27.07.2021: Extreme E talks to Martin Taylor from drone film company Aerios Solutions about the skills needed to deliver the incredible aerial broadcast footage from Extreme Es remote race locations.
Extreme E talks to Martin Taylor from drone film company Aerios Solutions about the skills needed to deliver the incredible aerial broadcast footage from Extreme E’s remote race locations.
From the vast sand dunes of the Saudi Arabian desert to the long rocky beaches of Senegal to the magnificent ice cap in Greenland – these are just three of the awe-inspiring locations that pioneering electric race series, Extreme E, has already, or will race at this year.
It’s enough of a logistical challenge to simply get an entire series there in the first place, but on top of that, how do you convey to your worldwide audience – and beam it live to boot – the dramatic dynamism of the 550 bhp electric SUVs as they battle against each other at speed on the world’s toughest terrains?
To those that have already seen Extreme E’s incredible broadcast package know only too well that the only way to film this kind of racing is to use drones – a technology that we generally take for granted these days but in fact, has only been widely used for sport and entertainment for the last decade – before that it was simply cumbersome helicopters and/or planes.
Thankfully, since then, drones have become the must-have for entertainment and audience wow factor as they offer a degree of dynamic perspective that no helicopter or plane could possibly achieve. Plus the fact that they are environmentally a world apart from fuel-guzzling ‘choppers’ – the drones used in Extreme E can even use battery power and even be charged on-site using Extreme E’s hydrogen fuel cell generators. A win/win!
But let’s drill down and find out what is really takes take to capture Extreme E’s stunning race footage which continues to captivate and enthral television audiences around the world?
Enter Aerios Solutions – a world leading company in drone filming technology – and who’s team boasts not just one, but THREE champion stunt helicopter pilots.
“It’s safe to say, we have a pretty experienced crew at Aerios Solutions!” says its Director Martin Taylor, “Two of our crew are actually world champion helicopter stunt pilots, and all of our pilots have extensive experience in the drone industry including working in major film productions.”
Well, that would certainly go a long way to explaining the agility and experience needed to control the drones that capture the ODYSSEY 21s in what is regularly likened to ‘Star Wars meets Dakar Rally’ style racing….
Extreme E’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ali Russell, elaborates, “As a race series, Extreme E represents so many world firsts. Live sports programming with this level of remote production has not been done in these parts of the world before; in Greenland we’ll be in a valley with a glacier on the side, in Senegal we were on a beach next to a lake, in Saudi, we were literally in the middle of a vast desert canyons. Getting live pictures out of these places with the level of integration we’ve got, just hasn’t been done before.”
So, let’s rewind a bit and find out how Aerios Solutions first got involved with Extreme E.
As Martin explains, “Aerios Solutions had worked with Extreme E’s film production company, Aurora Media, in the past. We were involved with Aurora for the live broadcast of the opening of the Cricket Work Cup in front of Buckingham Palace. This led to other things, one of which is the Extreme E series.
He goes on, “We knew right from the start we were the perfect fit for Extreme E – the way the drones are used in this championship and the way Aerios Solutions operates, is unique. And nobody else is doing anything close – in extreme environments, with augmented reality and really dynamic coverage.
“We like to think that there are distinct similarities between our team of pilots and the Extreme E drivers themselves… we are all perfectionists, we are all dedicated to our roles, we are all competitive when flying/driving and share the goal of the perfect shot /lap and we all have to work together as a team to achieve the best outcome.”
It’s obviously insanely tricky flying and shooting in Extreme E’s remote location, but what are the main challenges?
Martin fills us in, “Mainly the logistics! Getting a whole live broadcast to such remote areas is a huge challenge. There is absolutely no infrastructure on site before Extreme E arrives there – every piece of equipment has to be transported to the operating site. Thinking ahead and planning are essential to making the operation a success.”
He continues, “Transport around site is difficult, and we normally need four-wheel-drive vehicles just to get to the operating positions. The remote locations have given us some unique challenges, from the baking sun and steep canyons of Saudi Arabia, to even being chased by vultures in Senegal!
“In terms of equipment on-site, we have three main large drones for live broadcast, along with numerous small “FPV” drones. We use the smaller FPV drones for recording fast dynamic, close shots – these are extremely small, extremely quick, lightweight and agile racing drones.
The three actual broadcast drones, which are made by Acecore Technologies in the Netherlands, are highly modified versions of the ‘Neo’ and ‘Zoe’ drones. They are large, stable platforms able that carry not only the camera and gimbals, but also the complex broadcast equipment and they can fly in all weathers which is pretty important in this championship!”
So, in terms of personnel, we ask how many are needed for this kind of remote operation and how does the broadcast get to us whilst we languish on our sofas?
Martin explains, “We have a team of six pilots on site, operating three drones simultaneously. We have an engineer on call in the UK, along with myself in the broadcast suite in London. In terms of delivering it to millions of screens around the world – the footage is transmitted live from the drone to receivers on-site.
From there, the signal is transmitted to the director and producer in the broadcast compound and then, via satellite, to the broadcast suite in London. Finally, the signal is transmitted to a technical team in the Netherlands. After all this, the signal travels back to the on-site broadcast team, before finally being transmitted world-wide via satellite. All this happens very quickly!”
So just suppose we want to apply for a job, what skills do we need to drive one of these things…?!
Martin laughs, “These drones are extremely complicated to operate. It needs a minimum of two pilots to operate each drone – one pilot controls the drone itself, the other the camera/gimbal.
The main skills required are a high level of piloting skill. The pilots need to be extremely skilled and experienced in actually flying the drone, and of course, technical skill meaning they need to be able to maintain the drones in the remote areas. Also, team working skills – the pilot and gimbal/camera operator work as a team to get the live broadcast shots. Normally, the gimbal/camera operator directs the pilot, but they work together “as one”.
And not least, communication skills – apart from communicating with each other, the flight team are in constant communication with production. They are being directed from the on-site producer, the on-site director and the production team in London.”
So, is the team looking forward to going to Greenland in a few week’s time?
“Absolutely!” Martin exclaims. “There are many challenges operating drones in such a hostile and remote location, but we are confident we can produce some amazing shots. The racetrack is at the bottom of a glacier, over an area that was covered by the glacier itself twenty years ago. Greenland really brings home the issue of global warming.”
What have you enjoyed most about Extreme E X Prixs so far?
Without hesitating, Martin says, “Everything! The event is so unique. We have travelled to some of the harshest, remote environments and seen things that even hardy travellers will never get to experience. We work with the most fantastic teams and people, and we get to see our work transmitted around the world. “To sum it up, it’s the most unique, exciting and satisfying job you could imagine!”
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