There have already been a number of blockbuster Hollywood films – including “Skyfall,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Spectre” – that have used drone cinematography for spectacular effects, and that’s opened up the opportunity for small budget film producers also to use drones. In their search for the drones with the best image stabilization, longest flight time and ultra smooth image capabilities, they are embracing drones such as the DJI Phantom 4 for production.

DJI Phantom 4

The DJI Phantom 4, which launched in March 2016, has already become a favorite of amateur drone filmmakers, who laud the drone for its ease of operation and its fantastic image capabilities. Flying the drone is so easy that even a child can do it, thanks largely to the drone’s obstacle avoidance technology, which literally brings the drone to a halt before it crashes into a fence, wall or other obstacle. That’s crucial, because it enables film producers to capture exactly the shot they want without worrying about crashing their drone.

Drone movies are “in”

One of the best-known drone movies – the three-minute short “Superman With A GoPro” from Corridor Digital – highlights what can be done with a DJI Phantom 4. The film includes plenty of aerial shots, capturing what Superman sees as he is soaring above the city, as well as some tight action sequences, like when Superman flies through a very narrow alleyway. On YouTube, “Superman with a GoPro” has already picked up 20 million views.

If we take a closer look at how drones have already been used in Hollywood films, it’s possible to get a better idea of how small budget film producers can use the DJI Phantom 4 for future movies:

  • Chase scenes – These scenes are where drones excel, because they can follow the action where helicopters cannot. One of the most famous action scenes ever captured by a drone was a motorbike chase scene in “Skyfall” featuring James Bond riding a motorbike on the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • Action sequences – “The Expendables 3” featured a high-energy action scene involving a train and helicopter, bullets, explosions and a daring rescue. A drone was able to get close enough to film the action, whereas another helicopter following the first helicopter would not have been able to capture the scene.
  • Escape scenes – Another James Bond movie – “Spectre” – also used drones, this time to capture James Bond’s escape from a fire on a rooftop in London from a unique aerial vantage point.
  • Party scenes – “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a 2013 film that depicted the excesses of Wall Street, has one famous pool party scene that was captured via drone. This shot would not have been possible with a conventional camera.

Phantom 4 Specifications

The DJI Phantom 4, though, could raise the stakes even higher for drone cinematography. That’s because the camera on the drone is capable of shooting 4K at 30 frames per second and 1080p at 120 frames per second. The high fps rate for 1080p means that film producers can capture incredibly fast movements – think skiers headed down a mountain or sprinters competing at the Olympics – in slow motion. Some drone filmmakers, in fact, love to include a slow motion shot that perfectly encapsulates fast action sequences.

 

And the DJI Phantom 4 is also helping to popularize the “drone selfie” (aka “dronie”) which is basically a selfie taken with a drone. Instead of a huge selfie stick to capture a wider angle, you can just use a drone. This might become a tool for indie filmmakers to capture the types of scenes where a character explains what they’re really thinking at a certain point of the movie.

And, of course, the type of drone shot that is classic by now is the long, extended tracking shot over beautiful natural terrain. You can imagine drones using sweeping cinematography to capture shots of mountains, oceans, or a giant prairie. DJI, for example, has promoted some amazing aerial shots of an erupting volcano in Iceland as an example of how drones like the Phantom 4 can capture some amazing nature shots in places that humans simply can’t go.

Phantom 4 Overview of Volcano in Poland

For more examples of how budget film producers might use the DJI Phantom 4 for upcoming film projects, it’s worth checking out the results of the annual NYC Drone Film Festival, which featured 35 different films from 152 submissions in its first year. You can also check out some of the highlighted films on the DJI Showcase website. Current drone films shot with the Phantom 4 include a scene of horses in nature (“Brazilian Criollo”), a sailboat race and an epic landscape scene in Norway (“Lofoten Landscapes”).

There are, of course, certain things to keep in mind before you go out and starting filming the next great drone movie. One is that you have to simultaneously fly the drone and capture the image you want. The solution until recently had been to have a two-man crew, one in charge of flying and one in charge of getting the camera angle and shot.

In many ways, the DJI Phantom 4 makes that job easier by removing the need for a drone pilot. As noted above, the drone comes with obstacle avoidance, so you don’t have to worry about crashing. And it also includes tools like “Tap Fly” and “Active Track” to make it possible to fly to where the action is. And with all the enhanced image stabilization feature of the Phantom 4, you don’t have to worry about shaky or blurry imagery.

Another point to keep in mind is the average flight time of the drone. The DJI Phantom 4 comes with a 25-30 minute flight time. It’s also capable of flying at 45 mph. So you can think of this as flying 10-15 minutes in one direction, and then 10-15 minutes back home. Even if you managed to secure clearance to fly the Phantom 4 over the buildings of New York, you might not be able to get around all of Manhattan with that limited flight time – although some have tried. On YouTube, there are plenty of “Aerial NYC” drone movies.

At one time, using drones for filmmaking was a novelty. But now it’s becoming increasingly mainstream, much like tracking shots or Steadicam shots. It’s just one more tool in the toolbox of the modern filmmaker. Going forward, expect to see new creativity and innovation as drones become lighter, faster and even better at capturing just about any shot.