There’s a shed in Ironbird’s Baltic Creative that’s packed full of the sort of machines that Leonardo da Vinci may have designed on one of his more fanciful days. Part-spider, part-cyborg they hang from the ceiling and cling to the walls.
Alec Caton and Rob Tilly are the creators and operators of these startling beasts; having started off as camera operators for the likes of Aardman Animations and Nickelodeon, they now run Ironbird, an aerial photography service that utilises Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to create visuals for clients as widespread as film-makers, architects and event companies.
“I watched a documentary on military drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and flying them into danger zones,” explains Rob, who happens to sport what might be the most impressive beard in Liverpool.
“That was the point where I made the connection with putting a camera on one. It wasn’t a brand new idea but there was no-one doing it in the UK to the same level. We deliver a certain quality of image that bridges the gap between Steadicam operator to crane to helicopter shot – there was something missing and we can bridge that gap.
“There was a desire to specialise,” adds Alec. “We took the plunge and invested in some equipment from America as we felt that the producer in the US was where the industry was going. It wasn’t technology that was designed for the hobbyist; it was made for professionals. It allows us to do what helicopters or cranes can’t do – it’s very versatile.”
However, we’re not simply talking about strapping a camera to an remote-control helicopter.
“I had to train to become a UAV pilot and we both went to Heathrow to do our groundschool exam,” explains Rob.
“Then I had to take a flight exam, which Alec had to take too as you operate as a team. We then applied to the Civil Aviation Authority for permissions to fly; when we go on a shoot we’ll complete a pre-flight survey and investigate the airspace.”
A live video downlink allows Alec to constantly review footage from the Canon 5d 1080p camera, meaning there’s no danger of that sinking ‘finger over shutter’ feeling. To come for Ironbird there are more UAVs planned and hook-ups with fellow Baltic professionals such as Sparkle Media and Studio F under way.
“It’s an exciting time,” muses Alec. “There’s a lot of new technology coming out – for us it’s ever-expanding and we seem to be in the right place at the right time.”
That’s about 300 feet up, if you’re wondering.
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