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First time Helicopter shooting


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#1 Gregg Atreides

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 12:58 PM

Hi,

Later in the year, I'll be going to Asia to do some shooting for a documentary. Part of that will be getting some aerial shots of a site from a helicopter, which I've never done. Any input folks have on maintaining a stable shooting platform or general issues to be aware of would be very welcome.

I'll be shooting miniDv (Canon GL2) and Super 8 (for a period feel).

thanks in advance,

gregg
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#2 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 02:43 PM

Hi,

Later in the year, I'll be going to Asia to do some shooting for a documentary. Part of that will be getting some aerial shots of a site from a helicopter, which I've never done. Any input folks have on maintaining a stable shooting platform or general issues to be aware of would be very welcome.

I'll be shooting miniDv (Canon GL2) and Super 8 (for a period feel).

thanks in advance,

gregg


Greg,
Are u going hanheld, or you re planning to use any special equipment?
What is the duration of the shots you want? 1/2 minute? some seconds or 4-5 minutes?
Dimitrios Koukas
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#3 Eric Steelberg ASC

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 08:40 PM

Add weight to the camera. This will give it more mass thereby being less susceptible to vibration and shake. Also consider suspending the camera with some sort of bungees. If you're holding it your body will transfer shake to the camera.

Oh...and, obviously, shoot with the cabin door removed!
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#4 david west

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 01:47 AM

when money is no object:

gyro stabilized mounts...

then,

gyro hand held,

then some people ask steadicam ops to just hop in
(this has been discussed a LOT in the steadicam forum, and is bad)


but--- judging by the cameras you might do as was suggested and add weight, or you might
even want to build a small inertia stabilzer device like the antlers on a steadicam...


of course all of the above is just a guess....

Edited by david west, 16 October 2005 - 01:47 AM.

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#5 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 02:08 AM

Add weight to the camera. This will give it more mass thereby being less susceptible to vibration and shake. Also consider suspending the camera with some sort of bungees. If you're holding it your body will transfer shake to the camera.

Oh...and, obviously, shoot with the cabin door removed!


Eric,
There are many helicopters flying out there with a sliding door, wich means there is no use of removing this door.
For the other types, it's supposed to remove the door, but only in the shooting area.This is because helicopters with the door out have to fly in a ''slow flight'' configuration and that's about 60-80 KTS wich it's a pain if you have a long route.
Also with the door removed you have tremendous amounts of noise in the cabin, that makes the trip a pain also.
SO a chopper with a sliding door is prefered.
There many things that can affect an aerial shoot.First is turbulence that comes from heat waves that going up in the atmoshpere.Something that is very common on a hot day.Second thing is a Pilot that have done this before. Pilots that haven't done it before are just going to fly the helicopter there, wich has no use for the shooting itself.
You need to brief the pilot for what you want.Wich means that we are talking for an out of budget story.
Bungee ropes can make the camera hop and hop and bang left and right in turbulence wich makes this dangerous.
If you are going hanheld, I would suggest something similar to cinesaddle, and the operator just hold the camera while the pilot does the ''pointing at'' the area u want to be filmed. The operator should use extra safety belts and also a safety rig for the camera that has to rig it in the chopper too.
If you have a non experienced pilot u have horrible results.With an open door the ball must be in the center all the time, unless you want to see yourself doing a stunt.
One good thing to do is give him an lcd monitor, sometimes it helps for experienced pilots.
I did a car following with a video camera hanheld in telephoto on a highway, I didn't left the area till I was sure I have some seconds of footage good, wich means that we done this about 6 times.
Refuelling is also a case for the chopper, u have limited time going somewhere not near a refuelling station or a moving refuelling station would be a good idea''ground vechicle support''.
As for the stedicam is ok but it needs a specialised bracket arm to hook the stedi's arm. If you have the lens less than one feet near the door then u re screwed, cause of the air that might hit the lens, and make the steadi, uncontrolable.
Dimitrios Koukas
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#6 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 02:56 AM

Try and avoid longer lenses. Which means getting the helicopter closer. Which means more permits ~ danger sometimes. Get a pilot who has done this before. There were guys yesterday shooting the "London Eye" in London and they must have been about 50m away max! Big black helicopter with Wescam mount - or whatever Wescam is called this week :)

Another option is to do all of the above then output to HD and stablize track the shot in Inferno or Smoke - then crop (NOT Scale) to SD (Standard Def) - makes for a greater then 10% error correction

thanks

Rolfe

whoops - just realised you are not shooting film....

thanks

Rolfe
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#7 Mike Brennan

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 07:39 AM

Any input folks have on maintaining a stable shooting platform or general issues to be aware of would be very welcome.

I'll be shooting miniDv (Canon GL2) and Super 8 (for a period feel).

thanks in advance,

gregg


I have some tips at www.hd24.com

Mike Brennan
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#8 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 09:54 AM

I have some tips at www.hd24.com

Mike Brennan


Very nice site,
It looked to me more like an advert for the gyro mount than for a site that has tips.
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#9 Mike Brennan

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 10:23 AM

Very nice site,
It looked to me more like an advert for the gyro mount than for a site that has tips.
Dimitrios Koukas



Here is the exact page, perhaps you missed the link on the home page.

http://www.hd24.com/...m_a_chopper.htm

It refers to many tips for shooting from a heli 20 paragraphs of tips one paragraph of mounts!
I do not mention any brands of video gimbal, so I don't understand your implication that there was something wrong with posting the link?

And for the record for video of course for most work I recommend a stabilised small HD gimbal as technically the best (assuming you can afford it) Gyron 2nd. Spacecam and Wescam 3rd best, Tyler type mounts fourth and hand held last.

Who wouldn't!



Mike Brennan


Here is the page so you don't have to leave the shop....


There is no simple way of learning to shoot from a open door of a helicopter.

The biggest impact on the quality of the picture is the pilot, the weather and just how comfortable you are feeling in a banked turn with nothing between you and a 1000 ft drop but 1G and a safety strap.



Weather

Consider scheduling a wide as possible window so you can choose the time with the smoothest air. If the weather is bad consider changing direction of the shot. Ask the pilot if there is there anything he or you can do to make the flight smoother. Sunrise and sunset offer the least flat lighting of a landscape.



Pilot

Choose a reputable company if available. If you are flying low or fancy choose a pilot who has at least 5000 hours flight time. But beware, every pilot will have had a cameraman in the back at some time or other and so can claim to have filming experience. Do not fly in a private rich kids or corporate chopper with unknown plot except for the simplest of flights.



Your comfort and experience

If you have not flown with the door off then perhaps a short dynamic flight in low cost chopper is a good idea to familiarize yourself with he experience. If the experience is not to your liking then employ a operator for the shot and ride along as his assistant to get flight time.



There are two ways to work from an open or removed door.

One is to sit on the floor with your feet dangling or resting on the skids. This gives maximum panning and tilting scope. But is useless at higher speed because your legs and the camera are in the slipstream.

Your mic will become unusable due to wind noise unless you lean backwards out of the slipstream.

This position is good for shooting uncontrolled subjects at low height and low speed (not necessarily a safe way to fly)

It is possible to get shots looking straight down when the aircraft banks. You can also rig it so the camera can be hand held between your legs, looking straight down when in a hover.

This position requires a harness for you and a safety strap for the camera. Take your own harness along and carabinas.. if you trust your life in your own hands that is. All carabinas should be self locking or screw type that can't be accidentally opened (tragically this happened in a televised bungy jump in the UK)

If the harness does not have a front release mechanism then strap a divers knife to your ankle in case you need to get out in a hurry.

Gaffer tape your trouser legs to stop them flapping or tuck them into your socks:)

Wind-chill could be very high so consider silk or cyclists gloves.

Sitting on one inch of foam, securely taped to the floor is an idea.

There can be a lot of turbulence in the cockpit with the door off so make sure there is nothing that can get blown about. More to the point prepare a bag, that can be strapped down, that has a zipper so you can access what you need.



Your shooting angles are more limited, but you are out of the slipstream and generally more comfortable. No silly looking leg ware and changing or batteries and mags or tapes is easier as is communication with the pilot and director. If you are a big chap the camera may come into contact with the roof every now and then.

If you are shooting video take a battery that can be cabled to the camera this will reduce fatigue and give you more scope to tilt down. In general do not use any power from the helicopter.

The seat cushions are usually velcroed in consider removing one, with pilots permission if the camera is too close to the ceiling. More of a problem with video.



I use a small Kenyon gyro that attaches directly to a camera. It helps reduce high frequency vibration. The key to reduce the low frequency oscillation is to be very relaxed so your body acts as a sponge on one hand and a self leveling device on the other. This is not possible to do if you are tense!

I wouldn't recommend a home made bungey for your first flight.





Preflight

Which door to be removed? If you want to get technical then wind direction can have a bearing on which door to remove. Tail rotor effectiveness and hence tail stability is affected by wind direction. So it may be on a crappy day that the pilot will suggest (if you let him) shooting in a particular direction which will enable him greater control of the tail. If you are on the ball you will know which door to remove.

You can't shoot a counter clockwise orbit of the subject from the starboard side or a clockwise from the port side. If you have a particular shot that develops from a specific landmark then consider which door to work from in advance. Will you be heading clockwise or anti clockwise around the subject?

Plan the shot well in advance if you can. In Europe at least, every few seconds costs a dollar or so! Coordinating action on the ground with a specific aerial maneuver should be avoided unless you have experienced production staff.

Coordinating air to air action is somewhat easier because you will be in the hands of the pilots who shouldn't take off unless they are sure of what you want.

Coordinating a air to air shot with a specific ground feature in the background is very difficult for the inexperienced.

Arrive with plenty of time to setup. Allow a 30 minute briefing with the pilot and a one hour rig. Prove to the pilot that you are safety conscientious and have made a effort to plan and he will be more likely to take you seriously! Production often schedule only 30 minutes to "jump on board".

Ensure all members of the crew are aware of how to work safely around a helicopter/airfield. Pickup the smallest of yours or anyone else's rubbish. If you are moving seats about and you find a screw on the floor give it to the pilot. Take as few passengers as possible. Generally this will give the aircraft more performance or greater flight endurance and he pilot needs only be concerned with the comfort of a single passenger.

Don't expect mid and long lens shots to be steady for more than a few seconds. Leave the long zoom lens on the ground. Go close and low if practical. It is possible in post, to track the horizon or remove a wobble (up to a point) 35mm and HD offer more scope to do this than 16mm in my opinion. Sometimes it is not possible to go as low as you need. One way around this is to get permission to land near the site you are filming. During the landing and takeoff phase you may get the shot you need. Plan plan plan if you can. Shooting hand held involves compromises!



Insurance

Ensure that the production insures you as your own insurance generally, will not. Take note that your loss of earnings insurance, mortgage insurance and life insurance by default do not cover you when working in a helicopter.

Although the charter company will have legal liability insurance you or your widow will have to sue them in a court of law and prove they were legally liable ie negligent. This could take years and will only pay out if the pilot or charter company were negligent. So make sure that you have a accidental death policy that covers you for helicopters.



Chain those commands

Expect a safety briefing. Get into the habit of walking around the front of the aircraft, never duck under the boom, even when the rotors are stationary. When the helicopter is on the ground and the rotors are coming up speed or are slowing down a severe gust of wind can deflect them down below head height. When the rotors are turning you should only approach the aircraft on the signal of the pilot or ground staff. Camera assistants, don't be pressured into running up to a helicopter because the director or camera operator is beckoning you!



In flight, with a pilot I haven't flown with before, I preface any *unplanned* suggestion for a new maneuver with "if it is safe to do so, could we..." This reinforces the proper chain of command in the cockpit, especially if there is a demanding director onboard putting the pressure on if the schedule has gone pear shaped.



Camera mounts

This is a big subject. By far the best mounts for HD are gyro stabilized remote head systems. These systems consist of a ball with a lens pan tilt head and just the bare bones of the HD camera. The rest of the camera and the recorder are in the cockpit. Thus the ball can be as small as 14 inches in diameter. A small ball means it has less effect on the aerodynamics and performance of the chopper. If the recorder is in the cockpit tape changes can be made with the need to land. The lightweight ball can be fitted to the nose of the aircraft and so can shoot forward vertically and left and right.

The crew are nicely cossetted away in heated/airconditioned comfort with no danger of anything or anyone falling out. With the door shut it is few decibels quiter too!

The second type of stabilized mount is like a hot head or remote pan and tilt head with spinning mass gyros fixed to it. It can accept different types of camcorders. They are larger and generally can only be used on the side of aircraft. They are not as stable as the smaller gimbals. Wescam and Spacecam have versions that will take HD cameras as well as 35mm and IMAX cameras.

There is a range of non gyro systems made by Tyler that fit on the floor of the helicopter. They are balanced systems, a little like steadycam. Simply put the camera on the sytem, and balance it. The camera operator pans and tilts the camera manually. It is much less steady than the gyrosytems but much cheaper. Tytler also make a nose mount that can be tilted up and down from within the cockpit.





If you can't go low consider a wide angle lens and a 250 ft access platform, on a windy day it wobbles as much as chopper...



copyright Michael Brennan
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