We were called by Agile Films with an unusual request: to shoot a 2-day music video for the Canterbury-based psychedelic funk-rockers Syd Arthur.
The unusual bit was that they wanted us to shoot the whole thing! We wouldn’t be just a unit of the camera department, but the complete department itself. Which means I would be DoP for the first time in a long time. Kneel down and kiss my light meter! Well in fact, it’s an anemometer / wind speed gauge, but important to have something hanging around one’s neck nonetheless.
The other thing which got us excited was that the director was being flown over from L.A. – music vid and graphic design virtuoso Robert Hales. Originally from North West UK, for the past 15 years he has been living in the US, directing for the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Red Hot Chilli Peppers , Tame Impala and Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, which netted him the 2006 MTV Music Video Award.
An early start from London brought us to a commune in the rural outskirts of Canterbury, where we would shoot the main performance pieces. It was a beautiful location with wooden huts, bluebell meadows, chicken coup… and no electrical power. Luckily we knew this in advance, and had booked a generator.
A beautiful clearing among the bluebells for the band to set up.
After briefing the band, we set about doing various passes over and across them. Some of this was close-range stuff, which required precise shot-planning with Robert in advance. The upwards jibs looked great as they showed the wider aspect of the clearing to the woods and fields beyond, with unpolluted views all the way to the horizon.
A bird’s eye view over Syd Arthur, playing in classic English countryside.
Focus-puller James Leckey joined us again this time – his support and experience really helped to streamline our workflow on a shoot where we had no breaks while ‘A’ camera did their thing, as is the normal way of things. Thanks James!
Director Robert and the band look over the shots during a break
There were a pair of angry geese wandering around in a threatening manner. At one point I was running to the generator to charge some batteries and the geese appeared, blocking my path. I would have just pushed past them, but one starting hissing with its tongue out like an All Blacks rugby player and I though it was going to go for me, so remembering Crocodile Dundee I stared back, made a few funny noises, and slowly crept past, covering my raw animal fear rather well, I thought.
The goose from hell!*
(not the actual one from the day, but a close match)
Our favourite shot involved tracking from the front of Fred the drummer, to up-and-over him. This did create quite an down-draught on his hair, but Robert said he liked it, so we carried on!
We also enjoyed tracking around Raven Bush (nephew of Kate Bush) playing mandolin amongst the bluebells.
Raven Bush on the violin
After this, the heavens opened with an un-forecast shower, so we decided to pack up and move on to the next location, which was an old ‘sound mirror’ near the edge of the cliffs on the other side of Dover. Sound Mirror is the title and cover image of the album, and Robert’s plan was to get shots of this piece of pre-radar technology from all angles.
The weather wasn’t being particularly kind with thick, low cloud and a strong onshore breeze as we walked onto the clifftop. The existence of the cloud meant we could actually see the updraught as it hit the cliff and rushed upwards. These are unpleasant to fly a multi-rotor in, as it’s the equivalent of an aeroplane flying in turbulence.
Paul explains the finer points of an up-draft (to whoever will listen)
Thankfully the shots we needed didn’t require us to fly out over the cliff edge. We shot multiple angles of the sound mirror and the band, and it was off to the pub for a well-earnt dinner.
Early the next morning we were up at 4.30 to get shots from the outskirts of Canterbury. Our vantage point from an empty field overlooking the town enabled us to get some great dawn shots.
Overlooking part of Canterbury from a field
As we were packing up the rain came again, so we had to improvise. Using the gimbal, we got some moving shots from within the town, out the window of the moving crew van.
Heading out further back into the countryside, with the rain still coming down we set up the gimbal in the back of the van, and drove along an empty country lane with the back doors open to get close, moving shots of the band walking. These came out very well, with band and director pleased.
Chris preps the gimbal for something a little different to the norm
After this we had secured a location at Kent university, to film the band at a curious-looking maze-without-walls on the university campus. With these shots in the bag, Robert called it a wrap and we all went off for a very tasty late-lunch at a market-cum-restaurant in Canterbury.
Syd Arthur pick their way out of the Ultimate Labrynth
It was a long two days with a lot of flying and some creative problem-solving, but it felt good testament to the reliability of our kit, and resilience of our crew. Go Skyhook!
We look forward to seeing the finished video, which is currently being edited in L.A. – we’ll let you know when it’s out!
When we shoot with a rented camera – which happens quite a lot – I ask to have it delivered a day in advance so that it can be balanced on the gimbal.
Here’s a quick explanation of what that involves.
To be correctly balanced, the camera must sit straight on all axes while the gimbal is unpowered, i.e. it must not tip forward or back, or left or right. Furthermore, the camera should be able to be moved to any position in the pan, tilt, or roll axes, and stay in that position.
The reason for this is that the gimbal servos or motors which stabilise the camera during flight, must be doing the minimum amount of work possible to keep the camera level. If they are struggling to hold an unbalanced camera to horizon while also stabilising the movement of the aircraft and actioning the commands from the camera operator, then you will not come out with a satisfactory piece of video.
This process can be quite tough, as once balance is achieved on one axis, often this upsets balance on another axis. What often follows is a quite bit of tail-chasing and lots of allen key work, in order to get every axis happy. Balancing the pan axis is another thing altogether, and involves hanging the whole aircraft sideways, balancing the CoG of the gimbal and camera, so that it will not swing or rotate at any point.
Following the balancing procedure, the gains of the servos / motors have to be set. Changing these gain settings will alter the ‘responsiveness’ of the motors to react to aircraft movement in order to keep the camera level. Too low, and the camera will be too slow in stabilising and the shot will suffer. Too high, and the axis will ‘jitter’ as if it’s had too much coffee, again ruining your shot. These settings are changed by hooking up the laptop to the gimbal, testing the camera’s response to movement, changing the settings, testing again, and so on. The secret is to have the settings as high as possible, but without any jitters. Stabilising while also responding to a command from the Cam Op often create more judder, so it’s a fine line between right and wrong and you need to check in every scenario!
This whole ‘balancing act’ can take several hours or more on some occasions, which is why we ask for the camera in advance. From experience in our early days, doing this whilst on set, and while the clock is ticking, is not a good idea!
It’s much nicer to show up on the day knowing everything’s ready.
Click below to see a timelapse of Chris balancing a Canon 5D with 24mm prime lens.
Chris balances the Canon 5D Mk3 with 24mm prime lens on a Cinestar 3-axis gimbal
We were called by advertising agency Pace Media to provide them with aerial shots for a bingo commercial.
The location was Gunpowder Park near Epping Forest in North London.
We were shooting on top of a grassy mound in a big open space overlooking trees and fields beyond, it felt like London was a long way away!
Chris and Paul prep the octocopter with a nice countryside view for company
Focus puller James Leckey gives us a grin and nicely set-up camera
The weapon of choice was our heavy-lift octocopter MovieHook, as we were shooting with a RED Scarlet camera. To save weight and minimise camera size, we strip RED cameras to their minimum and power them with our own Li-Po batteries through a custom-made cable.
RED Scarlet set up to fly, and powered by our blue LiPo battery (bottom right)
The story involved an actress running with a butterfly net and trying to catch a bingo ball masquerading as a butterfly, to win a £55 bonus through the website.
Actress Heather Rayment chases our post-inserted butterfly friend as we track the action
We performed a number of different tracking and jibbing moves including a diagonal descent which starts wide as the actress enters frame, then enlarges her as we descend and move towards her. This was to be the opening shot in the advert.
Our favourite shot came when we had to give the point-of-view of the butterfly as the actress tried to swat at us. We circled her at different radius and heights, which gave Chris a nice challenge, trying to keep her in centre of frame!
Heather tries to net herself a bonus as we give the POV of the butterfly
We performed a big upwards jib looking down on the actress, which was to be the closing shot of the advert.
Our high jib shot went from 6 to 200 feet.
Just as we landed after a good take, the skies dealt us an unbelievable hail storm, so we covered the kit and headed to the cars to sit it out. It was 2 hours until we could get shooting again, but we managed to get all our shots and more before wrap time.
MovieHook takes shelter while we wait for a hailstorm of biblical proportions to pass
It was great to be on set with such a solid crew, and planning aerial shots with actors is something we look forward to much more of in the future! It was also our first experience of shooting material to have CGI added later.
Chris discusses the next shot with Director Joe Morris (right) and DoP Jordan Cushing.
The crew stands by for playback of an aerial shot
Click the image below to see the advert itself, which is now showing on ITV.
Here’s a Behind-the-Scenes video of the day. Thanks to Pace for putting this together!
Looking forward to working with @PaceMediaNick @Jordan_Cushing @1st_AC and @HeatherRayment again.
In the meantime, check ‘em out on twitter!
On a March weekend that felt like June, we were up and out early on our way to East Grinstead. We joined director David Garcia and the Zenith Cinematography team to help shoot the launch advert for a new luxury cosmetics brand which uses real gold leaf in its products.
Our first location was a picturesque manor house, which incidentally is also the UK headquarters of Scientology! We would be working with a chauffeur and luxury Jaguar for the shots here.
Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead
We set up outside in the sun while the rest of the crew prepped for their ground shots with the actress.
Attaching the air frame to the gimbal
Our first shot involved tracking back at eye level as the car pulled away from the house, then jibbing up and away to reveal the beauty of the house and grounds beyond. This sort of shot is where a 2 man aerial crew comes into its own, allowing precise flight of the octocopter and complex camera movements to be made at the same time.
Going through the shot with Director David Garcia
Paul shows the ‘flying face’, which means it’s time to get serious!
Click here or on the image below to see the shot itself, and the workings behind it:
MovieHook lining up for the Jaguar shot
After a few variations of the first shot we packed up and headed to location two – Wier Wood Reservoir, a few miles down the road. This place was cool – the moody light of the tree-lined car park contrasted with the huge, calm, sun-lit reservoir beyond.
Ready for the shot as the sunset prepares for some screen time
Magic Hour! With the limited time characteristic of shooting at this time of day, we arranged the shot which involved tracking over the moving car, then up and over the tree line to show the dusky lake scene beyond. As we continued our ascent, the parallax changed to open up the view of the lake extending into the distance. It was rather magic!
Here’s the shot (or click the image below)
Skyhook Lake Shot – Behind the Scenes
As night set in, we made good use of our navigation lights for the final shot: aircraft stationary over the forest to give a bird’s eye view of the Jaguar driving along the rough track. This shot is not available to see yet, but it will be soon! Check our Vimeo Page to see it when it does!
MovieHook is ready for the night shot
An wonderful shoot with stunning locations. Very nice to work with David and his crew again, we look forward to seeing the finished article!
We were extremely chuffed to be asked to film aerial shots in Italy for a documentary about Royal chef Mario Andrisani, on a journey back to his home town to rediscovered his culinary roots, and meet some of the individuals who inspired him.
Easy rollin’ at Bari Airport
Luckily for us, his home town is Matera – a stunningly beautiful old city in the southern region of Basilicata. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, and its historical centre the ‘Sassi’ is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Matera Old Town and Cathedral
The jagged relief of the town gave us a huge potential to play with foreground and background – the most enjoyable shot came from a tightly-queued jib-up as Mario stood on a rocky outcrop over the town, and introduced it to camera as we flew up past him, and on to an ever-ascending panoramic of the view below, with the Gravina Canyon further below that.
Mario Andrisani introduces Matera from a vantage point
Click below to see a behind-the-scenes video of the Mario jib-shot over Matera, including the shot itself! Best viewed in HD directly from Vimeo.
The hospitality and cuisine were right up there with the views - we stayed in the luxury cave hotel La Dolce Vita and ate vast amounts of tasty local dishes at the Casino Del Diavolo (The Devil’s Casino).
Technical-wise: filming in a canyon is pretty difficult – there were some mean updrafts blowing up the cliff edge, which made for some rather nerve-racking moments as MovieHook was thrown around while we navigated into the centre.
Flying the canyon – hairy times!
Later that afternoon we walked down into the ravine itself, to get shots of Mario foraging for wild Thyme.
This enabled us to shoot the town from a low level, which also showed the curve of the river to great effect.
Gravina Canyon with Matera Sassi in the background
The next day we visited Roseto, where one of Mario’s culinary friends had renovated a castle overlooking the sea, and created a restaurant to be reckoned with.
Roseto Spulico Castle
For the first half of the day, the wind was gusting to 30mph so we had to see ourselves through a double-main course lunch until it calmed down a bit – it’s a tough life!
The finest Tagliatelle I have ever tasted. Top-end seafood was to follow!
The afternoon brought low winds and great shots of the castle teetering on its rocky precipice.
Roseto Spulico Castle
The final shot of the day was at dusk, with Mario and his wife sat on the rooftop of the castle enjoying a meal with a wonderful view.
Moviehook awaits the final shot of the day
A pretty good shoot, all in all – we look forward to more international projects!
*In-flight still images: GoPro Hero 3+. BTS images: Panasonic GH2 and iPhone. Flight camera: Canon 5D Mk3.
Our entry into the golf club marketing world has been picked up by major golf website, GolfBusinessNews.
The article, which can be seen here, has already generated interest from a number of clubs across the UK.
We look forward to receiving more calls, as the word spreads about how beneficial our services can be to the promotion of golf clubs, by showing potential customers exactly what kind of playing experience the course will give them, right on the club’s website.
Our Golf Club Demo Reel is now up, and shows the marketing benefits that Skyhook can bring to golf clubs, and also sports facilities, hotels and country clubs.
Why is Skyhook an important part of a Golf Club marketing strategy?
Video is fast becoming one of the most important aspects of digital marketing, in all industries.
Having video on your site will make it up to 7 times more engaging than if it only uses text and images.
It will also make you 53 times more likely to appear on the front page of Google searches.
Being on the front page of Google will make your website easier to find. Once viewers are on your site, the engaging video content will lead them to stay for longer as they explore your course, making them more likely to book a tee time, or sign up for membership.
Online video also goes hand-in-hand with Social Media. If a viewer likes your video, they can easily share it to their social network (be that Facebook, Twitter or one of many others), where it will be seen by all of their friends. This amounts to free marketing for your club.
To give you an idea of the scale of these social networks:
- There are 175 million people who use Twitter to share information.
- There are 500 million Facebook users across the world, and 300 million of them log into their account at least once a day.
If you’d like to find out more about how Skyhook can help you generate bookings, members and income, please call us on 0203 287 2344.
Skyhook provided aerial shots for the VV Brown music video ‘The Apple’ a few months back. It was a tough shoot in various locations around the Lake District, but such beautiful scenery.
I had not been to the Lake District before, but I would love to go back – and not just to shoot more aerials!
Just after we had finished our last aerial shot, we saw a vintage car driving towards us down the very steep road. Turned out it was 103 years old!
VV Brown’s album ‘Samson and Delilah’ will be released on September 8th in the UK, and on October 6th to the rest of the world.
Here is the finished video. Embedding is disabled, so unfortunately you have to click the link – such a hassle, i know!
VV Brown – The Apple
We had a great shoot last week near Brighton, for clients Southern Water. Our task was to show off their new £300 million, hi-tech water treatment plant in Peacehaven, which handles all of Brighton’s waste water, and has been landscaped into the surrounding countryside.
Setting up MovieHook from one of Europe’s largest green roofs.
The site is sunk to below the horizon, and covered by a 3-hectare grass roof so that from ground level, it just looks like another field. That, combined with its odour-scrubbing technology, meant it didn’t smell of anything either!
Director Andrew Swann helps Paul carry MovieHook to the next shot.
We chose MovieHook for this shoot – our larger camera rig gave us the stability and longer flight times to achieve smooth, sweeping shots which started with horizontal movement and a clean rural scene, and then arced upwards to around 300 feet altitude, revealing the whole plant in its coastal surroundings.
A good day’s shoot – Chris with Andrew Swann, and Southern Water PR Manager Madeline Stoneman.
Director Andrew Swann knew exactly what he wanted, and made great use of the aircraft.
The site was a great example of applied architecture, hiding an otherwise unsightly industrial plant from local residents, to maintain the rural scenery of the area.
It was a pretty hot day to be in full PPE clothing, hard hat and steel toe cap boots!
View from above – the Peacehaven water treatment site is hidden from ground level.
Paul and Chris get the final handshake of approval from Tony, looked on by the newly-approved MovieHook and MiniHook.
Earlier this year we passed our BNUC-S flight exam – the final stage of assessment before receiving verification from the Civil Aviation Authority, which is mandatory for any organisation looking to undertake commercial aerial work. In addition to being a test of the crew’s knowledge of planning, risk assessment and flight procedures, it is also a test of aircraft reliability and its capacity to engage failsafes in an emergency.
To say it was windy on the test day is a slight understatement – with gusts of 24 knots (28mph), it was far windier than we would ever fly in order to achieve steady shots, but it was a good display of James and Paul’s piloting skills, and the resilience of both our aircraft!
The course also involved a 2-day ground school followed by a theory exam, after which we had to write our operations manual, which must detail every aspect of our operation as an aerial camera team. Ours came to 38 pages!
Thanks to Tony Hooper, chief examiner of the BNUC programme and all-round nice bloke, who also makes a mean cup of tea.