Everything You Need to Know About Movie Drones

by Corey Marlow August 01, 2016

Everything You Need to Know About Movie Drones

Drones have been around for a long time, but their consumer popularity has increased only within the last few years. Movie or filmmaking drones are some of the newest editions to the drone family. They are unmanned aerial vehicles outfitted with high-powered cameras to capture professional grade footage that handheld cameras would be unable to produce.

Who uses movie drones?

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) endorsed six different movie companies in their bids to be granted special permission to use drones for filming. Up to that point, all commercial drone use was banned, but the FAA’s endorsement opened the door for drones to be used in several different commercial industries. Today, while commercial drone use is regulated, it is also accepted in most industries and most parts of the country. It’s so widely used in filmmaking, in fact, that it’s likely that you’ve seen a number of movies that feature drone-filmed scenes—whether you knew it or not. Skyfall, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are just a few of the feature films that contain scenes shot by drones. But it’s not just for major filmmakers. Amateur directors and hobbyists are getting in on the drone game as well to shoot amazing, professional aerial footage quickly and easily. And other sales professionals, like real estate agents, are using movie drones to create beautiful marketing videos to showcase their products. This article will outline how and when movie drones are used, the different equipment available, and the best models for every type of filmmaking. For a quick example, take a look at the amazing footage in this video, shot by the multi-rotor DJI Inspire 1 drone.

What are they used for?

Drones allow filmmakers to capture shots that were, before their invention, impossible to record. And as noted above, movie drones are used in everything from major feature films to family wedding videos to create high quality, unique footage that is fun to watch and unparalleled in reach.

Different types of movie drones

There are two main types of drones available on the market and both have pros and cons based on what exactly they are being used for: Fixed wing drones have two fixed wings that extend on either side of the drone. These drones can fly faster, higher, and longer (up to 10x longer than multi-rotor drones). They can also carry more weight, which means that they can often be equipped with more equipment and sensors than multi-rotor drones. The cons of the fixed wing drone is that they are much more expensive than their counterparts and they do not handle as well as the multi-rotor drones. To that end, they require more space to take off and land, and also more space for transport and storage. Multi-rotor drones are generally less expensive and much more maneuverable, meaning that they access small, tight spaces much more easily than fixed wing drones. They are also easier to use. As noted above, they won’t fly as long (most only about 15-30 minutes) or as far as fixed wing drones, so they’re best suited for recording shorter shots that may require quick, precise movements in flight. For most filmmakers using drones, a multi-rotor version is the best option. That’s because they have a high range of maneuverability, making it much easier to capture memorable footage as well as shots of moving targets, something that simply isn’t possible with fixed wing models.

Imaging equipment As you’ve probably guessed, one of the most important parts of a movie drone is the camera that it’s equipped with. When movie drones began to hit the market, consumers often had to spend huge amounts of money to purchase a drone that was both easy to operate and boasted a high-power camera. But that’s no longer the case. With the introduction of 4k cameras to the movie drone market, consumers no longer have to break the bank to buy a drone that produces professional grade footage. These cameras capture long range and short range targets with clarity and precision and can easily compensate for the movements of the drone while flying. If 4k equipped drones are still priced higher than what you’d like to spend, you can consider purchasing a commercial drone and equipping it with a 4k GoPro or other high-resolution camera. If you do this, however, you’re likely to sacrifice some of the stability and control that you get with a camera-equipped movie drone.

Top movie drones

There are a lot of movie drones on the market, but there are only a few that combine reliable and quality equipment with an affordable price.

Here are three of those drones:

DJI Inspire 1 Series—these drones (the Inspire Pro/Raw and the Inspire 1) are the smallest, easiest to operate, and most professional aerial filmmaking models on the market. They are the first consumer-grade drones that come ready to shoot with a 4k cameras so that you can capture beautiful, clear, complete footage.

Matrice 600—a hearty, reliable, and well-equipped model from DJI that is easy to use and ready in just minutes. It features actively cooled motors and dust proof propulsion to ensure that the drone will operate for long periods of time with no interruptions.

Freefly Alta 6 Cinema—easy to fly and powerful, the Alta 6 Cinema unpacks and is ready to go in five minutes. Its state-of-the-art flight controller makes this model reliable and adaptable and fun to fly.

Rules and regulations

With the increase in drone popularity has also come an increase in laws related to drone usage (and steep fees for violating those laws). Most of these laws vary by state and most revolve around privacy infringement. Since you’ll likely be using your movie drone in public spaces, it’s a good idea to do some research on exactly what laws and regulations regarding drones exist where you live. It’s also important to note that, as of December of 2015, if your drone weighs more than .55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, it needs to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). There are other rules for flying drones in public spaces, such as:
  • Flying in the daylight.
  • Flying under 400 feet.
  • Establishing a direct line-of-sight.
  • Not flying in national parks.
  • Not flying directly over people.
Special certifications for commercial drone operators

You should also remember that if you’re operating your drone for commercial purposes (any purpose that’s tied directly to economic benefit), you’re required to have a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. Additionally, professional videographers need to apply for a Section 333 Exemption with the FAA at least 120 days before they plan to film for a job. The good news is, since September 2014, the FAA has granted about 88% of the Section 333 Exemption requests that it has received.

Drone Insurance

And if you are flying your movie drone for commercial purposes, it’s a good idea to insure it. The price of insurance will depend on where you live and what type of drone that you’re flying, but it’s likely that having insurance on your equipment will save you money and a lot of headaches in the long run. This is especially important since you’ll likely be flying your drone in areas where other people may be.

So, is it the right time for you to invest in a movie drone?

If you want to take your filmmaking to the next level and record truly breathtaking, unique footage, a movie drone is a great way to do it. And, as the popularity of drones has increased, so has their accessibility to the general public. Today, they are more powerful, easier to use, and more affordable than ever.

Corey Marlow
Corey Marlow