Meet the Drone System That Could Replace Camera Operators

By dmeikleham on at

Image: MIT

Movies filmed without human involvement could show up in cinemas sooner than you think. While you're unlikely to see a bionic Spielberg anytime soon, a new type of drone being developed at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could potentially put camera operators out of work... albeit way, way in the future.

Labelled "real-time motion planning for aerial videography", this experimental drone system can let a director manipulate the basic dimensions of a shot – say, how wide the frame is. Unlike similar systems, MIT's drone also frequently measures objects in its immediate vicinity, constantly performing scans 50 times per second, minimising the chances of it smacking some unaware actor upside the head. 

The notion of drone-filmed movies isn't quite as fanciful as you think, either. In recent years the likes of Jurassic World and even The Wolf of Wall Street had scenes that were partially filmed by drone helicopters.

The Academy probably won't be handing out any cinematography Oscars to a drone in the near future, but as Larry Hardesty at MIT's news office writes, the tech is already capable of giving directors some seriously sophisticated control over their shots:

"The user can specify how the different factors should be weighed against each other. Preserving the actors’ relative locations onscreen, for instance, might be more important than maintaining a precise distance, or vice versa. The user can also assign a weight to minimise occlusion, ensuring that one actor doesn’t end up blocking another from the camera."

Judging by the footage above, there are some kinks that need ironed out before you're ever likely to see such a system operating on a movie set. Still, the way tech forever marches forward, don't be surprised if Fast & Furious 27 is entirely shot by a drone.