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ELA Students Get Hands-On with Drones During Workshop

If you can’t fly a drone, the next best thing might be operating its camera. Emerson College Los Angeles students and alumni got the opportunity to moonlight as drone camera operators on Saturday, November 12, during a workshop with the aerial cinematography company Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions.

“It’s such an impactful tool. It’s really dynamic,” said Drew Roberts, CEO and founder of Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions. “I like to say that [drones] come in above a plane and below a helicopter.”

Drew Roberts, center, of Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions discusses some of the drones on display with students. Photo/Daryl Paranada

More nimble than a radio-controlled plane and cheaper to operate than a helicopter, drones provide audiences with new viewpoints that you wouldn’t be able capture otherwise. Drones are well suited for short-form commercials because they’re really impactful, said Roberts, whose company’s work has been featured in commercials for Nissan Leaf and Acura TLX as well as music videos and films.  

“It’s part of the times,” said Madeline Taylor ’16, whose father works for the electrical aviation company Yuneec, which manufactures drones. “You have to know how to work with drones if you want to get cool, unique shots.”

Workshop attendees watch as Colin Burgess pilots a Tiny Whoop drone in the Di Bona Family Distance Learning Center at Emerson College Los Angeles. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Roberts, along with Nathan LaBruzza, head technician at Wild Rabbit, and Colin Burgess, co-founder of Strato Aerial Productions, spoke during the workshop to students like Taylor about how to plan a successful aerial shoot, the permitting process, and Federal Aviation Administration rules about flying drones.

“Drones are such a new tool that people don’t know what to expect,” said Roberts. “The market’s been flooded with people who don’t come from a cinema background and don’t know what they’re doing.”

A FreeFly ALTA 6 drone with MoVI M5. Photo/Daryl Paranada

According to the market intelligence firm Tractica, consumer drone sales are expected to grow over the next few years, with global annual shipments increasing tenfold from 6.4 million in 2015 to 67.9 million by 2021. And consumers aren’t the only ones interested in watching drones soar. The energy industry wants to use drones to inspect offshore facilities; real estate agents want to capture aerial images of their properties; online retailers want to deliver packages via drones; law enforcement agencies could use them to look for criminals, and more.

Tristan Donaldson '17 prepares to operate a drone camera remotely as Drew Roberts holds the drone and Colin Burgess prepares to be filmed. Photo/Daryl Paranada 

How drones can be used for newsgathering was one of the reasons that Mark Ebner, a freelance journalist, attended the workshop.

“This technology is invaluable, but can I use it the way I want to use it?” Ebner asked.

Tristan Donaldson '17 learns how to operates a drone camera remotely at Emerson College Los Angeles as Steven Lederer ’10 observes. Photo/Daryl Paranada

“All the basic privacy laws, they get applied to drones. That’s how I understand it at least,” Burgess said. “A safe rule is if you can’t walk to that place, you probably shouldn’t be flying a drone there.”

Ebner, who is working on an investigative story that might necessitate the use of a drone, said that utilizing the technology for newsgathering is a gray area, which he found encouraging. That’s where I live, he said.

Colin Burgess uses a MoVI handheld gimbal stabilizer while Tristan Donaldson '17 concentrates on focusing the camera. Photo/Daryl Paranada

For alumnus Steven Lederer ’10, a sound designer, the workshop helped to expand his knowledge about the industry.

“I am curious about it and if it’s something that might be useful for my career,” said Lederer, who owns a personal drone and is considering entering the business.

Nicole Eng ’17, left, watches Madeline Taylor ’16 operate a drone camera. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Nicole Eng ’17, left, watches Madeline Taylor ’16 operate a drone camera. Photo/Daryl Paranada

At the end of the workshop, attendees like Nicole Eng ’17 were able to operate one of the cameras on the drones remotely while Roberts, LaBruzza, and Burgess took care of the piloting. The demonstration helped Eng and others learn why communication between a drone pilot and camera operator is so important.

“This was a good foundation, getting familiar with a drone’s uses and its purposes,” said Eng. “Plus, it’s fun to play with them.”

Students participate in a camera operating exercise while a handheld drone is utilized. Photo/Daryl Paranada

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