What Unusual Things can be Attached to Drones?

Ving Rhames takes an Ipad device from a flying Alta-8 that a carrying attachment. A woman in a pink shirt looks on
a DRONE CAN CARRY MORE THAN JUST CAMERAS – HERE’S A SHORT JOURNEY THROUGH SOME OF THE MORE UNUSUAL REQUESTS THAT We’VE HAD TO CARRY SOMETHING WITH A DRONE.

I recently saw a video that made the rounds – a bunch of Russian guys with fireworks attached to their drone, then a comedy POV shot of the drone shooting fireworks at their friends as they ran away (don’t try this at home kids).

Watching this got me thinking about the times I had used drones for purposes other than filming or photography – namely using a drone to lift unusual items as part of an advert or marketing campaign.

The first interesting one was back in 2015 when we asked by Mad Cow Films to deliver an iPad to Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction) on an ADT commercial for the American market.

We worked with the amazing SFX guys at Artem to design the iPad cradle, and attached it to the gimbal of our trusty X8 octocopter – now hanging proudly on the wall in the office. We also had flashing white LEDs attached to the drone, matching with ones on Rhames’ custom-made watch – suggesting that his watch had called in the drone delivery. A very cool concept.

A camera gimbal attached to the X8 Octocopter to carry an Ipad (cropped)

We simply released it by tilting the camera gimbal down to let it slide out. Magic!

Ving’s agent wasn’t too keen on the proximity of the drone’s 8 blades being so close to his talent though…

See the film here.

Another time was on a Halfords advert for the ad agency Mother, where the concept was to have a miniature American-style Diorama advertisement board attached to the drone, with a camera mounted behind to film the advert board (green screened to show the message of the ad), as the board itself flew through the English countryside.

A model of an advertisement billboard for Halfords is attached to the camera on the Alta-8 stood on a landing pad in English countryside (cropped)

Working with Asylum SFX, they made this thing look amazing, with realistic street lamps, footpath and trees mounted around it.

That film can be watched here…

Chris Bates with the Asylum SFX team at their workshop as they test the drone camera against a minature model of a Halford's sign (cropped)

Sometimes they don’t always materialise. On one occasion, there were discussions to have multiple drones lift a giant peach, in a modern re-interpretation of the 501 seagulls from the James and the Giant Peach story, for a documentary about Roald Dahl. With the peach weighing in at 60kg, sadly this one never got off the ground…

On one occasion, there were discussions to have multiple drones lift a giant peach, in a modern re-interpretation of the 501 seagulls from the James and the Giant Peach  story.

A more recent ‘drone payload’ job was for Stripe Communications in 2019, for a short film which showed that Legoland were testing out an ‘ice cream drone delivery service’ at the theme park.

(NB. this would never actually happen of course – I’ll resist giving a long explanation of why a delivery service involving automated drones flying across a theme park full of thousands of uninvolved adults and children would never be legal, given the current drone regulations… that can be the subject of another blog!)

 

For this we firstly had to work out how to attach a container to the drone, and lift it safely.

Understandably, the client wanted the ice cream basket to be made of Lego. It would need to hold 2 Cornettos, which I decided was the easiest kind of ice cream to carry. Yes – I did carry out essential research involving the weighing and consumption of various ice creams to reach this conclusion!

The DJI Inspire 1 carrying a Lego-built ice cream carrier flies above an ince cream parlour

Legoland’s art department built us a very nice looking basket, which was delivered to us for testing. We found the centre of gravity of the aircraft and therefore the best position to mount the cables to.

The key thing here was to have the basket hanging from a height where it wasn’t blown around too much from the propeller downdraft, but also wasn’t so long that the payload swung around too much and made the drone unstable. 

We used our trusty DJI Inspire 1 for this task, which doesn’t get as much flight time as it used to, since we mainly use the Inspire 2 for our drone work now. 

Test flights showed that the extra weight of the ice cream payload did shorten flight times slightly, but the voltage drop didn’t cause me any concerns.

Smooth flight movements were key I found, to minimise swinging from the basket.

Big shout out to product designer Theo from Bang Creations (who we share office space with), for his help in working on the best attachment methods. Always nice to have an engineer on hand!

The key thing here was to have the basket hanging from a height where it wasn’t blown around too much from the propeller downdraft.

The DJI Inspire 1 and 2 stand in front of one another on a brick pavement with Skyhook boxes of equipment and remote controls sat to the side. A Lego-built ice cream carrier is attached to the Inspire 1

On the day of the job – which turned out to be the hottest day of the year – our 3 person drone team arrived at Legoland in Windsor at dawn. We met the client, photographer, actors and site staff and were given open access to the empty theme park. We had 4 hours in which to get everything done before the park opened at 10am.

Flying close to child actors with drones and ice creams was certainly a challenging scenario and we had plenty of risk mitigations in place, but of course we had to film this from a second drone, Phil and myself working on the Inspire 2 while Jacques was flying the ice cream drone.

These air-to-air drone shots are difficult to orchestrate, as the action drone must be in the right position for the camera drone to capture it in a clear shot, eg. with the drone up against the sky, or moving past a specific part of the theme park.

A Legoland employee places a Cornetto ice cream into the Lego-built ice cream holder in front of the Splash and Play shop and an onlooking crowd
An aerial view of the DJI Inspire 1 carries an attachment of a Lego-built ice cream carrier over a Lego water play park

After an intense four hours and some smooth flying from both teams, we were finished by 9:55 and feeling extremely hot underneath the blazing sun. Sadly we weren’t allowed to jump into the water park (not sure the parents would have liked that), but we did have a load of slightly melted ice creams to work our way through, by way of celebration.

Most impressively still, our freshly shot video content went straight into the edit and was out on the Legoland social media channels by lunchtime that day! How about that for a quick turnaround…

 

You can view the finished film for this project here.

Chris Bates and a fellow drone operator celebrate their successful day of filming with a Cornetto ice cream each crouching behind the DJI Inspire 1 that carries the Lego-built ice cream carrier attachement. They stand behind a Lego themed water feature

So there you have it. We’re not always just a drone filming team – sometimes the drones are the focus of the project itself, and they get their time to shine in front of the camera.

These sorts of jobs often require multiple prep days to conceive and test the payload and the carry / release method, but they are always rewarding as they put us to the test in a technical way, allow us to scratch our heads, deliver a bespoke project and best of all, make it look good!

Thanks to all the teams we’ve worked with to make these projects a reality, and to our clients who conceive the wild ideas in the first place. In the world of marketing, you never know what crazy idea is going to come in next!

Have you got an interesting idea, or a shoot you’d like us to help Deliver?

Give us a shout, we’d love to chat things over with you.

Keep aiming high,

Chris