“As a filmmaker, drones have changed the environment completely and are an absolute necessity.”
That is the verdict of Phil Crothers, Director of Film and Co-founder of Pivotal, as he reflects on the growing importance and distinct advantages of using unmanned aircraft in the film industry.
And he should know, because the Northern Ireland-based company has utilised the DJI Inspire 2 drone and cinematic DJI Zenmuse X5S and X7 cameras to shoot outstanding visuals for the likes of Netflix, WarnerMedia, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
Indeed, a glimpse at the showreel below shows just how effective this state-of-the-art technology can be, with Crothers describing the Inspire 2 drone as a workhorse.
To supply and service its dynamic drone programme, Pivotal has turned to DJI Gold Partner Heliguy and has praised us for our 'unquestionable support' and ability to ship out equipment quickly – a crucial requirement for the fast-moving and unpredictable film industry.
So how are drones changing the landscape of filmmaking and how is Pivotal maximising the capabilities of this technology to draw in clients from around the world? Heliguy Insider meets the team to find out.
‘Drones have become a key tool for every filmmaker’
Ask Pivotal what drones mean to them, and they’ll tell you that they are the cornerstone of the business.
While the company is relatively new – formed in September 2018 – the team’s combined involvement with UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) spans a decade.
For Crothers and his colleagues at Pivotal, drones are a key tool in their filmmaking arsenal, helping them push the boundaries and capture truly incredible content.
“Drones have been instrumental in what we are all about and are a principal part of Pivotal being in existence. Drones are incredibly quick to set up and very reliable and they are an absolute necessity now," he said.
At the forefront of their drone kit list is the DJI Inspire 2, designed specifically for professional aerial cinematography.
In Pivotal’s experience, pairing this with the X5S or X7 are potent combinations. Pivotal also uses Mavic drones, as well as DJI Cendence controllers and CrystalSky monitors - all supplied by Heliguy.
Crothers – who shot principle aerial footage for HBO’s Games of Thrones and Disney’s The Lodge before forming Pivotal – said: “The Inspire 2 has become the workhorse for us at Pivotal, especially with the X7 or X5S combination. It has proved itself to be outstanding in terms of resolution, bit-rate and data capture and the DJI lenses give you really stunning images.
“Thanks to this equipment, you are capturing footage that you really would have needed a heavy lift before. In terms of safety, operational capability, image capture and the quality of the image, it is really hard to beat the Inspire 2 and the X5S/X7 cameras and Heliguy was instrumental in getting this system to us.”
Over the years, the team has worked with a range of cameras, but for them, the X5S and X7 are difficult to beat, especially when mixing price with quality.
Crothers added: “Our experience with cameras and drones is everything across our careers. We’ve used everything from DSLRs to the X3, X5, X5S and now the X7, as well as the Arri Mini, RED Epic and the RED Dragon.
“I guess the next one up for everybody to try to look to get in the air is the Sony Venice, but that puts you into a whole different category and something that really is within a specific weight category.
“Having said that, the X5S and the X7 for their raw capabilities, lenses and prime lense sets that you can use with them, they are very hard to beat in terms of bang for your buck, the image capture, the image capability and what you can get out of them.”
Clearly, this DJI equipment is a filmmaker’s dream. But Pivotal doesn’t only use drones for image capture. UAVs are also important tools for pre-production work and safety.
Crothers explained: “We use little scouting drones to carry out recces, get an idea of what the environment is and to check for safety hazards. It helps you see and identify things which you can’t necessarily see from the ground.
“The safety factor comes in in a major way. The most important thing for us on set and on location is the safety aspect – how we work with that and how we manage that. Time pressures mean that we need to operate quickly and efficiently, but with safety as paramount, and drones help tremendously with that."
Thanks to the capabilities of drones and their sophisticated payloads, Crothers can’t imagine going back to a time before UAVs.
He said: “Developments in technology are constant. Drones came in as a different way of looking at things and when they first came out they were severely limited in terms of image capture and how they would stand up against the traditional shots from helicopter or crane.
The DJI CrystalSky monitors have been designed to give you the optimum visual experience when piloting DJI drones, with more than 4x the brightness of a standard smart device, while the DJI Cendence controller offers modular components and controls that realise the full potential of Inspire 2.
"But as the technology has moved and developed – incredibly quickly too – drones have become a key tool for every filmmaker.
“As a filmmaker, drones have changed the environment completely and it is something I can only see getting stronger and developing more and more.”
‘Heliguy Has Been Instrumental From Day One’
Drones are an integral part of Pivotal’s operations. And at the centre of this, is Heliguy.
As one of DJI’s largest and trusted European enterprise channel partners, Heliguy is recognised as a Gold Partner, certifying our expertise and knowledge to enterprise customers.
The team at Pivotal has benefited from Heliguy’s five-star service, with Heliguy’s Enterprise Account Manager, Matthew Cairns, looking after the company.
Crothers said: “Heliguy has been instrumental from day one and the support they have given has been unquestionable.
“The importance and the difference we have found with Heliguy is the level of service. There are many places that you can get your kit from but what we have found is that not everyone can carry the stock or the level of stock that can fulfil the short-notice demand. This is where Heliguy comes in.
“The one thing we have found with Heliguy is that they have always delivered in terms of turning things around for us within 24 hours and being the difference between us doing a very good job and us doing an even better job. Whatever we have needed has come through when we needed it.
“The bottom line really is that degree of service and every time Heliguy has come up trumps, understanding the urgency of some of our requests.
“Even though we are a stretch of water away, Heliguy can still guarantee next-day delivery and that makes such a difference to us, knowing what we can get as soon as we need it.”
‘Drones Are Dynamic Instruments, But You Need To Think About Things In A Filmic Way’
So, you have your drone, and you have your camera. But while this technology is a major asset to any filmmaker or photographer, Crothers insists that it is down to the individual to maximise its potential.
He said: “Traditionally, drones stepped into a place that was a unique area – below the height of helicopters and above the height of a crane. But the elevated view and access to that technology at relatively low cost and the proliferation of the high shot makes you think on your feet all of the time.
“Drones are dynamic instruments, but you have to think about things in a filmic way. Simply going up and capturing a wide shot or travelling past a landscape – it is not enough to stand out.
“If you want to stand out you have to think about how you can apply that technology in a way that either hasn’t been used or gives a quicker solution to industry standards. No matter how good the technology is, it still falls into the hands of the operators to make it different.”
What Does The Future Hold For Pivotal?
Pivotal may well be less than a year old, but the Belfast-based firm has already made some great strides, establishing a high-profile client list, home and abroad.
While a lot of Pivotal’s work is protected by non-disclosure orders, big hitters such as Netflix, the BBC and WarnerMedia demonstrates how far the company has come in such a short space of time. There’s independent companies and the global-reaching TBWA creative agency on the books too, all spread across a broad spectrum of film, television, advertising, branding and corporate.
With Pivotal off to a flyer, what does the future hold for this rapidly-expanding company?
Crothers said: “We want an ongoing strengthening relationship with Heliguy. They have got us accessories and principal elements as and when we have needed it.
“As the technology moves and as DJI brings new products out, we know that Heliguy will be on the top of the list in terms of these products coming through and getting access to them really is a priority to us as we expand and develop our business.
“Looking at the industry and how things work, the most important thing is collaboration. You have Heliguy – and I can’t stress how important this relationship is – and we also work closely with Shotmaker Films, in Northern Ireland.
“They have a global reach and they have worked with Will Smith and Lewis Hamilton and were instrumental in the Formula E commercial which recently picked up an award at the Cannes Lions Festival.
“They are DJI users, among other things, and they are constantly looking at how new technology can be applied. For us, having this type of support from a company like this is unbelievable.
“Collaboration is where this industry is at and where the growth is. Between the guys at Shotmaker Films, Heliguy and ourselves, I see the future going from strength to strength.”