November 30, 2015 Contessa Abono

Video Spotlight: How to use drones to take your video making to new heights!

“Almost every person I see has a child-like enthusiasm or glee that washes over them when they see a big drone take off for the first time.”


Camera equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or radio-controlled drones as they’re more commonly called have revolutionized the video industry in a big way. As models become more accessible on a consumer level their popularity is skyrocketing due to the creative and innovative footage they produce.


Although a slightly tricky tool to master (and sometimes operate legally), the effort is worth it for many video-makers looking to take their creativity to new heights! (pun intended)


We had a chance to chat with Jon Ollwerther, CMO of Aerobo a NYC based company that specializes in designing, building and operating drones for a variety of clients as well as in their own independent filmmaking.

In the interview we found out what are some of the challenges of working with drones, how to get started with your own budding drone pilot career, and how drones are an excellent tool to “freely and easily put your camera anywhere in 3D space that you desire, combining complex vehicle and camera movements to create unique, never before seen camera moves,” said Ollwerther.

Aerobo and director Paul Trillo used drones in a completely different way as they turned the sky into a living canvas with smoke grenades as brushes in their latest project entitled “Paint the Sky.”

(Drones flown are the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, Phantom 3 Pro, Inspire, S1000, and Aerobo X8.)

LookAT: What are the major challenges working with drones?

Jon Ollwerther: Aerobo‘s business is engineering, building and operating drones so we’re very comfortable with most of the challenges that come up. No matter the size or complexity of the drone, the weather and prevailing conditions on-set can be challenging. Like anything else in film though, planning and logistics are key, 80% of the battle is meticulous planning; ensuring that people and equipment show up where they’re supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and people know what their job is.


Having said that, the most important element of a good drone shoot is the teamwork between the pilot and the camera operator.  Most drones that we operate for our clients have two people who operate them.

There is a pilot, whose job it is to steer the aircraft and a camera operator whose role it is to steer the camera on the gimbal (a gimbal is a robotic stabilizer that the camera sits usually below (usually) the drone). Like any good team, the pilot and camera op must work well together; there is a running dialogue between them and a back-and-forth almost like an aerial dance, to get the best shot possible.


LA: What inspired that think-outside-of-the-drone-box “Paint The Sky” piece?

JO: The idea for Paint the Sky came out of conversations between our CEO Brian Streem and Director Paul Trillo, who had seen airplanes writing messages in the sky.  They wondered if drones could use smoke to “paint” in the sky like a plane writes in the sky.


LA: I see that you used paintball style smoke grenades? 

JO: Yes, we used a mix of paintball style smoke generators and special effects smoke generators.  Because of a federal law, all smoke grenades are essentially limited to 90 seconds of burn time, so that was a huge logistical challenge for us.  Our lead aeronautical engineer, Suresh Kumar, initially designed and built remote triggers for the grenades.  They were simple and elegant but took an extra few minutes to reload, so in the interest of saving time and shooting lots of footage while the light was good, we ended up pulling the pins and launching the drones manually, as you can see in the film.

LA: Was it dangerous to the equipment to use smoke grenades? 

JO: We took the time to learn how to safely use the smoke generators and we have two certified HAZMAT handlers on staff.  Especially since we were away from people and structures, flying over water we felt that it was a safe situation.


LA: What are you planning to do with the footage?

JO: The footage is for an art film, which is in postproduction now.  It will be shown at festivals around the world.

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LA: How does one become a drone pilot? 

JO: Many drone pilots come from the RC airplane hobbyist community or an aviation background.  We also work with some drone pilots who come from a military drone background but that is less common.


LA: How can someone learn more about flying drones?

JO: There are many schools popping up all over the country (U.S.A.) but right now, working with an AMA club or AMA members is the best way to learn how to fly skillfully and safely.

That said, there is a wealth of information online with some great videos by manufacturers like DJI.

LA: Tell me more about Aerobo. What other projects are you currently working on?

JO: Right now Aerobo is working on a few feature films, a second short film with director Paul Trillo, and a handful of music videos and TV/web ads.  We have several teams located across the U.S. and also do a lot of work with news stations, networks, and morning shows, but by its very nature, news happens last minute so it’s a little more difficult to plan for.

LA: What are some reasons you think video-makers should try out drones? 

JO: Almost every person I see has a child-like enthusiasm or glee that washes over them when they see a big drone take off for the first time. Seeing a large drone, with a large payload take off vertically seems magical.

Practically speaking though, a drone, at its very essence is a way to easily move an object through three-dimensional space.  In filmmaking, this means that you can freely and easily put your camera anywhere in 3D space that you desire, combining complex vehicle and camera movements to create unique, never before seen camera moves.


With so many new possibilities with drones or even 3D and 360 video, the future of videography is transitioning and audiences want to see the world from every angle. Many video-makers are turning to drones to fulfill that need. Drone capability is quickly becoming incorporated into a video-maker’s repertoire of abilities, replacing other camera maneuvering. Even in Hollywood drones are eliminating the need for other costly and difficult camera work.

Imagine drone shots added to your demo reel— it’s sure to impress!

(All still shot photos courtesy of Aerobo.)

U.S.A. Laws regarding Drone flight, info here:


Connect with Aerobo:




About the Author

Contessa Abono Contessa is a journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in entertainment, online and photojournalism. She has written articles, shot photography and videography for many online and print publications such as SF Weekly, The Guardian, Guitar Player Magazine, The Press Newspapers and Pinpoint Music. Her favorite genre of film is documentary, usually about the supernatural or pop culture. She is also an avid pecan pie and kitten enthusiast.