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BFV's Big Interview: BeyondHD

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With 20 years specialising in aerial and vehicle-based stabilised remote head filming equipment and crew hire – from manned aerial filming and class leading commercial drones to high speed camera tracking vehicles and electric Quad all-terrain vehicles – BeyondHD know the market inside out. CEO Keith Harding answers our questions in this month's Big Interview...

BFV: BeyondHD provide production and filming services to many top film and TV productions – from Hollywood films to documentaries and commercials. While no two days are similar, can you give us an idea as to how a typical project goes from concept to completion for the company? What is involved?

KH: BeyondHD have been working in high end TV productions for more than 15 years, with a wide range of credits from Olympic games, wildlife, music, drama, commercials and features. Despite the variety of genres we work on, the projects workflow tends to be similar for each discipline. Ground based work tends to start with a storyboard, where we assist the production in matching the vehicle and/or gimbal to the shots required, after which it's quite rightly all about the lens and camera solutions and the filming style required, which are discussed at length with the DoP and budgets with the line producers. The big difference to this, is when aerials are involved, when working with the locations managers is critical to ensure that all necessary checks on suitability to flying in specific locations can be achieved with either the drones or the manned aircraft. With the price point of our revolutionary Gyrocopter, often the lines between drone usage and gyrocopter are becoming increasingly interchangeable from a budgeting point of view.

Once on location, the critical part for any of our equipment is the ability to quickly deploy, manage our own cameras (as there's nothing more frustrating to a production to discover that the provider are not experienced camera operators, therefore having to re-deploy their own DoP or camera department to assist in setting up the cameras). Monitoring is critical, so we have our own film carts, containing not only monitoring for our own purposes, but wired and wireless monitoring for video village, focus puller, engineering, etc. Frequently overlooked in the pre-planning, our concept of being self-contained, but simply integrated to the rest of the production (and quickly re-deployed from shot to shot) makes us a lot of friends and repeat business.

Clearly the most important thing is to get great results and as well as using some of the most experienced pilots, gimbal operators and crew in the industry, our 15 plus years of doing this, means that we can efficiently interpret the Directors/DoP's wishes into beautifully framed shots. After all, it's the shots that we are paid for, not to provide a showreel for our equipment.

What are a few of the challenges involved with aerial filming?

Location, location, location!!! A lot of pre-planning on our part goes into any location shoot for aerials, whether it be with the Gyrocopter or our cine drones. Aerial permissions for drone work are becoming more of a challenge, due to the unfortunate publicity of incidents involving primarily consumer drones, where the media have no vested interest in differentiating a sub £1,000 drone flown by amateurs or inexperienced commercial operators, lumping all drones into one "menace to society" group.

When highly experienced operators with state-of-the-art equipment and top film/TV crews can fly our aircraft safely and within the law every time. I can think of just a handful of UK operators, who make the substantial investment in aircraft, monitoring, battery management, support equipment, cameras, crew and safety considerations. Many operators consider buying a drone to be the road to a new career in film/TV, but certainly from our point of view, this is just one part of the investment, where the base cost of £40-£50,000 for the drone is just the start, thereafter, control, monitoring, support vehicles, cameras, lenses and most importantly a crew of highly experienced film and TV pilots and gimbal operators.

I sincerely hope that the days of enthusiast building their own "Frankenstein's drone" are disappearing fast and that productions are experienced enough to only consider serious commercial operators, who invest in the best/safest commercially manufactured drones from companies such as FreeFly, Intuitive Aerial and a handful of others. We have owned more than five versions of the £60,000 Aerigon aircraft over five years, rarely operating aircraft for more than a year before changing to improved platforms, guaranteeing to our clients that we always have the very best technology. We now operate the Freefly Alta8 with the amazing new MoVi Pro gimbal, which in our opinion at this time, is one of the finest performing commercial aircraft and gimbals in the world. Combined with our experienced pilots and crews and gimbal operators such as John Marzano, we not only fly the best aircraft, but we get the very best results from them.

BeyondHD and Dynamic Perspective have teamed up to deliver the CavalonPRO DynaX5 which was on display at IBC earlier this year. How did the partnership come around?

We started working on the Commercial Cavalon Pro aircraft with the German manufacturer over three years ago, identifying a unique opportunity to launch a new genre of commercial aircraft for aerial filming and surveying type applications. However, the lightweight nature of the aircraft, meant that we had to find a very high quality 5 Axis gimbal that met our requirement for both top end stabilisation, but needing to weigh less than 20kg. After a lot of searching and some initial meetings, a start-up company in Austria seemed to be designing the gimbal of our dreams. Two years later, the gimbal is ready for action and has created a lot of buzz in the industry, as both weight and price point are around a third of what came before, but stabilisation is in many cases equal or better.

Following on from the previous question, it has been said that the partnership has provided unprecedented opportunities for flexibility when it comes to aerial filming. In what ways is this the case?

It's a chicken and egg situation, although in our case, the Gyrocopter came first, but it's true to say, that had we not partnered with AutoGyro, the first commercial gyrocopter wouldn't have been much use for aerial filming. The Gyrocopter has significant operational cost savings, a uniquely safe low speed, low altitude operation, meaning that we can typically offer class leading aerials for a fraction of the price of helicopter shots.

Of course, we are not suggesting that the helicopter will be replaced by Gyrocopters in all scenarios, but low altitude tracking, beauty shots, etc. can now be done at the same quality, but a lot more time in the air. Capable of up to three hours between refuelling (with unleaded petrol) and airspeeds from 25kts to around 100kts, makes it an ideal solution, where drones would be restricted by regulation and helicopters by budget. However, flying more efficiently should not sacrifice quality. For our aerials, we partner with John Marzano offering his services, as one of the top Aerial DoP's in the world.

In addition to aerial filming, you provide vehicle filming services, from cars to a remote tracking vehicle, and even a segway. How popular are these services and who would typically use them? For example, for commercials or a movie?

It's a logical progression from aircraft to vehicles, after all with the right choice of high quality gimbals it's very easy to move from drone or aircraft to ground based vehicles and mounts. Between the DynaX5 and the new MoVi pro, we can mount them on or other wonderful vehicles, such as the electric quad bike and our custom manufactured remote tracking vehicle for totally breath-taking all-terrain tracking shots. Of course, one shouldn't forget that we use MoVi Pro and Ronin MX gimbals in a variety of handheld configurations, with support equipment such as our class leading ExoSkeleton rig and the often overlooked SteadiSeg – a vehicle capable of taking operator, gyrostabilised gimbal over many terrains for up to 12 miles – that would be a lot of work with a track and dolly system.

Do you think that productions are looking for more environmentally friendly ways to get their aerial and vehicle shots? Your predominance towards electric and fuel efficient camera vehicles and aircraft, was that an intentional direction for BeyondHD?

The move towards reducing the carbon footprint of our aircraft and vehicles is something we see as being very important to both ourselves, but increasingly becoming a driving factor for Producers. Clearly all drones are battery operated, but even here, we have invested heavily in advanced charging solutions, which can be up to 30% more efficient. Our flagships of fuel efficiency are obviously the unique electric quad, which produces zero emissions, provides quiet operation having much less impact on wildlife both for sound and emissions pollution. Whilst it would not be correct to suggest that a petrol powered anything is "green", it is very fair to say, that our Cavalon Pro gyrocopter, configured for high end commercial filming, is undoubtedly one of the most fuel-efficient rotary-wing filming aircraft in the world. We have no data to support our ranking in the film industry for carbon footprint, but we'd like to think that we are leading the way to a more environmentally conscious way of working.

Can we look forward to further developments from BeyondHD in 2017?

There's a lot on the way and I doubt with technology advancements, that we've seen our last drone acquisition.

Integration is key to us and finding new ways of getting cameras to unique places and moving them in unique ways will always be our goal. Using our current vehicles and gimbals in different ways, for example we are talking with US LED lighting companies about super-efficient, low weight/power fixtures to enable us to provide up to 30 minutes of 800w HMI drone mounted cine-lighting. Tethered drones is something we will introduce early next year, allowing us to fly drones where previously they were prohibited and also allowing the filming an entire marathon or football match, without having to land to change batteries or without risk of losing wireless video transmission as all power/video is cabled... Keep watching this space.

This article can also be read at BFV online here, page 5.


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BFV's Big Interview: BeyondHD
With 20 years specialising in aerial and vehicle-based stabilised remote head filming equipment and crew hire – from manned aerial filming and class l