An experienced filmmaker, who has used the DJI Inspire 2 to capture incredible footage for the BBC and L’Oréal, has revealed how the drone and its cinematic cameras rekindled his passion for aerial photography.
Having initially struggled to shoot quality footage with hefty and expensive equipment aboard a paraglider and other small aircraft - and initially not a fan of drones - a frustrated Chris Boyes was all set to give up his dream of breaking into the industry.
In his own words, it was breathtaking, and it was enough to reignite that fire in his belly and reinvigorate his passion for aerial filmmaking. The dream was alive once again. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Chris and his sound engineer friend Peter Roesner teamed up to form 5kdigitalfilm and with the Inspire 2, X5S and the X7 at the heart of their operations they have developed a formidable reputation for themselves, capturing scenes for the BBC’s The Planets, with Brian Cox; the opening sequences for The Snow Wolf, a blue-chip Natural History production; and commercials for L’Oréal and Gösser Beer.
Looking at this mesmerising footage below – entitled Winter in the Alps and captured by this talented duo with an Inspire 2 and X7 – it is easy to see why Chris fell in love with this powerful drone/camera combination.
Chris and Peter’s venture has been supported by heliguy™ – a DJI Gold Partner which supplied them with the Inspire 2 and the X5S and X7. In Chris’ own words, heliguy™ has been a constant source of help, thanks to its ‘genuinely human and caring approach to every aspect of aftersales, service and support’.
In this heliguy™ Insider blog post, we meet Chris to chat about the Inspire 2 and how it has helped him push the boundaries and capture some truly remarkable content.
In The Beginning….
Chris’ passion for aerial filming started with Sir David Attenborough and paragliding - two things that you wouldn’t immediately associate with one another.
As a moderately successful B cameraman, he had already worked on a few bigger Natural History productions, and as a teenager he was captivated by the great man’s narration while flying over these epic African vistas.
It captured Chris’ imagination and he was desperate to produce these shots for himself. A subsequent relocation to Austria and developing a love for paragliding seemed to offer the perfect platform to realise this dream. But, it didn’t go quite to plan.
“Unfortunately, my first serious attempts at higher-end aerial filming were met with only very limited success,” Chris recalled.
“Filming from a motorised paraglider meant that we were slow, there was no stabilisation and I had only a very narrow field of view to the side between the motor cage and the pilot.
“So I bought some very heavy and expensive Gyro stabilisers, which in no way compensated for the hole they left in my pocket. That Cineflex feel was still just out of reach. The tech was letting me down, we were making it too complicated.
“I tried filming out of small aircraft but the same problems prevailed, just at higher speeds.”
Chris’ dreams of becoming a top-class aerial filmmaker were hanging by a thread and he was on the verge of giving up.
Then came the Inspire series.
The Breakthrough Moment – The DJI Inspire 2
In November 2016, DJI unveiled the Inspire 2 – a best-in-class drone aimed at professional filmmakers and photographers, thanks to its incredible image-capture capabilities, speed and performance in difficult conditions.
Almost three years on, it is still an extremely popular aircraft and continues to be the go-to tool for industry experts.
For Chris, the launch of the Inspire 2 was his Eureka! moment and the catalyst for the success which was to follow.
He said: “I must admit, after struggling with paragliders and small aircraft, I’d given up a bit on the aerial dream and was in no way a fan of the humming hovering plastic, until I saw the first footage from the Inspire 2 and X5S.
“What? 5.2K Raw and Pro Pres 4444 in 4K! Okay, it is only 4/3, but the images were simply breathtaking!
“A good friend of mine, Peter, who happened to be a successful sound engineer and talented drone pilot, suggested we get an Inspire 2. I couldn’t sell my Gyros quick enough."
And 5kdigitalfilm was born.
It was to be the beginning of a fruitful collaboration. But while the Inspire 2 is a powerful tool, Chris and Peter had to think outside of the box to maximise their talent and the drone’s potential – especially when they were a relatively small fish in a large and incredibly busy pond!
Chris said: “The boom had started – every second documentary cameraman was buying an Inspire 2 and the market was soon flooded.
“Then I realised something which was the key to our success. I too, at the beginning, was working as a regular cameraman and offering the drone shots on the side, but I struggled between the two. At the end of the day they are two completely different approaches to filming.
“On the ground you creatively frame or you have a fixed movement, but in the air, these things are happening simultaneously and constantly. Until you get a feeling for all the possibilities that a 3D flying camera has, you will mentally always be on the ground.
“So, we took those many years in the TV and film industry and concentrated 100 per cent on implementing all we had learnt to get the most out of this flying wonder. We started going out and shooting landscapes, we practised, we got better, and we edited a few clips for Vimeo and were lucky enough to grab the attention of the right people.”
The rest happened by itself and huge clients like the BBC came knocking.
Praise for the DJI Inspire 2
In Chris’ opinion, they are good enough, powerful enough and reliable enough to use on all jobs, no matter how big, tricky or ambitious.
“The picture quality offered by both the X5S and X7 cameras in the right hands is in my opinion good enough for every level of film production. The new Log and Gamut RGB colour space grade up brilliantly with the best of cinema cameras from Arri or RED, and the footage is as much at home in a commercial or feature film as it is in an epic nature documentary.”
Yet, to Chris’ surprise, there are still some in the industry who are not sold on the Inspire 2’s capabilities - believing, wrongly, that it isn’t on par with more expensive models.
Chris said: “The biggest problem still is those directors or directors of photography who simply won’t accept that such a relatively cheap set up can compete with a heavy lifter carrying an Arri. But it can, and it now does, more and more.
“The Inspire 2 flies longer, you don’t have to fiddle with it constantly, and because you haven’t got £100,000-worth of kit flying around, you tend to try so much more and take that extra risk, which often rewards you with the better shot.
“Not only that, but it’s simply so much more flexible. You can shoot dolly shots or complicated crane shots in minutes that would usually take hours of setting up heavy equipment, costing the production thousands.
“We always have two Inspire 2 aircraft and camera kits fully functional at any one time – it’s a minimum if you are going to do it professionally. On set, you have to have a back-up in case of a problem or in the worst case that you sink one, which we have, quite literally, in a lake.”
There’s No I In Team
Make no mistake, this high-tech equipment has played a vital part in what Chris and Peter have achieved.
But another essential ingredient has been teamwork and understanding each other’s strengths.
Chris said: “There is no doubt that for us the key to success was developing the teamwork skills in a solely dual operation set up, whereby the cameraman and pilot learn to see and react to each other’s actions almost intuitively. This gives you a big advantage as you then only have to concentrate on framing and creative tasks.
“There are many people offering aerials with the Inspire 2, but if you can offer content instead of just a service then you are already in the top 20%.
“There are many good pilots but without an aerial director of photography and this teamwork with its intuitive communication between them, the talent is wasted. I have seen great pilots, and great directors of photography, but without drone camera operating experience, completely mess it up. The experience, together in a team with good communication, is the key to good results.
“We now have a team of three extremely experienced pilots and two aerial directors of photography and have permits to fly in most of central Europe. We have all flown hundreds of hours together, so when we turn up on set, we can concentrate on the shots and nothing else.”
heliguy™ Gives The Team A Helping Hand
While the equipment, team members and creativity have been crucial for driving forward Chris’ venture, another fundamental factor has been having a company which can support their drone programme. And this is where heliguy™ has stepped in.
heliguy™ is one of DJI’s largest and trusted European enterprise channel partners and is recognised as a Gold Partner, certifying our expert knowledge and services to enterprise customers.
Not only did we supply 5kdigitalfilm with its equipment, but we have also delivered a comprehensive package of aftercare, thanks to our dedicated account managers and expert technicians.
I would like to thank everyone at heliguy™ for their support over the years. heliguy™ understands what most companies have failed to – that it’s not just about selling stuff, but a genuinely human and caring approach to every aspect of aftersales, service and support.
The Launch Of A New Website
Thanks to all of the incredible content that Chris and his team has captured with the drone over the years, they have come together to launch a new website – aerial-footage.com – featuring a wealth of eye-catching material, including breathtaking vistas and stunning forest scenes in Austria and Italy.
Chris said: “After nearly three years shooting, we invested much personal time and emotion in our new stock footage website, aerial-footage.com. It has in no way paid for all the hours we put in, but it’s like a portfolio of blood, sweat and tears and all the wonderful moments spent together flying, and if someone buys something, then it’s a bonus.”
The new website certainly pays homage to the team’s incredible work, in what has very much been a labour of love.
Chris said: “Aerial filming or photography is a wonderful career that can take you to many new places and meet many new people.
“I guess it’s like anything – if you love what you do and you have a bit of talent then there is nothing stopping you, even in this relatively saturated branch of film production.
“Keep flying and shooting footage as we never stop learning new things. Buy lots of hard drive space and if you are lucky enough you may be able to sell your footage someday.”