Artbeats shoots RED EPIC Aerials over Washington, DC
March 1, 2012 2 Comments
Artbeats Washington, DC aerials. View the demo reel here.
After months of work from Artbeats staff, outside consultants and our pilot, the Transportation Security Administration granted us a waiver to spend two days shooting aerials over Washington, DC. The monumental red tape included getting clearance from the military, Secret Service, FBI and TSA. With that work behind us, we still had to get permits, as well as clearance from the tower at Reagan International Airport. Because of their busy weekdays, they asked us to push our daytime flights to Saturday.
Even with the waiver, we were not allowed to fly over the mall or shoot the White House. We were required to have a police officer accompany us in the helicopter during the flight and pre-screen us on the ground. At our airport, two Army Intelligence Officers waited for us to land so they could look over every shot, make sure there were no security violations, and delete any problem clips on the spot. Because of this we did quick cuts while shooting, so anything cut would be short.
Our equipment included the Pictorvision eclipse gyrostabilized gimbal mounted on a TwinStar helicopter. The camera was a RED Epic-X with an Optimo 24-290 lens. We shot at 30fps, 5K 2:1 with a Redcode setting of 8:1 and 6:1 for the nighttime shots. Our media was 256GB SSD cards, which gave us around 60 minutes of shoot time. The lens gave a small amount of vignette at all the way wide. No big deal, an easy crop.
Our first flight started on Friday near sunset from our small airport outside the “Freeze”, a term for the round shaped 7 mile wide restricted area over DC. Along with the pilot, camera operator, and director (me), having a police officer on board plus the weight of the camera gimbal meant a very limited amount of fuel thus only an hour in the air over the capital.
On our route over the Potomac into the “Freeze” we could easily see the Langley CIA building on our right in full view tempting us. Originally we wanted to shoot it, but our DC consultant warned us not even to ask. In contrast to the 1500ft altitude minimum requirements when flying over buildings over NYC, our route into DC along the river limited us to 200ft max above the ground. This is because flights arriving at Reagan are approaching just above our heads. All arriving planes had to keep us in sight at all times. In fact, any airline pilot not able to see us must abort the landing and turn around for another approach. The TSA were also watching our every move, making sure we stayed away from the restricted airspace over the Mall, White House and VP’s home.
Normally, I like to shoot from low altitudes, but this proved to be a problem near the Pentagon where the geometric shape of the building is lost at that level. We needed to fly west away from the arrival lanes in order to get permission to get higher for a better view.
The Capitol building and Washington Monument were the two landmarks that drew the eye and the camera. It was hard to pan away from those amazing structures. The best shots were shooting lengthwise down the Mall from east to west or from the other side west to east. Doing a slow camera dolly move north to south (or vice versa) with the Monument and Dome lining up gave us the best framing. The 12x lens gave us the reach we needed. Along the river we saw missile batteries on a rooftop. The police officer on board said we could shoot it but risk it being deleted. We stayed away. Our shot list also included universities, the Watergate, Arlington, stadiums, other monuments and hospitals. It took us 4 different flights to shoot daytime, night time, and dusk versions.
Back on the ground the Army officers carefully viewed the clips in RedCine. They were very savvy and comfortable using the program by themselves. Since there was no time to download we read the clips directly from the card. Only a few clips were deleted from the first three flights, but eight clips were in violation on our last mission. Of these we were able to save four by trimming the R3D in and out points. All in all, we lost very little to these deletions, since we shot a lot of redundant footage. The officers who were very friendly never told us what they were looking for, just zoomed in now and then to seemingly random areas. They were amazed at the detail we were capturing at 5K, which in this case worked against us! After one officer finished looking at the last clip, he asked us: “How in the world did you get clearance to fly in P56? That’s a huge amount of red tape.” Yes it was. 🙂
I am also very thankful to our crew and Artbeats staff who made this shoot possible.