Pen is mightier than the sword.

Even in the face of major hurdles, drones are helping to elevate our storytelling

Here’s how hobbyists-turned-professionals-turned-advocates make art with flying cameras

The impressive capabilities of drone technology are pushing a selection of filmmakers from every corner of the globe to create media using drones. Their curiosity, love of craft and fascination with the science encourages pilots to stop by the New York City Drone Film Festival, a festival dedicated to celebrating the art of drone cinematography.

Telling a story with a drone, or drones, however, is no easy feat. Being a drone cinematographer requires learning many cross-disciplinary skills. Makers are expected to be a pilot, to troubleshoot equipment if a problem arises, to get a beautiful photographic image. Most of all, they are expected not to crash it and ruin the party for everyone.

With all these obstacles, how are these high-flying devices helping push the boundaries of creativity and process?

It’s at the New York City Drone Film Festival that enthusiasts convene to both exhibit and celebrate their work in front of industry professionals and cinema enthusiasts. It’s at NYCDFF that they discuss the changing landscape of this wild west of filmmaking and engage in panels of topics that are affecting the drone industry.

Drone technology is poised to change cinema production by redefining what is possible because it enables people to capture shots that were at one time unachievable. However, the festival showed a glimpse of the future of drone storytelling and it’s not just about getting those spectacular bird’s eye views.

Wielding An Unmanned Camera

Drones fly places where men and women cannot go. The machines are built to capture visuals from remote and challenging locations. From above cityscapes to the inside of volcanoes to the rubble of areas ravaged by natural disaster, drones can communicate scale and achieve technical camera movements like never before. The technology, with all of its challenges, affords creators new vantage points and angles never before seen by the human eye.

For example, each of these films was shot in a extreme location that can only be reached by a flying robot. These are a taste of the type of novel views and mind-blowing scenescapes the tools can enable: “Light Glow Suit Segments” captures a daunting mountain face in an evening of avalanche-provoking skiing; “1500’ TV Tower” takes viewers high above the ground to watch a utility worker change a lightbulb in a high tower; and “Wild Scotland” captures the stunning wilderness that the northern country holds.

Genre-Bending Drone Films

Drones are not solely for sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes. The subjects of the video will not always be a mountain or some otherwise grand structure. The creative variety that may exist in this space is vast.

In fact, during the film screenings, there was a whole category of drone selfies called ‘dronies.’ The festival offered a sampling of a couple of narrative films as well, notably “The Smallest Empire,” which tells the story of warfare between neighboring villages. This film is quite the opposite of the stark (albeit, awe-inspiring) landscape category. The piece had a bit of an arc and successfully revealed a lot of humanity’s toil.

Horror films, too, are one of the most interesting additions afforded by drone cinema. The satirical entry called “The Drone” mocks a drone that a couple buys as it begins to haunt them.

Humans and Drones in Harmony

People and drones are starting to coexist on production sets. A Cirque du Soleil production provides a study on the matter. The work is appropriately named “SPARKED: A Live Interaction Between Humans and Quadcopters.” Or, consider “Dance Crazy,” in which a ballerina dancing in a warehouse embodies the joy of self-expression.

Meanwhile, Art of Shades’ music video for “All Away” is a fine exhibition of drone cinematography and choreography. In it, the cinematographer is caught in a dynamic relationship between two subjects; the smoothness by which the piece evolves is inspiring. Humans are not only in control of the drones but more and more they are up close and personal with the flying blades.

Obstacles Force Creative Solutions

The use of drones is proliferating; the WSJ reports that, according to the Consumer Technology Association U.S., sales are expected to top 2.8 million in 2016.

That certainly doesn’t make everyone an expert, if anything, that should be a point of caution. Drones are little flying machines that can be dangerous. Without proper usage, the device can be quite a Blender.

Though the device can provide rich shots, knowing when a drone is appropriate and when it’s not makes all the difference. A creative team can use these tools to unlock new forms of creativity and captivating images. But in using them for professional-grade productions and, in general, there are caveats. In the U.S, at least, legislation can be prohibitive for many drone operators and confusing for even legal experts. It requires getting a license, knowing how to navigate air space and how to actually fly your mechanism.

Further, piloting airspaces and difficult wind conditions is a tricky endeavor but understanding how to get the shot you want using a complicated little robot is even tougher.

As this industry matures, hobbyists are turning into professionals and because of the hurdles involved in doing so, professionals are turning into advocates. The films screened at this year’s NYCDFF are the best representation of the best creative work in this newly emerging field. Those pushing the boundaries in this medium are doing it with expertise and the support of a community built around a thriving (and thoroughly complicated) industry.

New York City Drone Film Festival

Lead Image: Demonstration of unmanned copter via Shutterstock

Originally published at www.psfk.com on March 9, 2016.