All posts in October 2015

  • LA Times: Drones are providing film and TV viewers a new perspective on the action

    A dazed and bloodied student who had just been mugged stumbled down a darkened alleyway in a slum. He lifted his shirt, revealing a gaping wound, before collapsing on the ground as curious onlookers gathered around…

  • Aerial MOB: An Offer We Cannot Refuse

    Aerial MOB: An Offer We Cannot Refuse

    In late September 2014, Aerial MOB became one of the first six American film production companies selected by the FAA to receive a Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to use UASs for movies, television and commercials.
    Much has changed since then. Being the godfather of the drone industry has turned out to be a goldmine for Aerial MOB. Still, in the world of media, plot-lines, personalities and silicone enhancements don’t last beyond the pilot, and it’s no different in the burgeoning drone industry. The company would not have been able to grow so fast without being able to deliver on a golden narrative. The cream always rises to the top and Aerial MOB is one of the masters of visual drone storytelling.
    “Pre-certification, we were working, on average, once every six weeks. We were doing much smaller jobs with much smaller production companies. After, we average seven to eight jobs a month,” said Tony Carmean, Aerial MOB’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.
    With golden quality comes top companies with big budgets to spend showcasing their products. Aerial MOB’s client list now includes some of the biggest entertainment and media companies in the world, including BBC, HBO, MTV, and Warner Brothers, among many others. Car companies and consumer brands like NIKE, KIA, BMW and American Express have also gravitated to the MOB for its talent to create stunning visuals.

    Tony Carmean said drones allow directors to be more efficient and more creative.
    “UASs get shots in close spaces in 20 minutes. Before you would need a half to full day just to set up,” said Carmean.
    “UASs also give cinematographers (the opportunity)…to get single continuous shots and long pans over (a landscape) that you couldn’t easily get before.”

    Aerial MOB uses about five different cameras, ranging from a low-end UAS similar to a GoPro in which the camera is built into the aircraft, to the mid-range Panasonic Lumix G DMC GH4, to the high-end Arri ALEXA Mini. The ALEXA Mini retails for $60,000.
    “All of our pilots are FAA certified and are professional cinematographers. They’re members of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600,” Carmean continued.

    As it is commercially known, the highest the devices can fly is 400 feet. Most shots are done at 100 feet and under, eliminating the need for a van full of movie production equipment like dollies, jibs, trams, and cranes. Drones save industry money, but they have also help productions to remain lean, and mean.
    Carmean said when the pilots send a $100,000 machine up to film fireworks, “there’s a lot of pressure on the pilots.”
    The UASs are covered by insurance, but must be treated carefully because many are leased. A complex shoot for a stunt and explosion-filled car commercial can last three 10 to 12 hour days in the hot, dry Southern California chaparral.
    A tight crew of UAS pilots, directors and assistants, and contracted stuntmen work closely and tirelessly to get the shots just right. They are obligated to operate under FAA guidelines, but since Aerial MOB is part of the entertainment production industry, different and stringent rules apply providing another layer of protection and safety. Governing bodies such as local and regional permit offices have assumed jurisdiction when it comes to profession drone shoots in the Golden State.
    Aerial MOB does about 60 percent of its work in Southern California. Its crew has traveled as far north as Vancouver and south as Mexico City.
    Carmean said filming in another country requires a lot of preparation.
    “You list everything you’re bringing in, and everything you’re bringing out. We still have to file paperwork with the FAA for every job. The client has to go their permitting agency (where the shoot will take place) and file with them too,” he said. It’s not an easy process.
    UAS shots are not greatly affected by air pollution. Cameras can be outfitted with different filters to give a specific tone to footage.
    “We do a lot of car commercials where the UASs chase cars on mountain roads. We filmed a guy who got mugged with a reveal shot 20 feet above his head. For the CBS show The Mentalist, we had a very cool continuous shot, with a police officer and a detective out in the woods. The camera pans over the woods and heads in a certain direction,” said Carmean.
    Carmean said his job is coordination. He is on set often.
    “We do everything from the more laid-back plate shots (background landscape shots which do not contain actors or specific set pieces) to action scenes for TV shows,” said Carmean.

    Since Aerial MOB was among the first companies to receive certification from the FAA, it is also getting attention from politicians.
    In late April 2015, Aerial MOB’s partners were guests of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) at the 3rd annual Creativity Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference brings together policy makers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists to explain how the expansion of the creative community encourages economic development.
    “We were in front of U.S. Senators and Congressmen and the news media, and met with U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). We sat with the FAA for three hours afterward. The FAA listened and made some changes,” said Carmean.
    Carmean said he and other partners explained certification for every location shoot is a little onerous. They also offered suggestions for how to streamline the FAA’s paperwork processes.
    In the coming years, Ariel MOB is looking to expand beyond show business into transportation, building, and utilities inspection.

    “We (the company) made a conscious decision three years ago (to start UAS filming) last year when the FAA was set to grant certification. It was good timing. We have four partner owners, three full-time employees, and about 15 independent contractors. We haven’t lost anybody (since we started). We want to grow,” said Carmean.

  • LA Great Place for Drone Industry

    LA Great Place for Drone Industry

    On Thursday night at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, I spoke about the drone ecosystem and how LA is a great place to be building a drone company. Los Angeles was the center of aerospace innovation in the 20th century. Together with our friends across industry, we’re making it the 21st century home for the next frontier of aerospace technology.
    Donald Douglas founded his aircraft company in Santa Monica in 1921. In 1924, the first ever flight around the world was made by the Douglas World Cruisers, which took off from Clover Field, the present-day site of Santa Monica Airport.

    Douglas World Cruisers, prior to departure from Santa Monica, CA on the first circumnavigation of the world by airplane in 1924.
    The first commercially viable airliner was the Douglas DC-3, every copy of which was built at the Santa Monica factory.

    Delta Air Lines Douglas DC-3

    The Douglas aircraft factory at Santa Monica Airport employed more than 44,000 people in the 1940s.
    As Douglas developed heavier airplanes and eventually jets like the DC-8, the runway at Santa Monica became too short and the company moved to nearby Long Beach. Just south of Santa Monica in Culver City and El Segundo, innovators like Hughes developed airplanes, helicopters, and satellites.
    Today, SpaceX is forging new ground from their Hawthorne, CA headquarters, and companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR have joined Scaled Composites in the nearby Mojave desert.

    Ben speaking at Cross Campus in Santa Monica on September 24, 2015.
    But what does the future hold for aviation technology? Since the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, aviation technology has been about connecting people across borders. When Charles Lindbergh made his record-setting solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, he couldn’t have possibly imagined that only 40 years later people would be getting on Boeing 747s in Los Angeles and arriving in London just 10 hours later. Air travel has become a natural part of our lives.
    The next frontier of aerospace technology won’t be about connecting people across borders, it’ll be about connecting one street corner to the next, it’ll be about collecting data to help us understand our communities better. It’s all about local. We’re already seeing drones being use for all kinds of inspiring applications, like aerial photography and cinematography, much of which is driven by Hollywood (also part of LA). Aerial Mob and CTRL.ME Robotics, both LA-based companies, create awesome aerial art. Santa Monica-based Dronebase helps connect real-estate, construction, and other industrial customers with the aerial images and data they need.
    In ten years, the ways in which we’ll most be enjoying drones haven’t even been dreamt up yet. There are myriad opportunities for innovators to jump into this exciting emerging ecosystem and build great businesses. It feels great to be a part of this new community of collaborators.
    For my team and me at AirMap, our calling is to provide access to the world’s low altitude airspace information so that drones and their operators can understand where it’s safe to fly. Without this information, innovation cannot take flight. And our job isn’t easy. Gathering, scrubbing, curating, and maintaining a global, precise, dynamic airspace dataset is hard. Serving that information up in ways that are simple to use is even harder. That’s why our team is dedicated entirely to this specific contribution to our new industry.
    One example of how AirMap makes its airspace information useful is through the Know Before You Fly campaign. Together with industry and government collaborators, we’re helping to keep people who are new to drones as safe as possible.

    AirMap airspace information integrated into the Know Before You Fly campaign.
    Another example is the integration of AirMap’s airspace information into the popular app for recreational drone pilots called Hover, which provides weather information, a news feed, flight logging capabilities, and other information, in addition to an airspace map.

    Download Hover from the Apple Store or Google Play today!
    Next week, AirMap will be releasing its map SDK to a limited number of beta tester app developers in preparation for a mainstream release by the end of the year. The SDK allows developers building apps for drones to easily incorporate airspace information into their products. Sign up for early access to the SDK by visiting AirMap’s website at
    AirMap is hiring! If you love drones, you like the idea of working with a bunch of smart, passionate, executers four blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, and you want to build a foundational element of the aeronautical infrastructure of the future, we want to talk with you! Learn more by clicking here.