Dark Wing: Orcas from the Air

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Orcas from the Air

Dark Wing’s Dean Engela on the thrills and spills of capturing rare Orca footage in False Bay.

 What was the client brief?

 The client brief for this project was to capture Orcas hunting dolphins in False Bay.  This was thought to be a relatively new phenomenon.  We were hoping to capture the migration of thousands of common dolphins through False Bay in Cape Town.  Killer Whales or Orcas are attracted by the extreme activity of these super pods of dolphins.  Over the years, Orcas have learnt to prey on the dolphins that congregate in False Bay.

We were the aerial element to the shoot alongside a full camera crew.

Our roll entailed using our remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) to capture the action from the air and to explore how to best utilize RPAS for a purely oceanic shoot.  We learned a lot and discovered plenty of techniques that work well and some that don’t.  We can safely say that flying over the ocean is one of the more risky and stressful environments to fly in but our favorite by far.

When were you contacted?

We were contacted for a demo shoot in 2013 where we went out on the local whale watching boat into False Bay for a few flights to show the client what could be done.  We launched off the back of the boat and did a few shots of the boat traveling through the bay.  The client was happy and a great working relationship started with a fantastic creative and scientific team.

Have you done this kind of work before?

This was the first Natural Environmental Documentary we had ever been part of. The time at sea exceeded five months of going on the boat most days.  Over a period of two years.  With the success of the Orca shoot we have had the opportunity to work on a number of other wildlife films.

What equipment did you use?

We used several different RPAS for this shoot.  Most of the footage was shot with a DJI S1000 paired with the Panasonic GH4 camera, which would be our main rig for the duration of the shoot.  We also used a Phantom 3 Pro as a throw-up in the air and always on standby type of rig, as we’d rather get a moment on film than be setting up the S1000 and miss it.

We used a few different types of waterproof RPAS that were tricky to keep alive in the harsh environment as salt water and electrics don’t mix.  We were able to modify and build up the Aquacopter that that was lent to us.

This enabled us to get some amazing action shots.  The Aquacopter allowed us the ability to land on water and hang a GoPro about a meter below it on a pole.  We were able to fly the camera between dolphins’ dorsal fins and get shots that were impossible to get otherwise.  It was a great little machine.

We also used a hex H20 to improve on the other waterproof RPAS.  The hex had a gimbal stabilized GoPro inside and we could capture more scenic shots with seamless transitions into the water to get the action above and below in one shot.

For more of on some of the challenges faced, read Issue 2:

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