- XM2 Romeo
- ARRI Alexa Mini
- Primo V lens
- Teradek Bolt 3000
- 3x Teradek RT MK3.1 Wireless Lens Controller
It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 50% kickass superhero action, 40% off-kilter comedy and 100% live-action CGI.. Well, maybe a little less, but we all know green screens and VFX are the foundation of that signature Marvel look. With the huge blockbuster success of Thor:Ragnarok, as well as grander ambitions for future Marvel movies, let’s take a look at the artists behind aerial acquisition that acquired critical background looks for the newest Thor movie.
As readers of this blog can attest, we’re big fans of Australia-based drone cinematography company XM2. The premier drone filmmaking company designs & manufactures their own aircraft specifically for cinema use, and their systems have the biggest payload capacity in the world for carrying heavy cameras like the ARRI Alexa Mini and gimbals like the MoVI XL.
XM2 is also the go-to company for big film productions; their portfolio includes Pirates of the Caribbean, Aquaman, Pacific Rim, Westworld and much more.
Difficulties of Shooting in the Air
Stephen Oh is Founder & CEO of the company. He talks about using Teradek RT (formerly RT Motion) on UAVs and why remote camera controls are 100% necessary for their workflow in Thor:Ragnarok:
“We’ve been using the RT for years - on every project XM2 has ever worked on. In Thor:Ragnarok, any of the aerial shots looking at a scene from above, chances are we did it,” said Oh. “These were the background plates which the VFX guys used to develop all of the cities and landscapes to shoot the action.”
Shooting from a drone comes with a set of very unique challenges. Time on set is a precious commodity, and instead of landing after every take for start/stop, the drone needs to stay in the air with a remote way to control basic camera functions.
Furthermore, drones can pan and tilt in a 360 space, moving from one shot to another in quick succession. But doing so often means facing wholly different lighting when switching from one side to the other, which requires live adjustments to the focus, iris & zoom. This is why Teradek RT is essential.
For the aerials, XM2 employed their specially-designed Romeo drone which carries the ARRI Alexa Mini cinema camera. Mounted to the camera is a Panavision Primo V Lens and a Teradek Bolt 3000 wireless system. The Bolt 3000 gave the crew on the ground a live zero-delay feed of the Alexa Mini shot, allowing Oh and the crew to monitor the shot and make adjustments.
Using the Bolt to see a live shot from the drone, the 1st AC was able to control lens settings via 3x Teradek RT motors. The 6-Axis Wireless Lens Controller was able to make instant adjustments to the lens so there was visually instant and lossless changes to FIZ. Because it could transmit zero-delay instructions to the motors up to 5000 ft. away, the RT gear gave XM2 tons of aerial space to work with.
“The range on the Teradek RT is simply incredible. This isn’t a crane or a helicopter where you could tether the system,” said Oh. “Drones are 100% wireless, and we need the best tech to be able to get the right shots. Despite how far the drone was from us, the Teradek tech made controlling the lens lightning fast - as if there was no distance at all. The stability of the motors made configuring the lens incredibly smooth as well.”
Filming with a drone offers huge range, elevation and cost advantages over traditional aerial systems like cranes and helicopters, but requires a way to control the lens and camera from afar. That’s why it’s essential for XM2 to incorporate wireless systems into their drone payloads.
“If a drone does a 180 wrap-around of a subject, the lighting and exposure changes completely. The beginning of the shot and the end will look entirely different, and when you’re shooting outdoors where drones are mostly used, it’s absolutely critical to be able to control the lens to capture the shot perfectly.”
By using Teradek RT alongside their live wireless feed from the Bolt 3000, Oh and his team were able to make these adjustments to their in-flight camera & lens in real-time, enabling them to shoot as if it were a wired system. This ultimately allowed them to capture the perfect shots that Director Taika Waititi and Marvel wanted, and contributed to that signature cinematic look that Marvel is famous for.
“When we were shooting up in the mountains of New Zealand or beaches in Australia, the cloudy weather caused lighting to constantly change,” explained Oh. “If we didn’t have the RT camera control, this shoot would’ve been impossible. We’re very grateful to have such a reliable unit on our drones.”
XM2 is a member of Australia’s globally-recognized society of blockbuster filmmakers, Ausfilm. They have major Hollywood and international productions lined up for 2018, along with a new drone (XM2 Sierra) which can carry the massive Alexa 65. Check out their Instagram here.