Filming "BALANCE" with the Freefly ALTA 8 and MoVI M15

BALANCE is the latest collaboration between Brooklyn Aerials, 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


Behind the Scenes (Long version is coming soon)

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.






When we think about drone footage - particularly from the very popular DJI Phantom - we often envision wide-angle or even a fish-eye look that is far from being cinematic or filmic.

The big advantage of drones (UAVs, multicopters or whatever you want to call them) is their size, which allows filmmakers to get shots that would be impossible with full-sized helicopters.  Especially with close proximity flying, wide angle lenses (16-24mm) can achieve a really interesting look that amplifies speed and proximity.

With the latest technology of octocopters that are getting stronger and can lift higher payloads and more importantly the stabilization reaching a new level of perfection with the Freefly MōVI M10 and M15, we are no longer bound to only using those wide angle lenses.

Brooklyn Aerials has been filming with longer focal lengths for a while now. Take for example, an Under Armour commercial that we shot in the summer of 2014, where we got some amazing tracking shots with 85mm and 100mm Ultra Primes on the RED Epic of a marathon runner, running through the desert in New Mexico.

In a recent test we flew our RED Epic Dragon with a vintage Zeiss 135mm lens - a 170mm equivalent on 35mm sensors. 

Here are the main take-aways:

  • While on a wide-angle, even a 35mm lens focus isn't as critical (close to infinity even at f/4 works for nearly every shot) - on any longer focal length you most definitely need a remote follow focus system, which adds more weight to the rig and adds the complication of having the camera operator try to pull focus and work on the framing simultaneously or requires an additional person that keeps things in focus (or out of focus).
  • Pulling accurate focus also means that you will need a reliable, latency free, long range HD video downlink - a 5.8gHz SD signal that works great for wide-angle applications just won't cut it.  The TERADEK Bolt 2000 is probably the most reliable solution.
  • Long lenses are great for detail shots, scenes with lots of foreground and mediums. Especially slowly rotating around the subject will give an eerie and extreme look, as the background will move at a rapid speed.  You'll also quickly realize that certain shots won't work or won't look as good as you might envision. In particular, wide shots with a very long lens just look like stationary full-sized helicopter shots and have a distinct newsy feel to them.
  • If you use it right you will be able to get shots that won't instantly give away that you are using a drone (which is a good thing).  It opens up a tremendous amount of options to use the technology for better storytelling and really takes drone-cinematography to the next level, as the UAV becomes the tool to move the camera in a very controlled and original fashion and less so to achieve the over-done "drone effect".

Here are a few clips from our test:

Shooting "STREETS" in New York City

At the beginning of July Brooklyn Aerials and Freefly teamed up to create a visual study of New York City with the brand new Freefly TERO: STREETS

We were shooting for three days with the primary idea to get super slow-mo Phantom Miro shots at very high speeds during the day and very symmetric, composed shots with the RED Epic Dragon at night. 

Especially the effect of freezing those iconic and special NYC moments with super slow-motion (1,500 to 2,000fps), yet adding a camera move and parallax to those scenes interested me the most.

With a super small team of just two people (and a BTS camera) we were extremely flexible and able to scout and capture locations within minutes. While we had list of shots that we really wanted to get (an open hydrant, skateboarder with the skyline, handball player and pigeons), we were surprised by others:  Members of the Ghetto Riders in a water gun fight or a dog running in Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, shots that would have been impossible without this set-up and would otherwise require an intense production and budget of a commercial shoot.

Getting the timing right was the most difficult thing for those shots. A stationary slow-motion shot is easy - but timing the TERO so that the camera would pass the subject right at the perfect moment, the peak moment when the water balloons are mid air, the hand of the skinny handballs player hits the ball or the passing hasid is perfectly frozen, mid step; thats the tricky part.

To achieve an instant acceleration without endangering the expensive camera, we added a wheelie bar to the TERO. While it generally picks up a bit more vibration from a rough underground, this was the solution to get the timing right and the TERO up to impressive and fairly scary speeds. 

Overall I was amazed by the footage that we were able to capture. I had a vision for the feel and look I was going for - but had no idea if we could actually pull it off with the Tero-Phantom combo and a documentary approach to a very stylized video. I am glad it all paid off and came together that nicely.

- Tim

The Salton Sea

We are shooting in Southern California right now - at one of the most amazing locations: Box Canyon, just around the corner from Joshua Tree and our final scene during sunset at the Salton Sea.