Written by | Tom Comet
We often get called to fly and film with our video drones around animals, usually horses for some reason. “Can you do it?” people ask. And, like most challenging things that I get asked to do, my first answer usually is “it depends…”
What does it depend on? Well, first off, how well trained are the animals, and, more importantly, what are their human riders or trainers like? What is the context of the video shoot? Is it a live event like the Calgary Stampede, with all manner of chaos in every direction or, is it a nice, quiet controlled arena or pasture? What is the temperament of the animal? Do they spook easily or do they remain calm in the face of a potential threat? What is the animal and rider’s experience level with regards to distraction and dealing something that the horse may perceive as a danger? Are these stunt-trained animals; are they “performers”, or do they normally hang out in nature all day? Let’s face it, a 40lb octorotor camera drone hovering 7-10’ overhead sounds like a cross between an angry hive of bees and bunch of chain saws. Slightly terrifying to say the least! I have been working around these things for a few years now and they still freak me out with their awesome power and the amount of noise they can make.
Don’t forget to take into account the wind that UAVs create. It is this downward force that keeps drones aloft and, the bigger the machine, the more noise and wind or “prop wash” as we call it, will be made. Pick a surface that is not dusty and make sure that there are no small bits of lightweight material that could be blown up into the air. Sure, the horse may have come to grips with the hovering camera drone but when that paper towel roll flies through their peripheral vision – that’s it. Time to bolt!
All these elements need to be carefully weighed before I can make a final decision to the question “can you fly around animals?” When the circumstances all line up correctly, we have the time; the right venue, animal and rider/trainer then an animal drone video shoot will be a very rewarding experience. After all, when do you get to interact this close to nature in such a unique way and capture the whole experience from above like that?
If we do take on the job I will start without a drone at all and just meet the animal and maybe shoot some B-role footage hand held just for fun. Think how some people react when to a camera it is pointed in their general direction. Some love it and others just hate it. Why would we expect animals to be any different? Start small and build the comfort level.
Next, if all is going well, we will pull up a little Phantom or perhaps the Inspire UAV. Something small and relatively quiet. I’ll start flying it far away from the animals and constantly check in with them and their trainers. Sometimes we may have to take long breaks or come back over a few days or weeks in order to build the trust. It is always worth the effort and, in the end; the results and the experience will be well worth the effort. I highly recommend working with camera drones and animals if ever you get the chance.
Above is a short test video we shot recently with two very well trained horses in Toronto, ON Canada. We hope to work with flying and filming animals again real soon.