A Bird? A Plane? It's Drone Ward

by Kyle Massey  on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Stone Ward's offices in downtown Little Rock as seen from about 60 feet above street level. (360 Filmworks)

The camera soars above a checkerboard sidewalk at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, then swoops low, cutting through a group of students walking to class.

But no students were injured — or even put at the slightest risk — in making this movie. The images were captured by drone for an ad campaign by Little Rock marketing agency Stone Ward, but it wasn’t airborne when it seemed to buzz the students.

“It looked like the drone was dropping down to fly between the students, but safety is our top priority, and of course we weren’t going to do that,” said Katy Bartlett, director of video services and production for 360 Filmworks.

As remote-control commercial drones fill more roles in agriculture, construction, engineering and real estate, they have found a special place in advertising, Bartlett and members of her team said.

360 Filmworks is a subsidiary of Stone Ward, and Bartlett is the daughter of Millie Ward, the agency’s president.

Their DJI Inspire 2 drone, a 2-foot-wide craft (excluding the four propellers) with a computer-stabilized camera, can shoot 30 frames a second. Over the past year, the drone and its accessories, together worth at least $6,000, have given the agency a leg up, in part because when its propellers are removed it serves as a stabilized hand-held camera.

So what seemed to be a single shot of a descent through the students (at the :19 second mark in the video above) was actually a stitched-together sequence acquired by flying the drone, then running with it in hand through the pedestrians.

“The concept of the spot had to do with pathways, so the sidewalk was a natural visual element, a physical pathway and a metaphorical pathway,” Bartlett explained.

Her director of photography and chief editor, Dustin Jones, did the camera work. Videographer and editor Nick Johnston, 21, who recently received his drone pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration, flew the contraption and then held it as he jogged amid the students.

“Nick was able to take the drone up and Dustin was able to control the camera while we swooped down over that Trojan head while the UALR students were walking,” Bartlett said. “The guys laugh at me about how much I love the hand-holding of the drone and camera, running with them, because the stabilization device of the camera works whether you’re flying or not.”

Jones explained the entire shot: “We did basically a stitch, connecting those scenes together, so it looked like we flew through a bunch of people — which we would never do flying — but it made for a dynamic and neat result.”

In work for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Baptist Health, Slim Chickens and other clients, the drone’s aerial footage offers visual options that would have been impossible before, short of hiring a helicopter — and the drone can go places no chopper could reach.

“Our goal is to always be safe while getting dynamic and effective shots for our clients,” Jones said. “Sometimes clients might ask for a bit too much, and then you have to tell them that safety is the ultimate priority.”

FAA rules restrict where and how high the drone can fly (a wide perimeter around an airport is off limits, for example), and at a demonstration last month in Allsopp Park, the 360 Filmworks drone flew to its 400-foot ceiling for that area. Stunning views of the wooded park alternated with glimpses of nearby business buildings, homes and roadways, and the drone flew along at a safe distance as a Stone Ward staffer circled the bases at the park ballfield. The drone’s capacity of getting dramatic tracking shots is especially welcome, Jones said.

“There are a lot of safety features, too, that are built in, and one of the best is that it’s automatically set to come back to the same location where it took off,” Bartlett said. That means that if the pilot is disabled or loses radio control of the device, it won’t come down in an unsafe spot.

“It also has obstacle avoidance features,” Johnston interjected, “and those basically make it impossible to run into anything unless you turn the features off.”

Stone Ward has another, smaller drone that is sometimes used to scout locations and test conditions for the newer model. But the Inspire 2 has lived up to its name, Bartlett and Jones said.

“Oh, it’s fun, but it’s not a toy,” Bartlett said. “We use it to serve clients, but we also get a kick out of it.” Others do, too. “It’s pretty large, compared with the drones people are used to be seeing,” Jones said. “So if we’re in a public park like this, people come flocking to it. We have to keep them back.”



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