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CopterStudios shoots aerial HD from remote-control helicopters

CopterStudios, a specialty production company based in Santa Rosa, CA, has outfitted two Halo remote-controlled helicopters with JVC GY-HM100 ProHD camcorders for close-range aerial cinematography.

The Halo-based helicopters have captured breathtaking HD footage for cable network programs, movies and TV commercials, as well as promotional footage for Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries, real estate properties and golf courses.

CopterStudios owner Darin Huard founded the company five years ago because he recognized the cinematic perspective these minihelicopter camera systems could capture. With the ability to hover or fly with precision, the Halo can get unique shots 50ft to 100ft off the ground.

Built by PhotoShip One in Mesa, AZ, the two Halo remote-controlled helicopters were designed and built specifically for close-range aerial cinematography. “Once we took delivery of the helicopter systems, it was up to us to outfit them with our choice of cameras and wireless transmission systems,” Huard said.

Besides HD picture quality, Huard said the GY-HM100s are well-suited for the task because they are lightweight, compact and include a built-in Fujinon 10x lens. They also can shoot HD and PAL video at a variety of frame rates and rely on three-CCD image capture along with built-in image stabilization.

According to Huard, CCD imagers tolerate helicopter vibrations. They also do not suffer from unacceptable waviness when the helicopter makes abrupt moves, he added.

CopterStudios maintains a five-man crew for each production: a pilot for the remote controlled helicopter; a camera operator, who uses an IR remote control to adjust camera functions; two safety assistants, who warn the pilot of obstacles in the flight path; and a set coordinator, who works with the director or producer to plan the shots.

Usually, the remote-controlled helicopter is airborne and shooting in three to 10 minutes. The director or producer can watch the video in real time on a monitor on the set. SD video is transmitted from the JVC camera via a live video microwave downlink to a directional patch antenna, which feeds the reference monitor on-set.

CopterStudios also takes advantage of the GY-HM100’s use of SDHC solid-state media and native Final Cut Pro recording.