On New Year’s Eve Alex Fuller asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping him film the New Year’s event on Browns Island here in Richmond, Virginia. Alex is the CEO and founder of KinoFly, a drone company operating out of San Diego, California. In his former life he worked here at Rocket Pop Media with the video crew. This was back when RPM was located in Shockoe Bottom (See: Stone age).

Here is the drone footage from Browns Island!
https://vimeo.com/115766791

Alex operated the drone while I operated the camera.

When I found out that Alex was in town I decided to kill two birds with one stone and do an article about drones, asking him to share his experience and expertise on the subject, and learn a bit about flying as well. If anybody is interested in learning more feel free to send me a line or contact Alex Fuller at Alex@kinofly.com.

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Can you talk about your current video drone and what it is capable of?

Sure thing. I have different types for different cameras/budgets. The largest one is my FreeFly Cinestar 8 Ocotcopter with a custom 3 axis brushless gimbal designed for larger payloads such as a Canon 5D or smaller cameras (BMPCC/GH4) with larger lenses. Next is a DJI S800 EVO Hexacopter with Zenmuse GH4 gimbal. This one is my workhorse that is very portable and easy to set up/fly, it flies a Panasonic GH4. Lastly I have a DJI f450 Quadcopter with the GoPro Hero 4. Great for flying in small places/indoors or in risky situations as it is very dispensable compared to the larger rigs.

 

Is it hard to pilot?

They are not very hard to operate, but flying in tricky conditions or making complex shots can be very difficult at times. Practicing a lot and using flight simulators is a good way to get better. Oh and its a great glute work-out when flying the larger copters!

 

Can you talk about your company and how you got started doing video drone work

My aerial company is called KinoFly and it started in February 2014 when I was laid off from my video-journalist job. I had always enjoyed flying small copters with GoPros, but when I was out of work I knew it was time to take it to the next level. Since I have been doing video production for a long time, I wanted to try something different and put real cameras in the air so I can shoot from a whole new perspective.

 

How high of a demand is there for flying shots?

The demand is fairly high, however, people are accessing the technology much easier now, so it’s getting quite competitive. There is still a fine line between an experienced UAV operator with a full size camera and someone who just ordered one online for their GoPro. I have full liability insurance on my rigs, and am in the process of acquiring a Private Pilots license for when the FAA finally grants permission to fly commercially in the US Airspace (That is a topic for another day!).

 

What are some of the things clients have said after seeing the footage?

Usually just good feedback. We strive to get the smoothest and most well exposed shots the first time, every time.

 

What are some of the projects you have worked on? What were some of the difficulties you have faced when filming?

I was lucky enough to go to Colombia this past summer to shoot aerials and 1st AC for a small independent feature. Some challenges there were traveling with so much gear, not speaking the language well, and trying to explain to customs officers what all the equipment was for. Those Lithium Polymer batteries look very suspicious! I also got to film on a fishing boat off the coast of San Clemente in pretty rough swells. We had a very small take off area and no room for error. Fortunately everything went off without a hitch and we launched/landed safely and got our shot. Standing on the boat while flying was another story however.

 

Is it fun? I bet flying one of those things around can be pretty nerve-wracking.

Flying is loads of fun, but it only gets nerve-wracking when we are flying the big copters in risky situations like off a boat or in high winds. I’ve had my Cinestar crash before and it was definitely a huge bummer. But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I was able to rebuild and get her going again which evened things out. There’s a saying that goes:  “If you’re not crashing, you’re not flying!”

 

What’s in the future? What do you expect to see as video drone technology advances?

The future is incredibly bright for the UAV industry, however, the FAA is really holding back our progress by not setting forth official rules and regulations. They say they will have something by end of 2015, but we’ll see…Aside from that, The UAV industry has enormous potential – somewhere around a $90 billion per year industry. I am working with my friends on a special project that will be going after the commercial UAV market for Agriculture, Search and Rescue, Surveying/Mapping, and Wildlife Conservation. The technology is advancing very fast and the drones you will see in the next 3-5 years will make everything else out there look like a paper weight. Once the batteries develop further and the FAA guidelines are in place, the market is going to explode and UAV’s will be as common as a computer, car, or even a cell phone!

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Thank You again, Alex, for letting me pick your brain. If you would like to see more of Alex’s work check out his Vimeo account at https://vimeo.com/imfuller.