Accelerate - December 2015

Eye on the Prize

open this image in new window: C-Prize

Launched in April this year, the C-Prize aimed to connect the New Zealand Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry to our innovative film industry.

The C-Prize challenged teams to design and build a prototype UAV that could overcome one of three challenges that limit their use in the film and TV industry: strong wind, rotor noise and the need to track moving objects automatically. In the end there were six finalists and one winner – Team VorTech (read more about the C-Prize entries).

Team VorTech with Callaghan Innovation's Chris Thomson

Team VorTech's Ben Maclaren and Ryan Kurte with Callaghan Innovation's Chris Thomson (right)

Accelerate asked film industry veterans and C-Prize judges Chris Hampson and Richard Bluck three quick questions about the potential impact of UAVs and the C-Prize on the film industry.

In terms of UAV technology and innovation, what is the biggest challenge for film makers at the moment?

Chris Hampson: The biggest challenges with UAVs are safe ‘beyond-line-of-sight’ flying, coupled with the development of the most stable machines capable of operating in the widest range of weather conditions. A significant number of the entries in this competition addressed these problems, and if their resolutions are to the satisfaction of regulators and operators it will increase the viability of drones as a fast, reliable and adaptable camera platform. For film-makers, being able to fly the drone both reliably and regularly beyond the direct line-of-sight will open up the widest range of production possibilities.

Richard Bluck: The biggest challenge at the moment in my area of film-making, which is feature and high-end TV series, is for UAVs to carry enough weight for the more sophisticated cameras. Control systems are of variable quality and the quality of video systems, battery life and camera operator skills are also important issues to address. I was impressed by the different methods of building UAVs and the complexity of the motor and rotor systems available, but I felt there is so much more R&D required to address the various issues and this got in the way of some of the contestants completing their projects.

Which of the UAV entries excites you the most? Why?

Chris Hampson: Two proposals among the entries excited me for their potential for innovation and market return. The concepts inherent in the Butler entry amount to a wonderful notion – although unfortunately to date the visual-spatial concepts remain unproven, as the machine has yet to actually fly.

The goal of beyond-line-of-sight functioning will, I suspect, become a holy grail for drone research, and the plans advanced by Butler offer definite possibilities in this area. I have great hopes that Karl and Cathy Butler will continue to evolve this potentially fascinating project over the next six to 12 months, and from it may come a compact, stable and relatively quiet machine capable of stability, agility and a reasonable payload. Although they’re not in a position right now to actually demonstrate a great deal, if this machine can deliver on its promise, it would emerge as a high-end camera vehicle which could revolutionise the manner in which unmanned camera platforms are used.

For similar reasons, the ideas informing the Team VorTech entry excited me at the lower end of the market. I was impressed by this team: I liked their knowledge; their confidence; their apparent competence in both theoretical and practical environments; and their potential to capitalise on their experiences and to market themselves. And I liked their machines.

They have concentrated on a machine that is potentially capable of maintaining a higher degree of inherent stability rather than developing stability correction systems, and this seems eminently sensible to me. The lightness, flexibility and potentially stable platform they have evolved in their larger machine could – indeed should – give rise to a very stable camera platform with a very reasonable payload.

They are also developing a series of vision units – very small cameras, in effect – which could create a 360-degree vision matrix in two dimensions for the operator, who could then operate the craft from inside a mask; in effect, in a virtual cockpit. The implications for non-line-of-sight flying are considerable. And their aircraft platform is sufficiently substantial to enable this.

Richard Bluck: I was interested in the variety of ways that teams approached the challenges. I would like to see some of the more unorthodox machines have more development. UAVs have a place in film-making but they need to be reliable, professionally operated, able to integrate into the set protocol. They need to have a mix of film-makers and UAV specialists to make this technology go as far as it is capable of going.

Were there any unexpected results of connecting the latest UAV technology with the film-making challenges?

Chris Hampson: Not unexpected, no. The challenges themselves appear to have stimulated research that bore directly on the necessity for innovation in areas that the requirements of film-making have engendered. Specifically, these are beyond-line-of-sight flying and the broadest range of weather adaptability.

Richard Bluck: There weren't unexpected results, as such, but I was surprised at the number of projects that failed to meet their intended result. I realise that this is an innovation contest and pushing the boundaries of the technology is the desire, but there is a need to succeed in what you are trying to innovate. Realistic goals are as important as innovation.

Accelerate December 2015 index

Updated: 10 December 2015