Skynamic: "ALEXA Mini can handle it all"
The drone pilots from Skynamic are specialists in aerial shots with the ALEXA Mini, and they appreciate the opportunity to keep ARRI´s camera system on the cutting edge with software updates.
Since founding their company Skynamic in 2012, Julian Gloeckner and Gabriel Manz have filmed around the world in all environments: from the big city to the mountain range, jungle, and sea. Recently, these two German drone camera operators spent four months with their team working in Morocco. From Casablanca to Ouarzazate and into the Sahara desert, they captured spectacular aerial shots for a Chinese action film with an ALEXA Mini attached to an octocopter. “Dust everywhere, huge differences in temperature between daytime and nighttime, lots of smoke. The conditions were really difficult,” Julian Gloeckner recalls, before adding: “But we never had any problems with the camera: ALEXA Mini can handle it all.”
The eight-motor drone, rechargeable batteries, camera body, lens, and gimbal: Up to 18 kg (40 lbs.) had to be maneuvered steadily through the air-down narrow alleys and amid flocks of birds, past low-hanging power lines and in the most varied of wind conditions. “All a question of concentration,” says Gloeckner. That is why Skynamic always works in twos on set. A pilot flies the drone, while a camera operator controls the gimbal and concentrates on the shot. The images result from well-practiced communication between the two. Depending on the setup, a drone can stay in flight for between six and 15 minutes. The batteries are still the bottleneck preventing longer flights.
An ALEXA Mini getting primed for action
But there are no compromises when it comes to picture quality. The Skynamic team nearly always flies with the ALEXA Mini. “Whatever film set we have been on, the ALEXA system is held in such high esteem within the industry that nearly everyone refuses to work with anything else,” notes Gloeckner. “But it wasn't until the ALEXA Mini came onto the market in 2015 that we could attach the camera to a drone, because it was so light and finally offered filmmakers the quality they wanted.” However, it isn't only about picture quality: “Topics like workflow, reliability, and user-friendliness also play an important role.”
The 30-year-old also appreciates the various file formats and adjustment options that provide for “maximum flexibility”—and the software updates for the camera system. Skynamic's ALEXA Mini, of course, has also been updated with the new SUP 5.1 http://www.arri.com/camera/alexa_mini/downloads/: “There are constantly new functions being added that make our working day easier,” says Gloeckner. The support of 1.3x anamorphic lenses is a “particularly useful new feature. It means we get a whole new set of lenses to work with.” WCU-4 additions like the improved playback options are “super,” he says. “This is a very valuable function for us, as it means we can start the playback of all clips during the flight back to base.” If it were up to Gloeckner, future updates could “happily involve more technical features like that.” He admits that, “at the moment, we use our bare eyes to decide whether the horizon seen from above is really horizontal.”
Skynamic at work in Morocco
Skynamic’s reputation long precedes its work in Morocco. Among the company’s earlier credits are ads for carmakers such as Porsche, VW, and Audi. Skynamic's six employees have also flown drones for the Netflix production BERLIN STATION and the RTL crime series ALARM FUER COBRA 11, among others. Then there are numerous other European and US TV and feature film projects on the list as well.
This diversity of projects has required Skynamic to meet the varying needs of many different customers. “Some want long, precise tracking shots, others need dynamic shots,” Gloeckner explains. “Just a few years ago, drone pilots were oddities on set, viewed with some curiosity. Nowadays drones are a normal piece of equipment that filmmakers can use to tell their story.”