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#1 Mike Williamson

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 10:51 PM

I've got a project coming up where our producer has managed to secure a helicopter for us to get some shots from. From what I understand, the pilot is probably not experienced with aerial photography and won't have any mounts or rigs for the camera. I'm not sure what exactly we're hoping to accomplish, but I think the feeling is that aerial footage will add production value to the film and get us some interesting footage.

So I have two questions: A) what can I do without a camera mount (other than a hi-hat or tripod) to get some kind of useable footage from the air?, and B) what are the safety issues that are raised with using a simple rig to secure the camera?

The tragic death of Neal Fredericks is rather fresh in mind as I write this, so anyone with experience in this area would be much appreciated.
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#2 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 04:48 AM

hi
don't build anything hard in a chopper it's not alowed, in case of problem the production will no be covered by any insurence.
in case of a control in an airport you'll not be allowed to take off, every nut and bolt in a chopper is aviation certified.
the pilote is never supose to have any camera mount.
look for a tyler or hand held the camera.
if you work with the side door open bring a harness. you can also have a diving knife on your leg
put as little people in the chopper as needed NO tourists for aerial work! it's really a rule.
scout the site from the ground to look for power lines...

if it's in mountains choose an A star B3 it's more expensive but more powerfull chopper.
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 09:08 AM

I'd be cautious about shooting aerials with an inexperienced pilot. They're basically setting the shots up and you're just doing the final framing. Having an inexperienced pilot increases the risks, especially once they start trying to impress.

Anything mounted onto an aircraft has to be certified. Without a certified mount all you can do is handhold and make sure you've got a safety strap for the camera.

There's been some debate in forums about extra harkness and being being able to escape in an emergency. Don't do anything that will prevent either yourself or, if unconscious, other people assisting you to quickly escape from a burning/sinking aircraft following a crash.
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#4 nick aiton

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 09:45 AM

Hey Mike,

I've not tried this tip yet, but I have been told several times to try using a partially inflated Beach Ball to support the camera on my lap -
a bit like a poor mans CineSaddle, but it should help you keep the camera reasonably steady.

and obviously make sure that you and the camera are harnessed to the helicopter so that neither of you can fall out!!!!

good luck!
Nick

Edited by nick aiton, 12 October 2007 - 09:45 AM.

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#5 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 10:47 PM

I'd be very cautious about the inexperiened pilot - a good friend is a DGA AD and about a year ago a show he was 1st'ing lost a producer, a camera operator, and the inexperienced pilot when the pilot hit a power line while they were trying to shoot some 2nd Unit stuff.

When I was about 19 I went up and did some handheld helicopter stuff - it was useless. I suppose a major component is the type of helicopter you're in, but the shaking of the chopper made everything but the widest lens a mess.

I'd urge the producer to look at renting an actual camera mount and to look for an experienced pilot of some sort.
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#6 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 01:44 AM

So I have two questions: A) what can I do without a camera mount (other than a hi-hat or tripod) to get some kind of useable footage from the air?, and B) what are the safety issues that are raised with using a simple rig to secure the camera?


Hi Mike, nice to meet you here.

About 30% of my business is comprised of stabilized mount aerial work. Also, in 1993 I was in a helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida while shooting a commercial for Hilton Hotels. With that in mind, I'd say it's one of the most exciting and interesting forms of specialty camera work I do, but at the same time definitely the most dangerous. Now to answer your questions:

Unless you want a handheld look, there is no predictable and professional way to obtain the silky smooth aerials we're all used to seeing and expecting without a high-end stabilized mount (Gyron, Wescam, SpaceCam etc), an experienced film pilot and a suitable aircraft. The Tyler middle mount is the low-end option with three gyros; it does decent at best even in the hands of someone who has a lot of experience with it, but I've used them and have trained a dozen or so operators to use them. Don't let the low cost (+/- $900-$1500 day) lure you into that false sense that a Tyler will deliver the nice slow, silky smooth tracking and pirouettes.

There are a host of safety issues, but I'm not writing to discourage you from giving it a go. The official cause of our crash was "the pilot lost authority of the tail rotor". The layman answer is he was inexperienced and the helicopter was underpowered for our needs, payload and wind. It all looked and smelled fishy when I got to the airport but the client arranged the aircraft directly. I even asked around the airport prior to the flight about the pilot and the helicopter; red flags were popping up in my mind. Twenty minutes later we were in the Gulf swimming toward shore. 300 ft., straight down. Had it not been water, someone else would be answering your question right now; we were very lucky.

Safety of crew, aircraft, subject and equipment are paramount. Safety harnesses for you and camera, no loose objects, proper communications; there are too many things to cover in a Forum post even down to hydration and wind chill. An aerial rig or even an open door changes the aerodynamics of the aircraft and your pilot needs to have experience in that.

You also should be charging a premium rate as danger pay if you decide that the shot is something you feel comfortable doing. Just make sure the shot or the experience is worth risking your life for. We're almost always low, tight and in a compromised flight pattern and landing zone so there is no room for error. And please... before someone spouts that "helicopters can auto-rotate down safely", you'll be too low for it to matter and I only know of one operator who survived an auto rotate to solid ground and he's fairly crippled from it.

You're welcome to contact me directly for more specific information. I'll help any way I can.

Robert Starling, SOC
Steadicam Owner Operator
Las Vegas
Steadicam | Aerial | Jib | Underwater
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#7 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 08:00 AM

don't forget to scout for power lines an if the weather is bad just wait that what we did last month in normandy on this picture !
we saw the line when landing because it becoming to dangerous !!!

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#8 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 08:08 AM

to see some mounts we use in europe :
http://www.aileimage.com/
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#9 Gunnar Mortensen

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 11:51 AM

I shot for the 1st time in a helicopter yesterday and I was pins and needles the whole time. The helicopter was really cramped with two people and a F900 but shooting 3,500 feet off the ground, going 90 mph, chasing a plane flying by and diving; at the same time not leaning out too far so the wind didn't drag the camera or lean back too far so I hit the pilot with the butt of the camera was definately a thrill. Needless to say the footage looked great and for best results hand holding shoot wide to med on the focal length. I didn't realize how much a gust of wind moves that whirly bird around!! I don't know if this helps but that was probably one of the most fun I ever had shooting and am still smiling ear to ear, just wanted to share this with someone.

Erik Gunnar Mortensen
Camera Assistant/Op LA
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#10 tanner wolfe

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 01:53 PM

i shot in a helicopter earlier this year under similiar conditions. we went hand-held as there was no other choice. our plan was to bring the footage into after-effects and control some of the shake there. the footage still wasn't very smooth even with the work in after-effects. only a few seconds at a time could be used. you will not be able to deliver the smooth shots that you see in films unless you use the proper mount.

cordially,

tanner
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