Encounter with a Tornado Part 2

The June 16th Wakefield Tornado

On June 15th I learned a new weather term: Helicity. If you think of a tornado as having a vortex oriented vertically, helicity is wind rotation that is horizontal. Why is helicity important? As a thunderstorm is forming and warm air is lifting, it pulls the horizontal rotation, bending it toward the vertical, aiding in the storm rotation from which tornadoes are born. On Sunday, June 15th the helicity forecast for Monday was literally off the charts. The attached image shows this forecast as bands of color. The red indicates the maximum amount the models can show which is 860 m squared/s squared. However, the red area is huge and we can only guess how much higher the value actually was.

Helicity forcast

Helicity forecast, red is extreme.


The whole day of June 16th seemed unreal to me. My chase partners Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindly Ubl and I woke up to see storms forming in southern South Dakota. We knew this was not the tornado-forming variety, but we had some time on our hands, so we drove north to take a look. The storm was bordered by a dramatic shelf cloud that moved slowly toward us.

Shooting the shelf cloud. Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl

Shooting the shelf cloud. Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl



Footage of the South Dakota Shelf Cloud

Underneath this structure, the cloud above us was dark, rolling and churning with spooky turbulence. The day’s helicity was very evident. I’ve shot a lot of clouds but never seen such weird movement. For lack of a better term, I call this shot my Harry Potter sky, and I absolutely love the haunting effect.


Harry Potter Sky (clip A195-C037v3)

The violence of the storm overtook us and we took shelter at a gas station mini-mart, but again, this was only the prelude for the day, not the main event. Soon we saw a storm initiating in our target area a hundred miles to the south and rushed to meet it.

This radar image shows the storm and our relation to it.

This radar image shows the storm and our relation to it.

As we approached, I snapped this photo through the window.

As we approached, I snapped this photo through the window.

In a very rare occurrence, two large F4 (cause catastrophic damage) tornadoes had formed and were bearing down on the small town of Pilger while we were still driving towards it. The sight of these tornadoes was surreal, they were enormous! As we found a place to park, Jennifer, who had been watching the radar, confirmed that we were in the direct path of the closest twister, so we had only a limited time to film. The conditions were less than ideal as we were in the middle of a downpour. I set the Red Epic on a tripod next to the van but everything was getting soaked. Water was splashing on the touchscreen monitor and activating the menus.

I had no control over the camera! Had I come this far just to be thwarted by a technical glitch? After an agonizing minute or so, I did a re-boot. Finally, I got a few moments of precious footage before Skip noticed a new tornado forming above our heads. “We have to leave now!” he said, so I stopped recording, grabbed the tripod with camera still attached, pulled it in the car and we took off to the east.

Northern most Pilger Tornado on our first stop.

Northern most Pilger Tornado on our first stop.


We found a turnout a mile or so down the road with a clear view and no rain. The twin tornadoes that had hit Pilger had wound down, but the new twister was growing in size and strength. We filmed it as it crossed the road we had driven on moments before. It was a huge multi-vortex wedge-shaped tornado that later was shown to measure F4 in strength, just spinning in the field in front of us. Are we safe? Skip says we are absolutely OK in this spot, and he is describing the event for his video record, giving us a verbal play-by-play of every detail while we watched. I hear Jennifer Brindley Ubl’s camera snapping photos. With my Canon 24-105mm lens, I zoom in on the base of the tornado to catch detail of the multi-vortex. However, I am so overwhelmed I forget to check focus and a full minute of footage is lost to this error. My wide shots are sharp however, and soon I gather my wits and start checking focus on the subsequent telephoto shots.

Jennifer captures this photo of the debris cloud shortly after the tornado crosses the road.

Jennifer captures this photo of the debris cloud shortly after the tornado crosses the road.


Skip notices another tornado forming to the left of the large wedge. For the second time today, two tornadoes are spinning at once, one a skinny rope, one wedge, both in frame, both F4 in strength. It’s hard to judge scale, but they are enormous as they dwarf the power line towers underneath them.  A bolt of lightning shot from the larger tornado hits the ground between the two, like an epic battle scene.  It was a rare “positive” strike that is more powerful and longer lasting than the garden-variety “negative” strikes. It took a full 17 frames at 30fps to fade. The smaller tornado whips around the larger one at a ground speed of nearly 90 miles per hour. We watch it get swallowed by the larger wedge. Unreal.

These images show the positive lightning strike between the two tornadoes.

These images show the positive lightning strike between the two tornadoes.


The twister gradually moves to our northeast and becomes partially obstructed by higher ground in front of us. Skip suggests we re-position to get a better view. So once again, we hop in the SUV, this time following the tornado, which is to our front and left. The twister is becoming rain-wrapped, and we lose sight of it in the precip haze. Eventually we find a perch on the top of a hill, this time getting a wider view of the storm. The tornado is gone, but we have an amazing view of the rotating cloud structure. I see dirt spinning up underneath, the sign of yet another tornado forming, but the motion disappears quickly. Still, it’s enough for me to count as I keep a tally in my head. I’ve seen 5 tornadoes today.


A196-C002v3 (coming soon)

Other storm chasers park nearby and I recognize John Williamson, whom I had chased with before. It’s always like that with this community, you constantly meet your friends while on the road. John points at a funnel cloud to our west. It is a skinny tail dropping out of a little white puffy. Jennifer snaps a photo and someone remarks, “The parameters are so crazy today, it’s like every cloud gets a tornado!”.


Funnel Cloud Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl.

Funnel Cloud Photo by Jennifer Brindley Ubl.

We decide to end the day with a dinner in Sioux City and talk about our adventures. Truly an amazing day. Later in my hotel room, I agonize over footage lost to soft focus, finding it hard to get the proper perspective that I have also captured some amazing images. My heart goes out to the people affected by the storms that hit Pilger and Wakefield. Artbeats will be making a donation to StormAssist whose proceeds go to the victims. Looking back, I am also grateful for Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindly Ubl for having me along. It won’t be my last trip with you both!



To view clips: http://www.artbeats.com/storms2014

To view demo reel: http://youtu.be/exxyB6pG60s





Artbeats Top 10

The Stories Behind Our Highest Selling Clips of 2013 I’ll start with the tenth most popular and count down to #1:

10. In The Clouds


Clip #008-C026
Camera: RedONE M
Date: March, 2010
Location: Hawaii

Back in early 2010, I got a call from Doug Holgate who was scheduled to shoot aerials for the movie Soul Surfer. He said that the Pictorvision Eclipse, a gyrostabilized gimbal mounted on a helicopter, would need to be shuttled from Kauai to Kona: that is, from one end of the island chain to the other. He asked if I would be interested in arranging a film shoot during this trip. I jumped at the chance. So, after shooting Soul Surfer, the Artbeats RedONE was mounted on the Eclipse and the next morning we lifted off from the Princeville airport on the North side of Kauai. After shooting aerials of the island, we headed Southeast toward Oahu. Over the ocean we encountered low level clouds that were practically begging us to shoot them so we obliged.

Aerial cinematographer Doug Holgate next to the helicopter with the Eclipse mounted on the front. This was shot at the Princeville Airport just before lifting off.

Aerial cinematographer Doug Holgate next to the helicopter with the Eclipse mounted on the front. This was shot at the Princeville Airport just before lifting off.

Over the Pacific between Kauai and Oahu approaching the clouds we would shoot.

Over the Pacific between Kauai and Oahu approaching the clouds we would shoot.


9. Washington DC National Mall

Clip #A121-C010v2 Camera: Epic-X Date: November, 2011 Location: Washington DC

Clip #A121-C010v2
Camera: Epic-X
Date: November, 2011
Location: Washington DC

In November, 2011, after months of plowing through mounds of red tape, Artbeats was given the go-ahead to film in the no-fly zone over Washington. This was a huge coup for us as we were told by many in the DC community that there was no way we would get clearance. As far as we know, this is the only time such a waiver was given to a stock footage company. We did four filming sortees: two in the evening and two the next morning. We were required to have a police officer on board, and after we landed, military intelligence officers inspected every shot looking for anything that could be sensitive to national security. They erased about 5% of our footage. Our route instructions called for us to enter the DC area low over the Potomac River from the North. This shot was one of the first taken as we were still over the Potomac. As for most of our aerial shoots, we hired Doug Holgate as the camera operator and used the Pictorvision Eclipse gimbal. We shot in 5K with our Epic-X. The lens was an Optimo 24-250mm zoom. To view a demo of the DC footage click here.

Army intelligence officers looking over our footage.

Army intelligence officers looking over our footage.

Doug Holgate filming the Pentagon.

Doug Holgate filming the Pentagon.


8. Arizona Sunset

Clip #SE124 Camera: Mitchell 35mm Date: September 1998 Location: Near Flagstaff Arizona

Clip #SE124
Camera: Mitchell 35mm
Date: September 1998
Location: Near Flagstaff Arizona

A year after our first pyrotechnic shoots in 1997, I rented a Mitchell 35mm motion picture camera with a Norris intervalometer and took it to Arizona to film time-lapse storms and clouds. This was long before any digital camera had this capability. In fact, seeing a full-size motion picture camera on the side of the road was a rare event and captured a lot of attention wherever I went. The footage from that shoot went into the White Puffy Clouds, Storm Clouds, Light Clouds & Fog, and Sky Effects collections. Over the years the Sky Effects clips have been the most popular of the four. This particular shot was taken from a highway viewpoint just West of Flagstaff. It is one of the oldest shots in the Artbeats library and the oldest on this list.


7. Cloud Aerial

Clip #CF433 Camera: Sony F900R Date: April, 2007 Location: Somewhere over Arizona

Clip #CF433
Camera: Sony F900R
Date: April, 2007
Location: Somewhere over Arizona

Cloud Fly-Thrus has been a great category for Artbeats over the years. Unfortunately, POV cloud plates are very expensive to shoot and also risky, as the film maker may not be able to find the right kind of weather. In April, 2007, for instance, we spent five days chasing around the country looking for the right kind of clouds.  The challenge is to find cumulus clouds with well-defined shapes that are lower than 14,000 feet.  Above that altitude the pilot can no longer use Visual Flight Rules and must get tower permission for every direction he flies.  Also, ice forms on the front glass too easily at higher altitudes.  After trying Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Arizona we found the best clouds in Oregon, ironically directly over the area where I live. To film our cloud fly-thrus we use the Wolfe Air Learjet 25 outfitted with a nose camera mount plus the Vectorvision system, which is a periscope tube that extends down out of the belly of the jet. The above shot was taken using the nose camera mount. We typically use both camera systems whenever we contract with Wolfe Air.

Prepping the nose camera on the Wolfe Air Lear 25

Prepping the nose camera on the Wolfe Air Lear 25

Doug Holgate checks the 1/2” thick optical glass that covers the front of the nose mount. The glass was pitted and needed to be replaced at the last minute.

Doug Holgate checks the 1/2” thick optical glass that covers the front of the nose mount. The glass was pitted and needed to be replaced at the last minute.

Me in front of the Lear at Salt Lake City.

Me in front of the Lear at Salt Lake City.


6. New York City Aerial

Clip #A106-C036C Camera: Epic-X Date: November, 2011 Location: Downtown New York

Clip #A106-C036C
Camera: Epic-X
Date: November, 2011
Location: Downtown New York

In November, 2011 we set up a week-long aerial shoot in the region surrounding NYC. The main goal was to capture NYC and Boston, but we were also able to fit Washington DC into the itinerary, as we found out last minute that we had been granted the flight restriction waiver. This particular shot shows our movement traveling southeast over the Financial District, starting over Wall Street and ending at the East River. To view our New York Aerials demo click here.

The Epic rig on the Eclipse.

The Epic rig on the Eclipse.

The AStar Eurocopter ready to lift off from our base at Newark.

The AStar Eurocopter ready to lift off from our base at Newark.


5. Downtown LA Aerial

Clip #005-C036 Camera: RedONE Date: October, 2010 Location: Downtown LA

Clip #005-C036
Camera: RedONE
Date: October, 2010
Location: Downtown LA

When I got word that Pictorvision was testing out a new 3D camera rig for their Eclipse gimbal, I asked if I could be their first customer and run it through its paces. We set up the shoot for October 2010, in the LA area, with two prep days and one shoot day. At the end of the second prep day, we decided to take the camera up for some evening shots downtown. This was one of those shots. The direction of movement is south, looking down South Figueroa Street. Although this was shot in stereo 3D, the most popular sales have been of the 2D version.

Annette Gaillard (Artbeats camera tech) doing prep work on the two RedONE cameras.

Annette Gaillard (Artbeats camera tech) doing prep work on the two RedONE cameras.

Stereographer Ken Corben and OptiTek founder Jacek Jakowicz calibrating the lenses.

Stereographer Ken Corben and OptiTek founder Jacek Jakowicz calibrating the lenses.

Annette Gaillard(Artbeats Tech) and Jake Capistron (Pictorvision Tech) Rigging the Eclipse.

Annette Gaillard(Artbeats Tech) and Jake Capistron (Pictorvision Tech) Rigging the Eclipse.


4. Fiery Ground Explosion

Clip #016-C003 Camera: RedONE Date: February, 2011 Location: Myrtle Creek Oregon

Clip #016-C003
Camera: RedONE
Date: February, 2011
Location: Myrtle Creek Oregon

Pyrotechnic effects have been a crucial part of our library since the very beginning. In fact, the success of the ReelFire and ReelExplosions collections launched the Artbeats Digital Film Library in 1998. That represented the first of many pyrotechnic film shoots. In February of 2011 we continued this tradition by shooting pyrotechnics with a 3D stereo rig holding two RedONE cameras. The shot list included many fire effects such as this gasoline-based ground explosion. This particular shot took place on a ten-acre field in a rural area of Southern Oregon. We dug a hole about a foot deep and several feet wide, then placed a gunpowder charge in a plastic bag holding a gallon of gasoline, and put the bag in the hole. The purpose of the hole was to direct the explosion upwards, sideways and away from the cameras and crew. The powder charge contained an electrical squib that could be ignited from a safe distance. We placed the tripod about 80 feet from the “bomb”, then rolled the camera at a speed of about 60fps and ignited the charge. The resulting explosion was incredibly bright, hot, and noisy. Similar to clip #5, this was shot in Stereo 3D; however, the most popular version is 2D.

Placing the bag containing the gasoline in the hole. The powder charge with electrical wiring can be seen on the ground.

Larry Linton, our pyrotechnician, places the bag containing the gasoline in the hole. The powder charge with the squib wiring can be seen on the ground.

The crew and camera rig. From left to Right: Tina Torres, Donald Barrows, Diane Barrows, Sebastian Rabern, Phil Bates, Annette Gaillard.

The crew and camera rig. From left to Right: Tina Torres, Donald Barrows, Diane Barrows, Sebastian Rabern, Phil Bates, Annette Gaillard.


3. Spinning Globe

Clip # EV102A Source: Computer Generated with Satellite Data Date: July, 2000

Clip # EV102A
Source: Computer Generated with Satellite Data
Date: July, 2000

This is one of the oldest HD clips in our library and the only clip on the top 10 list that comes from an outside producer. Although we don’t publicize the names of the producers we represent, I can say that he comes from a highly respected Hollywood Effects company, and at one time, theirs was one of the globes in a Universal Film Feature Logo. This clip and those from the entire Earth Views Collection have retained their popularity for over thirteen years now.


2. Timelapse Clouds 

Clip # A072-C038
Camera: RedONE
Date: May, 2010
Location: Near Elk City, Oklahoma

In May, 2010 we contracted with a Storm Chasing Tour company to take us on a 10-day trek looking for tornadoes in the Midwest. This tour company had a perfect record of finding tornadoes for every tour they did. Unfortunately, our tour was the first one to break that record. Although we did not find any tornadoes, we did get some great cloud and storm shots, and this is one of the best. It is also the longest running shot in this list at 1 minute, 14 seconds in length. To see our storm demo click here. (This demo contains more footage from this shoot and others taken that same year.)

Annette scanning the sky while we were acquiring this shot.

Annette scanning the sky while we were acquiring this shot.


And finally, the top selling clip of 2013:

1. Cloud Aerial at Sunset

Clip #CF402 Camera: Sony F900R Date: April, 2007 Location: Somewhere over Southwestern Oregon

Clip #CF402
Camera: Sony F900R
Date: April, 2007
Location: Somewhere over Southwestern Oregon

After 5 days spent filming clouds.

Inside the cabin of the Learjet, I found it easiest to direct by communicating directly with the pilot and pointing where I wanted him to go. In the foreground the camera technician monitors the Vectorvision camera (another F900) pointing down and out the belly of the aircraft.

Inside the cabin of the Learjet, I found it easiest to direct by communicating directly with the pilot and pointing where I wanted him to go. In the foreground the camera technician monitors the Vectorvision camera (another F900) pointing down and out the belly of the aircraft.

Yours truly with Learjet Pilot, Tom McMurtry. Tom had distinguished career with NASA as a test pilot and flight director. He also co-piloted the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. He is an amazing pilot and one of the nicest guys you could meet. It was an honor to fly with him.

Yours truly with Learjet Pilot, Tom McMurtry. Tom had distinguished career with NASA as a test pilot and flight director. He also co-piloted the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. He is an amazing pilot and one of the nicest guys you could meet. It was an honor to fly with him.


An Interview with Doug Holgate, Aerial Cinematographer


There are times when a well orchestrated shot with a certain vehicle or a particular actor is just what you need to make your production hit the mark. But a one-day shoot with just the equipment and a pilot, director and camera operator can easily run upwards of $30-40,000, and not every production budget has room for such a big expense.

To give you an example, our recent East Coast shoot including cities like Boston, New York and Washington DC ran well over a quarter-million dollars. Artbeats prides itself on offering an affordable alternative – the stock footage aerial. We do the planning and permitting, use the best equipment for the job, hire the most qualified and talented camera operators and pilots, do all the processing and take all the risks. Then we bring you incredible, quality footage as low as $299, a fraction of the cost of an aerial shoot.


Recently, I spoke with Doug Holgate, a renowned Aerial Director of Photography with a long list of credits including Thor, Soul Surfer, Lost and Survivor. We’ve had the privilege of working with Doug on numerous occasions, taking advantage of his experience, expertise and enthusiasm to pull off successful shoots to provide our customers the very best in aerial footage. Here’s what Doug had to say.

Filming runs in your family – your dad, Frank Holgate, is credited as Aerial DP on an impressive list of films. When did you discover that aerial photography was what you wanted to do?

My father gave me my first job 28 years ago as a film loader on the film Iron Eagle. It was shot in the Valley of Fire outside Las Vegas. I got to fly to location in a Cessna Aerobat with Art Scholl, a famous aerobatic stunt pilot who later died during the filming of Top Gun. We worked for two weeks shooting from helicopters and airplanes and I was hooked.

Tyler mount

Using the Tyler mount while filming Lost

After that first enticing experience, how did you work into the industry?

I began by assisting my dad. He specialized in using the Tyler Mount, a mount that required you to remove the helicopter door and sit with your legs dangling out the side of the helo, physically looking through the camera viewfinder, holding the camera like a machine gun.

I gained experience by assisting other guys. While working on Colors, the film starring Sean Penn, we were shooting in Watts and the DP was Haskell Wexler. I had a lot of down time so I started helping Haskell’s assistant, Scott Sakamoto. One day he asked me if I would like to take over as his second assistant. I jumped at the opportunity and ended up working on three features with them. It was a pleasure to work with Haskell. He is a brilliant, Oscar-winning cameraman and just a wonderful human being.

I then decided to become a Steadicam operator and took one of Garrett Brown’s early workshops in Philadelphia. I bought a used rig and operated it a bit. At that point in time a lot of guys were jumping in as Steadicam operators so I steered back toward aerials and started shooting when my dad retired.

We’re glad you did.



Tyler mount

Tyler mount



What major innovations have been made in mounts since you started?

I cut my teeth shooting the Tyler Mount back when the gyro stabilized mounts were first being used.
I got a chance to work with the Wescam, the first gyro stabilized system, and then began using the Spacecam.

The biggest innovation is in gyro stabilization. The new gyros depend on fiber optics, not mass. These are lighter and the stabilization is much, much better. Newer cameras, the Red and Alexa for example, allow use of these gyros on systems like the Pictorvision eclipse, the Gyron, Cineflex and Shotover. There are some fantastic systems out there that contain amazing technology, each with its own features, and that makes my job incredibly fun and interesting.


Gyron, ready for takeoff


Following closely with the eclipse


Hovering with a Wescam

Note from Artbeats: Many people don’t realize the value and importance of stabilization. Below is a comparison of raw, hand-held vs. gyro-stabilized footage, both captured on the U.S. East coast.

What’s it like working with different types of DPs?

Each project has its own set of challenges and probably the biggest is getting inside the mind of the Director or DP so that I can deliver his vision through my skills and experience. I have to figure out, often times through a discussion, hopefully accompanied by a story board, what exactly is needed for this person’s project.

What’s your favorite project?

Whatever one I am lucky enough to be working on! I like working on everything. I think one of the greatest joys of my profession is the diversity of projects I get to be involved with. I can finish a feature film, do aerials for the World Series, go search for meteorites in a blimp filled with JPL scientists, then film the launch of the Space Shuttle. I just never know where my next project will take me, and I like that.


Doug shoots a scene from Thor

Radar system

Radar system test for the Mars Lander

What was the most dangerous flight you made?

Probably in Alaska. We had been flying all day through inclement, freezing weather. Stopping in the middle of nowhere, the pilot would walk down the road and disappear for half an hour, only to reappear driving an old truck with a fifty gallon drum in the bed filled with jet fuel. We would pump some fuel into the helo and get on our way. It was getting late when we began crossing a frozen bay filled with icebergs. About half way across, I asked him where the life vests were. The pilot sort of looked over out of the corner of his eye and replied, “It’d only prolong the agony.”

What do you like best about your job? Are there certain aspects you especially enjoy?

I really, really enjoy the creative process that goes into bringing a shot to fruition. Every step of the process is exciting in its own way, and this goes for features, TV, commercials or stock footage. The initial phone call, lining up my pilot, camera system and technician, talking with the director, showing up to help with the system install, traveling to location, waiting for all the elements to get prepped and into position, working through the steps to make the shot work, making adjustments – every step has its own challenges and satisfaction.

Looking over the charts

Looking over the charts with pilot Rob Marshall before heading from New Jersey to Boston

Prepping with technician

Prepping with technician Eric before shooting Washington, D.C.

Flying low

Flying low to capture the Pentagon

What part of the process is the most frustrating?

Because each aerial camera system has its own nuances, there is an appropriate tool for every job. I think the most frustrating thing is being forced to use a camera system that is not optimum for the shot you are trying to achieve. This happens at times because the production company has booked a system without consulting me. I can always seem to make it work, but the frustrating part is knowing how well the shot could have worked if I had been able to use the correct equipment.

Checking lenses

Checking the lenses with Phil Bates before shooting 3D aerials in L.A.

Arri Alura

Arri’s Alura, ready to go

Note from Artbeats: A perfect example happened during our East Coast shoot. While Arri’s Alura 18-80 was perfect for shooting NY, Philadelphia, and Boston, we needed a little more reach for our time in Washington DC. We switched to an Optimo Angenieux for that leg of the shoot. Doug and Phil were happy with that decision, and the results speak for themselves.

If you could shoot anywhere/anything and money wasn’t an object, where/what would it be?

I would love to shoot Machu Picchu. I have visited it and think I would enjoy seeing and shooting it from the air.

How is shooting for stock different from a scene for a feature?

When shooting stock you are grabbing moments as they present themselves. You plan for them the best you can, but a large portion of it is opportunity and instinct. Shooting for a feature, on the other hand, is more orchestrated, depending on the specifics of the scene. Most of the time it is controlled. You are holding traffic, shooting a specific subject in a planned sequence, and the variable is whether the subject is a person, vehicle or aircraft. Also, shooting a scene for a feature you hopefully get more than one take. This gives you a chance between takes to tweak things and adjust timing to improve the shot. Timing is usually the most critical element, especially when working with multiple vehicles or aircraft. It is like an orchestra with everyone – the pilot, myself, the stunt drivers or pilots working together. It is an exciting feeling when it all comes together during a shot! There are times that these moments happen during stock footage shoots; although not controlled, elements come together to create beautiful pieces of film. The light angle is just right on a certain building or cliff edge, things just line up right and you are at the right altitude and heading. When shooting stock, you rely more on light and angles to create images that are pleasing. It is a collaboration among the pilot, myself and often times a director. It is vital that we are all on the same page. We need to adapt to different situations and adjust things very quickly as some of these magic opportunities happen only one time. If you miss them, by the time you get the helicopter turned around and back in position the light has changed and the magic is gone.

Is it somewhat satisfying to be producing some of your own content?

Shooting stock footage has been a process learned through spending a lot of flying hours with Phil Bates and Artbeats shooting cities, highways, the southwest, the Hawaiian Islands, lakes, rivers, swamps – you name it, we have shot it together. I learned from him what works and what doesn’t for stock footage. Taking that knowledge and going out and shooting with the confidence that it will be useful for someone’s project is very rewarding, and I hope that the footage I offer through Artbeats meets a need.

What do you see as the biggest advantage of aerial stock footage?

Often it is cost prohibitive for a filmmaker to fund an aerial shoot for their film, but the other side is that aerials really open up a film, adding immense production value. Stock footage provides filmmakers with a very cost effective way to add huge value to their project.


Good luck charm

I know that flying day after day confined in a helicopter can be grueling, but I’ve heard you have a little routine that makes it a bit “cozier.” Care to share your secret?

Slippers. They’re great! I call them my “shooting slippers” and wear them all the time. They are comfy and keep my feet toasty! They are sort of a good luck charm as a lot of my best shots have been done wearing them.


Shooting Stock Outside Your Comfort Zone


By Francois Arseneault, Contributor to the Artbeats FootageHub

I enjoy shooting stock, doesn’t really matter what it is, though some subjects are more interesting than others. Mostly I like the idea of the “road trip,” ah yes, loading up the SUV and hitting the road, all with preplanned locations, of course. I’ve taken dozens of road trips over the past 26 years, maybe even hundreds. Some just a short one day jaunt to the countryside where opportunities abound. Others, grueling 18-21 day trips over thousands of kilometers, with varying degrees of success. We’ve traveled across Canada and to Panama, South America, Cuba, Oregon, California, New York, Washington DC, Chicago and many other places. The camera has been over my shoulder nearly everywhere. A good travel insurance policy and some common sense go a long way, but so too does a friendly smile; it’s gotten me into more places than anything else.


Francois at Acropolis, Athens, Greece.

This past Fall, my wife and I decided to take a little bit more than a road trip (okay, a vacation): a two week cruise to some of civilization’s most important sites in the Mediterranean. Now, usually I’ll get approval for and permissions to shoot when necessary; however we’re talking about Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Italy. Not very likely as the rules and bureaucracy are endless. After a few inquiries I came to the conclusion that the cost and the time were not worth it. Time to go to plan B and go under the radar. Sure, it’s risky, but if you’re careful and respectful things usually work out. Or at least I thought so. I packed the Sony NEX FS700 after stripping it of the rykote equipped Sennheiser and brought along a beanbag as a tripod was not going to be suitable. It attracts way too much attention. No matte box, just the camera and a spare lens: a  Tamron 10-24mm for those sometimes surreal wide angle shots. Time to play tourist.

Rome is a wonderful city to visit with so many opportunities to get great shots in the public areas. I never shoot in museums or art galleries, just sling the camera over my shoulder and enjoy the history. However, being crowded and busy meant I employed the beanbag on whatever steady object I could use. Two thousand year-old architecture can be quite photogenic. The city is rich in stock shot opportunities.

Next stop – Egypt. Having never traveled here, meant all was new. Be safe and book the tour off the cruise ship, this way everything is guaranteed… maybe. I asked our guide about my camera, would I have any problems with it, and he assured me there would be no problems. A six hour bus ride later and we arrived at the pyramids. Amazing! But then the local souvenir salesmen arrived, flogging all sorts of cheap Chinese made trinkets. It didn’t matter what direction you went, they stood in front of you. We had a very limited amount of time on the schedule and I was getting frustrated. I was finally able to get a few shots. I didn’t give it much thought, but there were only DSLRs amongst the tourists, not a single video camera save a few older consumer HD cameras. Clearly, a few tourists were quietly shooting video with their 5Ds and D800s. Hmmmmm. It didn’t take long before a plainclothes police officer stopped me and demanded I pay a 900 Egyptian pound fee to take video. I politely stated that I wouldn’t pay, indicating I was told I could shoot video by my guide. He promptly escorted me out of the site. Seemed the rules could be interpreted differently. We were joined by two more uniformed officers, as they escorted me back to my tour bus my wife was more than a little concerned. It turns out, as my guide explained to me a little later, that the camera was too professional and since the revolution things have changed. The next day I had to pay “fees” elsewhere in Egypt just to have my camera with me. It seems they just didn’t like the look of it. Despite these issues, I still pulled off some establishing shots and decent b-roll.


One of Francois’s beautiful shots from the Artbeats FootageHub on artbeats.com.

I ran into a similar problem in Istanbul a few days later, in fact, and had my camera seized for about five minutes before I assured the staff of the cultural site that I wouldn’t even turn on the camera. As I learned, the problem with a guided tour in some of these places is that even though you may not have any intention of shooting footage in a particular site, you have no choice but to take the camera with you lest it disappears from your vehicle. The authorities couldn’t care less that you’re on the tour and are simply passing through. As a tourist, it can become almost onerous to bring any camera on a tour. I did manage some shots though: architecture, skylines, people and anything that caught my eye. Athens, Mykonos, Ephesus and Venice were no problem at all and were wonderful places to get great footage.

Summing up, big cameras have always attracted attention, but now with certain less-than -democratic countries in turmoil, authorities are taking a dim view of pretty much any camera. Egypt, specifically, could become much riskier to do any camera work in the future as will nearly any Middle Eastern nation. The next time I travel to some of these countries, I’ll probably just take a DSLR and do the best I can with it.. It’s just not worth the hassle to use something larger. Lessons learned.

Francois Arseneault is a freelance shooter/editor, with over 25 years experience in the field and is based in British Columbia, Canada. His footage is featured in the Artbeats FootageHub.

View all of Francois Arseneault’s footage featured on Artbeats.

Filming Driving Plates: We’ve finally arrived!

We are happy to officially announce that the first of our Driving Plates footage is available for download on artbeats.com.

We’ve captured some of the most amazing footage, and there’s still much more to come. Watch our Driving Plates Demo Reel and see how valuable this footage is, and get a sneak peek at what’s coming soon.

Image Above: Shot at an upward angle, this skyline image is called a reflection plate, a vital ingredient to making a driving scene realistic. The reflection plate is placed as a semi-opaque layer on the windshield and hood of the car, accurately depicting a mirrored reflection of the scenery overhead. The reflection plate is available in both the 5-Angle and 9-Angle Driving Plates sets. A 5-Angle set also consists of four panoramic (wide) views shot from the front, back and sides of the car. A 9-Angle set is filmed in two passes down the same section of road. With this type of set, you’ll not only get the front, back, sides and reflection plate, but also the three-quarter left and right views from the front and back of the car.


Image Above: LA’s Fashion District is just one of the many locations we captured in our Southern California shoot. In fact, we shot all over Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Santa Monica during the day, evening and night to give you even more options. So you can put your characters on the same stretch of road at different times, depending on the storyline.

Image Above: Driving plates aren’t just for city dwellers. We braved the scorching desert heat so your actors can stay cool and comfortable in their “car”.

Image Above: Taking a break to move the cameras on this beautiful stretch of wooded highway. We’ve captured all different types of terrain during our travels through Oregon and California, as well as industrial areas, bridges, marinas and residential neighborhoods. Most can double as locations in your area.

Image Above: The Pacific Coast Highway makes the perfect backdrop for your drive along the coast. This footage, which is coming soon to our website, is featured in both northbound and southbound sets. So whether your characters are coming or going, the ocean will always be on the correct side!

Image Above: Whether your story calls for a leisurely Sunday drive through the mountains, a weekend camping trip in the woods, or the impending arrival at a haunted cabin, the Redwood Highway is a spectacular setting. This was one of our favorite locations to film.

You can purchase individual angles or an entire set of driving plates. Everything featured on our website is available for immediate download. Be sure to check back often for more driving plates sets.

What Driving Plates locations would be helpful for your productions?


Filming Driving Plates: Traversing the Speed Bumps

After months of testing, and even more months rigging the car, we were ready to hit the road for our first driving plates film shoots. As with every first-time venture, ours was not without its problems. In fact, it seemed that our first shoot in Portland, Oregon was the “Murphy’s Law” of film shoots. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong…from our GPS dying the minute we hit the city, to remote trigger problems, to card reader failures, to overheating, and everything in between. But as you know, “difficult to shoot subject matter” is our middle name. So we pressed on and got some terrific footage.

Our second shoot took us to Southern California and a multitude of incredible locations. This shoot was both a learning experience and an adventure. Some of the locations require that we arrange for police escort for the day. This poses a challenge when the focus of the shoot is to capture the scenery and traffic all around the car. What good are driving plates if every scene shows the car being tailed by the police?! We did get one great shot of the squad car “pulling us over”. No way were we going to pass up that opportunity! Of course it wasn’t quite so opportune the next day when we got pulled over for real because of the rig. Seems even if you have all of your permits in place, it doesn’t mean you won’t still have to jump through more hoops once you’re on location.

Heat was definitely a factor on this trip, as well. Turns out we chose one of the hottest weeks of the year to traipse around California. It’s not often we find ourselves playing nursemaid to the cameras with icepacks, but fortunately we were able to keep all of the equipment functioning properly by being proactive in dealing with the heat.

We had some peculiar experiences on the shoot as well. Our Caddy was quite often mistaken for the Google car. Go figure! And we were once stopped by a group of protestors who walked out into the street as we drove up, blocking our way and swarming the car while chanting and waving their signs. We’re still not sure what they were protesting!

So, what have we learned so far? Because of triggering problems, the RED One isn’t ideal for this type of shooting. Instead, the Scarlet is a much better choice. Running a car with five cameras and monitors takes a lot of power and creates a LOT of heat, so the car must be rigged with at least one extra battery. Bring more media storage than you think you’ll need, because there’s always one more shot you wish you could have gotten, if only you’d had the storage space. And, the best lesson we can pass on is to know the laws of the city and state you’re filming in before you set out.

All in all both shoots were very successful. The footage is spectacular and we were able to capture a wide variety of locations, at different times of day and night. It’s true we started out wondering how we would ever make it through all of the twists and turns and giant potholes in the road. But in the end it was definitely worth the effort.

Have you ever had a film shoot that got off to a rocky start and ended with amazing footage? We’d love to hear your experiences and how you overcame those speed bumps!

Filming Driving Plates: Before the Cameras Roll

Artbeats is getting a new perspective on shooting POV footage. 

Artbeats is committed to bringing our customers footage that is difficult to shoot, and has high production value. Over the years we’ve received numerous requests for “driving plates”. We also recently spoke with the production staffs of several well-known network television studios and the consensus was the same; they need driving plates and they need them now!

So what are driving plates? A driving plate is the moving scenery seen through the windows of a vehicle when the actors of a television show or film are “driving” somewhere.

As we began researching driving plates footage, we discovered that very few companies sell footage that is shot simultaneously from every window of a car. In fact, those that do provide driving plates use only one or two cameras, making multiple passes down the road. Later, each view must be matched up by the production company and made to look as if shot during one single driving sequence. This can be a very difficult process because each pass will have different action, whether it’s traffic, pedestrians, or the location of the sun. Now that our research was done, we set out to tackle driving plates in true Artbeats fashion!

View from the inside of the car traveling down the interstate with the cameras rolling. 

Diane & Annette ready the Scarlet & Epic cameras on the custom mounting system for a drive through the streets of Portland, Oregon.

We started out by testing different cars, mounting systems and cameras. We needed a smooth ride, a car that rode lower to the ground to allow for realistic height when the cameras were mounted, a mounting system that wouldn’t jeopardize our stabilization, and low-profile cameras that offer a high enough resolution for editors to select and crop to fit a particular scene.

The round metal plate, attached to the rail system, allows the camera to be rotated at different angles without having to be detached each time.

Scarlets attached to the back of the car to shoot the three-quarter angles.

After months of testing, we settled on a 1996 Cadillac DeVille and had our own specially designed mounting system built. We chose an older car specifically for its heavier body, which had to be drilled through to attach the mounts. A monitor rail was built into the dash, and a heavy-duty specialty inverter was included to handle the extra electricity needed to run the five cameras, laptops, monitors, and switches. The electrical system also had to be totally waterproof, with cables and wires running through the body of the car and under the seats, rather than externally.

The control center for the cameras.

Phil uses the touch screen monitors to adjust camera settings from inside the car.

We also chose RED’s Epic and Scarlet cameras. Both are high quality, low-profile, and very light-weight. An entire 9-angle set of driving plates can be filmed in only two passes down the road, which greatly reduces the time needed for matching up the views in post production. The Epic and Scarlet also provide the wider resolution needed for those situations when a second pass isn’t possible.

Stay tuned as we take you along on our journey of shooting driving plates. You never know, you just might see the Artbeats camera car on the street in your city!

Storm Chasing from the Air

By Phil Bates, Artbeats President & Founder

Weather is an important subject for Artbeats, especially storms and severe weather, which are popular subjects with our customers. We’re always looking for innovative ways to capture the drama of large supercells, and even a tornado if we can find one. Our latest effort is a relatively new idea we call Aerial Chasing. Storm chasing is typically done in a vehicle firmly planted on the ground in relative safety, but has limitations such as bad roads and obstacles like trees, hills and buildings that make capturing good images so challenging. Taking the concept of chasing storms up into the air where those limitations don’t exist has rarely been done (and never with a high end film camera) and is a dream for storm chasers, yet poses its own set of challenges and risks. Dangerous hail, wind shear and extreme turbulence all require serious consideration. The FAA recommends that small planes stay 20 miles away from thunderstorms, and flying into a storm can easily destroy a plane in minutes (imagine no visibility, vertical winds and tennis ball sized hail), so we approached this idea with extreme caution.

The GPS display shows our position relative to the storm.

Last December, storm chaser and weather expert, Skip Talbot approached me with an idea to aerial-chase storms this May, the height of tornado season. His pilot, Caleb Elliott, is an extremely experienced commercial pilot, flight instructor and storm chaser.  As the time approached, we worked up a plan to meet in Kansas City, setting aside five days for chasing with a rented Cessna 182 to fly close to and film tornado-warned supercellular thunderstorms.

Caleb Elliott, Phil Bates and Skip Talbot in front of the Cessna 182.

Caleb Elliot preparing the flight plan.

Skip Talbot using radar to forecast in real time (now-casting).

My biggest concern was not the safety issues, but how to shoot stable images from a small plane in the turbulence near a storm. Acquiring a gyrostabilized system was not an option in this case, so after taking several test flights and trying various hand-held and mounting configurations, I settled on using a monopod wedged between the seat and the door, with foam rubber cushioning all of the contact points. The RED Epic camera was small and light enough for this setup. Our tests showed that a CANON 24-105 Image Stabilized lens gave the best focal range for this application. I knew that rolling shutter and vibration could still be a problem so I shot 5K format at 96fps, then stabilized in post using After Effects, with the extra frames to blend/hide the vibrations. Not a perfect solution, but good enough for this shoot which we considered a big experiment.

Flying towards typical storms in clear air, the plane would bounce with turbulence from thermals coming off the sun-heated fields beneath us. Fortunately, the anvil of a thunderstorm casts a large shadow, especially when you are on the east side of the storm in late afternoon. The shadow cooled the ground and gave us steady air with no thermals.  This is not to say that there was no wind; the updraft of a supercell thunderstorm creates a hefty 60mph wind that was constantly pulling us toward the storm’s core. Fortunately, our plane could fly twice that fast, so anytime we wanted, we could escape fairly easily.  We found that if we stayed under the anvil within 2-5 miles southeast of the storm’s core, the air remained steady and was free of rain and the destructive hail we were trying to avoid.  Skip was in the back seat monitoring the storm with radar and feeding the pilot with distances to hail cores and updrafts. If we found turbulent wind shear, we simply turned back to the smoother air we had just come from. This method kept us safe, yet we were close enough to see the violent storm structure looming close and large out our windows.

Despite the relatively smooth air, shooting the storm through an open window of a Cessna was a fairly chaotic experience. The lens protruded outside into the 100mph wind, which was so strong it was constantly trying to twist the focal length ring on the lens. I had to use gaff tape to hold it and the focus ring in place, but even then, the tape would buckle under the extreme forces. The vibrations would loosen the quick-release plate which required me to pull the camera off and tighten every minute or so. In order to keep the strut and wing out of the shot, I had the pilot carefully position the direction of the plane and lift the wing.

During the five days, we chased three different tornado-warned supercells in North Dakota and Kansas, and got some amazing footage. Although we didn’t get the coveted tornado shot, we did shoot some interesting structures including this mile-wide rotating dust storm:

We had to abandon the above storm for fuel after two hours of shooting. Wouldn’t you know, the storm produced a tornado 15 minutes after we left!

All in all it was an exciting, fun, albeit tumultuous shoot. In the months to come Artbeats will be producing a selection of this footage and making it available on our website.

A Guide to Permits for Filming in Difficult Locations

Over the years, the Artbeats film crews have learned that shooting can prove to be very difficult in many of the cities across the country. In fact, we recently shot in one of the most security-obsessed cities in our nation: Washington, DC. We’ve learned a few pointers along the way and thought we’d share them. Artbeats’ Location Manager, Diane Barrows has compiled this list for you.

1-A. Start early. Some park permits can take six weeks!
1. Research – what is worth shooting in the city/location of choice?

2. More research – where are the subjects located? Are they private or public? Are they going to be part of a street scene or panorama, or will they be the subject of the shot?

3. If your locations are privately owned, begin seeking permission and get releases from the property owners.

4. If they are public places, gather your addresses or cross streets, names of parks, etc. Then do a search for filming in that area and see whether or not permits are necessary.

-If they are, begin working with their film office to see whether your locations are within their jurisdiction.

-If they are not and your location is in a National Forest or Park, State Park, or other entitity such as the Bureau of Land Management, do a search to find out each entity’s requirements. If you shoot without a permit, you can be issued a citation or ticket.

-If you’re going solo, you won’t need parking, traffic directors, or special notification that you’re going to be using a particular area. But be sure to read the specific rules for every area you will be shooting because different rules apply to different situations, times of day, and even particular days. The size of your crew can also affect the cost of your permit.

-Most permit applications require you to list very specific locations as well as the time of day you’ll be in the area.

5. Know the boundaries of the area in which you are allowed to shoot. Sometimes you think you’re getting permission to be on a sidewalk, but you’re actually getting permission to be on the street and NOT the sidewalk (or vice versa). Washington DC is notorious for this. And the same street may have several entities governing shooting. You stand at X and are on area 1, walk a few feet and are on area 2, turn around and are on area 3. It can be very confusing – and they’ve often GOT YOU ON SECURITY CAMERAS. Violation of the rules can terminate/revoke your permit.

6. Permission for a particular day doesn’t carry over to the next day unless you specified that. Keep in mind that the city may be orchestrating multiple events and are trying to keep everything from overlapping in a bad way. We didn’t get permission to be on a particular street one day because there was an activity where thousands were expected to be there. But we DID get it for the next day.

7. Carry your permit with you as instructed on the permit. We have been asked to show our permit, and it’s quite gratifying to prove that you have permission to be where you are.

8. Have fun and happy shooting!

What kinds of experiences have you had trying to obtain filming permits?

Car on Fire: Filming the unexpected

Recently the Artbeats crew was filming establishments on the Las Vegas Strip when something totally unexpected happened. The result was some incredible footage that isn’t like anything we have in our library.

When planning a shoot, you always have certain expectations of the footage you’d like to capture. Just as in our daily lives, you can’t always control your environment and what’s happening around you, especially when shooting “on location”. Sometimes things come up that, while unfortunate to some, become an amazing opportunity for filming. As a shooter, you must be willing to expect the unexpected, and adapt to new situations. You just never know what’s around the next bend!

Please note that no one was injured in this incident, and the driver was able to safely exit the vehicle. Artbeats sends our deepest condolences to the owner of the vehicle for their loss.

This footage will be for sale on artbeats.com in the coming months.