When we hosted our first Drones Invitational at MAKE HQ, I had the pleasure of meeting the talented gentlemen of the Drone Dudes, a Los Angeles-based collective of filmmakers, designers, and drone experts. Their client list includes such names as Audi, Spy Optics, and Nike. They’re the dudes to call for capturing shots that are only accessible via drone. Being a snow addict myself, I was especially fascinated by their tales of being on-location in the mountains of Canada to film the new Nike snowboarding flick, “Never Not.” Drones in the snow? I needed to find out more, so I chatted with Andrew H. Peterson (pictured above left), Drone Dudes pilot and cinematographer. On this particular shoot, Andrew was pilot, while Jeffrey Blank (pictured above right) was the camera operator, and Aaron Lieber was their producer.
1. How did the Drone Dudes get involved in filming the Nike “Never Not” video?
One of our producers, Aaron Lieber, is an action sports enthusiast, as most of us at Drone Dudes are. He specifically has a strong background working with Nike and Hurley on multiple surfing projects. The option came up and it sounded like a great opportunity so we jumped on it!
2. What types of shots in particular were the producers hoping to capture with the use of your drones?
The team was very specific about the shots they wanted to capture. It was right before sunset during golden hour and we were brought in to capture shots they just couldn’t get with a full-sized helicopter — tracking close with the riders as they launched off a massive 40′ kicker ramp into the oblivion. Many of the shots were smooth, lateral passes over the ramp, where a full-sized chopper would have destroyed the environment with its propeller chop. We were able to get much closer and maintain a wide angle on the action.
3. What were some of the unique challenges of filming with drones in a cold, snowy, and high altitude environment?
Well, first off it was no easy task working in this extreme environment. We had to have our gear lifted via 3x ski lifts, and spend about 30 to 45 minutes strapped into a snowmobile. We had a snowmobile flip on us, but our cases held up and kept everything safe, even though there were icicles on everything!
The real challenge was that our flight times were cut nearly in half. Because we were flying an octocopter and a Red camera for ultra high-resolution, that made flight times even trickier as the system was so big. We had about four or five crashes due to a loss of power on the batteries. We were doing everything imaginable to keep them warm and juiced up, but you can’t always forecast these things. Lucky for us, we were over snow with nobody around, and they were all controlled crash landings due to power loss.
The cold was killing us and I’m sure the high altitude played its part, but in the end we got the best of it and walked away with a few killer shots you simply couldn’t capture any other way! Another tricky aspect was shooting till sunset, then packing up in less than 10 minutes to ride down the icy dark mountain with the whole team. That was a lot of fun, though — it’s always nice to get some ride time in between shoots, even if it’s scary as hell! If we didn’t have our custom cases and had to take everything apart, we never could have done this in that short amount of time. We did this for about four days in a row.
4. Describe the adventure of just getting your gear and crew on location.
We somehow got the gear through the Canadian boarder with no problems at all, which is crazy because our cases are huge! We played the whole student project card, which was still somewhat accurate. Most people are just so overwhelmed by the drone itself, and the fascination usually gets us by. I think we had more issues coming back into the States, but it was all good in the end.
5. How did the rest of the film crew and riders react to having the drone on-site?
They loved it! It was a new tool to most of them and being able to fly a Red cam like we were was something they could appreciate. We exercised full caution when in close proximity with the riders and crew, so they always felt safe and in good hands. They were also really chill, in that they understood our limitations with the environment and so there was a respect for the drone right from the start. The athletes were really pushing things to the max when the copter was in the air. It was game time and they wanted an epic shot just as much as we did. That energy was really exciting and fun! Matching their aerial antics with ours was a ton of fun on our end.
6. What was the biggest lesson learned?
Don’t underestimate flying in new environments and especially those at high and cold altitudes. We were lucky nothing broke on-location, even though we had snow all over the copter and camera at times. It was seriously crazy, but we kept the motivation high and pulled though, pushing our boundaries at the same time, with high expectations to deliver for the film. We never gave up!
7. What was the most memorable part?
Getting to see the film a few months later in Hollywood was a great experience for the Drone Dudes. But for me, the way our team faced so many challenging odds and yet still came through for the film. That kinda says it all! I’m most proud of the team we had and how we never gave up.
8. Do you think drones are part of the future of filming action sports?
100% for sure! We now have a few really talented pilots on the Drone Dudes team and most of them focus on action sports. It’s where the fun is and really where we all came from. Just looking to get that epic shot we never could previously. I’m so thankful to all our fans and supporters who have helped Drone Dudes to become what we are today. The future looks promising from above!