today use drones for surveillance as well as filming. Quidich, a company that builds and leases out drones, was the official partner of NH7 Weekender and Supersonic music festivals and helped organisers film the event as well as watch out for trouble.

“Drones have been around for 40 years and have been used chiefly for surveillance. The idea of planting cameras on them to take beautiful shots from various
angles is new,” says Gaurav Mehta, who co-owns Quidich.

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There are two kinds of basic drones — fixed wing, which are like aircraft and need space to take off and land, and multirotors that are mini-helicopters. The latter have low battery life but, when the eight-propeller was introduced, they became more stable and could be used to provide quality footage.

Shinil Shekhar of Airpix, a Mumbai-based drone making and leasing company, says the biggest advantage of using this technology is their ability to come as close as possible to the subject and yet provide a wide-angle shot. “Even helicopters cannot pull this off. One requires an endless number of permissions and other infrastructure to use helicopters for shooting,” says Shekhar. Airpix, which specialises in providing aerial data collection and processing services to industries as varied as real estate, industrial inspections, mining, agriculture and surveying, has also helped film documentaries, TV shows and live events. “We’ve worked on the India Surf Festival and a Brazilian TV series called Kayak,” says Shekhar.

While renting drones is easy and doesn’t require extensive paperwork, an experienced and well-trained pilot and camera operator are a must. “These two personnel are sent along with the equipment when a crew hires drones for shooting,” says Bharath Yadav of Bangalore-based Edall Systems. In order to provide the shots that a scene demands, it is important to have a cinematographer on board. The “live downlink” provides live view from the camera as the drone hovers above. Once the cinematographer confirms that the drone is in the right position, the record button on the camera is switched on via remote and the filming can begins.

While use of drones in international locations is common, it come with a few caveats in India — flying drones above 400 meters requires special permission from the police department. Quidich alone has executed 250 projects in the two years since its inception, providing services to a variety of clients, including MTV Roadies and Viacom and is in talks with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s production house for Mirziya.

The use of this technology may have been considered expensive until a couple of years ago but, as the number of providers increases, a drone can be rented for Rs 5,000 a day. Mehta points out that a hi-tech product with quality camera can cost upwards of Rs 20,000 a day.

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