Drones are here to stay and this emerging technology is unleashing new possibilities and opportunities for private and commercial use, with a noticeable adoption of the technology by those in media, live events, video and film production.
Surging in popularity, drones are totally reshaping these industries, and according to a PWC report - they have the potential to replace billions of dollars in business across key areas of the economy, including transportation, security and agriculture. The value of drone-powered solutions to all applicable industries has been pegged at a staggering US$127 billion dollars. The media and entertainment sector is right in the crosshairs of this shift with a possible impact projected at US$9 billion*.
According to Mediatech Africa trade show director, Simon Robinson, just like the IT revolution re-engineered how businesses operate, so too are drones drastically altering the events, media, and film making industries.
"The most obvious application is aerial photography and filming as they offer a safe, cost-effective and easily deployable alternative to traditional methods - and can capture images and video with greater flexibility too," says Robinson.
According to Visual Impact director, Goran Music, where you would normally need moving platforms and rigging to shoot aerial and high angle shots - with the application of drones, this constraint can in some cases be removed; though shots within 50m of people, buildings and public roads would be precluded due to stringent drone regulations in SA, with the exception of such operators who have obtained an exemption from the SACAA and is listed in their operational specifications. "The technological capabilities of drones have dramatically improved, and this evolution allows you to attach the same camera you would use for stills onto a heavier weight-bearing drone."
More than this, Music adds that drones have the potential to improve production times if the operator is highly skilled and has all the legal approvals to operate a drone in a particular place - which in turn can pass on cost savings. "The bottom line is further impacted by the fact that drones move effectively and in a controlled manor and one drone can replace two or three outmoded solutions. Creatively you can do so much more with a drone operated camera which also opens up new opportunities for those who produce TVCs - particularly when cars are involved," says Music.
"Due to the dynamic film making capability of drones, directors have increasingly and specifically been writing scripts for shots that use drones," says Jonathan O' Connell, owner of Timeslice Cinematography, a specialist high end feature film and TVC drone operator offering Arri Alexa Mini and RED Weapon camera options on its drones. O' Connell elaborates by saying, "Drone shots have a unique capability of romance; they take the viewer on a journey that evokes emotions few other methods of film making can. By being able to offer an anamorphic lens option on our drones, this emotion is further amplified."
"While technology is ever evolving and improving, great results are also dependent on the pilot, camera operator, operating conditions and clear communication between team members," says O' Connell. "Directors and creatives are constantly seeking to push boundaries to create sensational and intriguing content. Our aim is to work with creatives to be able to achieve these results in a safe, professional and reliable manner." South African Aviation Legislation, Part 101, pertaining to the use of drones is considered to be amongst the most stringent in the world. "Flying drones for commercial purposes in South Africa thus requires very serious considerations from legal and logistical standpoints, as well as performance limitations," says O' Connell.
Of course outside of the production environment - drones are making waves in the sporting and events industry - adding novelty value on the show floor and occasionally to outdoor events. The challenge to craft events that are matchless, unforgettable and noticeably unique has never been greater and drones have the ability to meet this requirement. This is particularly true internationally where drone usage is less regulated than in South Africa.
"Competition being what it is - it's no longer enough to have run of the mill events and giving audiences something that will heighten their in-the-moment experience and later continue to connect emotion with the event is a predictor of success," says Robinson. A great example of such an occasion; Intel staged a light show with 100 drones moving in concert to orchestra music - taking entertainment with drones to a whole new level. "Drones present unparalleled possibilities at events by blending the best of technology with the power of human interaction and can contribute to the staging of amazing experiences. Whether something like this could ever be pulled off in South Africa is debatable - not because we lack skill and talent - but because our controls would make it impossible."
Something that has taken off locally and is proving hugely popular is FPV drone racing which is a big spectator sport that has a lot of money behind it. Spectators watch the FPV feeds of drone pilots as they navigate tight sequences, going go head to head through exciting neon-lit race courses. The pilots compete for serious prize money when it comes to international competitions like the World Drone Prix. "This is a real example of when sport meets technology," adds Robinson.
"We are seeing exciting developments in technology particularly as far as drones are concerned. Not just in the film and events industry but also for doing great good for social causes - delivering medicines to war torn countries and addressing rhino poaching are examples of this. It probably won't be long before we see drone highways," concludes Robinson.
This year media and entertainment trade show Mediatech Africa - on between 19 and 21 July - has introduced a drone cage exhibition which will showcase the best cameras and drones the industry has available. Leading operators will discuss operating within the current legislation and the impact of drone usage in film and broadcasting production.