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Race Cars, Speed Boats, and Heavy Rigs: An Interview with TheBlackDrone

BY Zacc Dukowitz
31 May 2017

TheBlackDrone is one of the leading aerial cinematographers in Germany. They work with some of the biggest (and coolest) companies in the entire world—companies like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Aston Martin, and Ferrari, among others.

We wanted to hear more about what they do, and how they’ve managed to secure a position as one of the go-to aerial cinematographers for high end work.

Read on to hear from Philipp Reimer, founder of TheBlackDrone, about how he got his start and what he sees coming next in the industry.

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Describe what your company does in one short sentence.

Philipp Reimer: We provide high class aerial footage with RED Epic, Alexa Mini, or 360° VR rigs to international clients.

UAV Coach: How did you first get involved with aerial cinematography?

Philipp Reimer: The first drone we used for a production was a DJI Phantom 1 with a hard-mounted GoPro camera for Aston Martin back in 2012, in addition to our normal footage. They loved it so much they told their friends at Ferrari, which then was our next client for aerials.

UAV Coach: Many of the shots in your showreel are big and impressive—big boats and cars, big machinery, big ski jumps. What have been some of your most favorite projects throughout your career, and why?

TheBlackDrone’s Showreel for 2017

Philipp Reimer: Thanks for the compliment! Yes indeed—the company has evolved really quickly and we are in the lucky position to work for the biggest companies in the world.

One of the most demanding jobs was the “Trinity” production for Mercedes-Benz. We were given the chance to film and explain the heritage of the Mercedes-Benz star. For this we travelled to Monaco to film the new S-class convertible in combination with their new Mercedes-Benz Arrow 460 Granturismo style yacht and a Helicopter. Those three objects on land, water and in the air should be combined in one picture to symbolize the star. We were the first ever to get the opportunity to show the style yacht to the world and also those three vehicles in one film.

Mobility with the Mercedes star on land, on water and in the air - Mercedes-Benz original

UAV Coach: At :55 in the showreel there are several before/after shots that really stand out. Can you tell us more about those? Did you shoot these for a commercial, or for artistic purposes? Would love to hear about the process for and context around those shots.

Philipp Reimer: Sure thing! Those four clips are for the Swiss television SRF1 company. They produce those so-called “idents” as little imagefilms to show before films or the news. Those idents are very creative ways to showcase the logo of the company (the red one). We shot the backplates for them in various locations in Switzerland. The company that worked with us on those idents won first place for their approach for the “Swiss Edi 2016” award.

Here’s a short clip of the “idents” Philipp is talking about

UAV Coach: What separates you from other companies in the aerial cinematography space?

Philipp Reimer: We have two very important pillars we rely on.

First of all, my business partner and I have been photographers for over 15 years, and we’ve been shooting commercials for more than 10 years. So we’re very capable of getting the perfect picture.

Secondly, we are really into building functional model cars and flying objects. This mechanical engineering background helps us develop and maintain our drones and accessories to a very “German” level. We heavily modify basically every piece of technology until we think it’s good enough for the job. So we combine the two most needed skills for high end aerial cinematography: we can maintain and fly our gear properly and we know what kinds of shots the DOP (Director of Photography) wants to have.

UAV Coach: We saw that you offer 360/VR video services. Have you had many projects in this new medium, and what have they been? What unique challenges does working in VR present for aerial cinematography, and how have you overcome those challenges?

Philipp Reimer: We were one of the first companies worldwide to support Samsung with their Samsung VR commercials.

We flew a 360° VR GoPro rig in the world famous Frauenkirche in Dresden, and in one of the largest stalactite caves on earth. We really like the creative benefit of this technology but it still needs an improvement in picture quality.

We have done more VR projects but aren’t allowed to talk about those yet. We think that virtual reality will be really big in the future, and that drones will deliver some pretty impressive pictures using this new tech, but it definitely needs to be stabilized by a gimbal system (which presents major stitching issues). But it’s nothing we can’t invent something for.

UAV Coach: Does working with drones in Germany present any specific regulatory challenges?

Philipp Reimer: Yes. Just to give some insight into our daily business, 80% of the time we are sitting in our office getting permissions for our next projects.

Because we are in Germany, the German aviation office wants to know every detail for every flight that involves drones weighing over 10 kilograms (22 pounds). So we have to  get in touch with dozens of authorities before every flight.

Just recently the government decided that we also need a “drone pilot license” to fly drones. We think this is a good and necessary step.

UAV Coach: What drone(s) do you fly and what camera(s) do you use?

Philipp Reimer: For lower budgets and smaller productions we use the DJI Inspire 1 X5R and Inspire 2. They aren’t that great in our opinion for high end work, and nowhere near “professional” grade, but their all-in-one eco system is unbeatable right now.

For most of our jobs we fly our RAW Octocopter equipped with KDE components and DJI A2 FC. The camera package is either our RED Helium 8K or our Arri Alexa Mini. All are stabilized by the really awesome Freefly Movi pro gimbal. With normal payloads (Zeiss CP2 lens, 2 motor FIZ control) we have a flight time of approx. 15 minutes. Therefore we use 22.000 mAh GensAce batteries. If we need to shoot abroad we use our Freefly Alta 8 drone.

UAV Coach: What are your predictions for the drone industry? Please feel free to answer at length (what you see way down the road, what you see for next year, where you see regulations headed in Germany and/or elsewhere, new applications, etc.).

Philipp Reimer: We think the drone market is still evolving. The journey just started and this whole thing will grow.

The use cases for drones are basically endless. The film industry finally has the opportunity to fly the same cinema camera/lens setup on drones these days. With improved flight times you will have completely flexible cameras in the 3D space, which will replace all those hard-to-use dollytracks and cranes that take ages to get in place (though of course this is a very small niche).

Using drones for surveillance, inspections, or even rescue missions are some other areas where we expect to see a lot of growth. We shot a prototype drone for the Swiss post last year. They want to use drones to get blood samples or medicine to rural areas up in the mountains, which no car can access because of snow. That is a perfect example of an intelligent approach to using drones to tackle real life problems.

What the world needs is a general law for the “drone airspace” to coordinate and control them, like we do with airplanes. The European Union is on its way to making those rules for us in the next 1-2 years. This will help clear the way for new approaches. But those “delivery drones” from Amazon and DHL are not the future in our opinion. Those are pure marketing stunts and far from a realistic approach.

Want to see a video about Ferrari race cars from TheBlackDrone? Here you go:

These videos just keep coming. Here’s another TheBlackDrone shot for Mercedes-Benz, which was livestreamed:

Check out TheBlackDrone’s Vimeo channel for a bunch more awesome videos. Also make sure to visit TheBlackDrone website for more videos, since not all of them are up on Vimeo and there are some real treats on there (like this video they did for Porsche).

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