Before There Was Drone Photography, There Was Pigeon Photography

James Bond is in Turkey, in hot pursuit of a villain.
When a car chase dead-ends with a crash in a crowded bazaar, the bad guy commissions a stranger’s motorcycle, so Bond does too. His passage blocked by a truck, the bad guy rides his bike up a dark stone staircase and then off a balcony. Bond follows and they’re suddenly both careening on motorcycles over and across the narrow walkways of uneven adobe rooftops.

The perspective switches between close shots of Bond and the bad guy, ‘ground’ shots from rooftop-level, some of them apace with the cyclists, and sweeping aerial panoramas of Istanbul and the drama playing out below.

Imagine you’re a filmmaker. How on earth do you get these shots?

Do you run through the parts of the sequence a different billion times, shooting from several different rigs, including several on tripods of different heights to catch the different stunts, one on a motorcycle closely tailing the actors, and one on a helicopter above the action — far enough away to be safe and to avoid making the scene look like a helicopter is about to land on top of them with wind and shadow?

If this was 2002, you might do all that. But nowadays, you’re going to have an easier shoot, get better footage, and save more money by sticking your camera on helidrone.

Aerial photography is a hybrid of three major technologies that debuted in the 19th century: aviation, remote control vehicles, and photography. Over the last 150 years each of these technologies have improved by leaps and bounds to make the genre of aerial photography better, more accessible, and more popular than ever before. But it’s been a long road to affordable aerial cinema, with a lot of detours.

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