There's a fast-growing opportunity for incorporating drones in university teaching, research and practice in an array of subjects. This briefing provides a timely update with a focus on the scope for drone cinematography in undergraduate courses. Lorensbergs works with universities that offer film and multimedia production courses, providing resource management software and consultancy. We're sharing key inventory insights with the wider academic audience as part of a new series of Higher Education briefings.
Drones and college degree courses - a fast growing opportunity
Until the last few years, if you were a film or television production company looking to capture an aerial shot, or even just a high-angled shot, the options open to you were fairly limited. However, the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as UAVs or drones, has changed the way aerial cinematography is performed, replacing traditional - and more expensive - methods.
But is the increasing use of drones in film-making being reflected in the design of undergraduate courses and resources? With students taking such courses learning about cameras, lighting, post-production software and, of course, filming techniques, it would suggest the technology increasingly being used for bird’s-eye, dolly, fly-through, orbital and sequence shots should become part of the syllabus.
Another question regarding the use of drones in film-making is whether it’s a competency that should be part of undergraduate film and television production courses in order to meet industry demand, or whether it’s such a specialist area that production companies should rely on external experts, such as Swedish drone aerial photo and video company Heli Film and US aerial cinematography services company ZM Interactive, for example.
Specialist courses aimed at existing film and TV production professionals, such as camera operators and shoot coordinators, are already prevalent. The London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London, offers a one-day beginners course entitled Aerial Video Drones - UAV Ground School that sees respected industry experts teaching the technical and creative aspects of filming video with a drone.
There are also schools that specialize in drone flying and safety, such as the Rheinmetall Unmanned Systems Training Academy (RUSTA), but these don’t provide training regarding drone cinematography.
Drone commercial sales alone are expected to almost triple over the next four years, from 2.5 million in 2016 to seven million in 2020, according to a report published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the national aviation authority of the U.S. As such, it’s not surprising that universities and colleges are increasingly drawing upon this new technology in their research and teaching.
The increasing prevalence of drones, together with the way they have transformed film and TV production, would suggest drone cinematography cannot remain a specialist skill, and that demand for film production courses and TV production courses that push the envelope in terms of how to use this technology and what can be done with it will grow - from both prospective students and production companies.
What's already being done and what are the challenges?
According to EDUCAUSE, many universities have now set up specific departments or laboratories dedicated to designing and developing drone infrastructure, such as the University of Minnesota’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Laboratories, while Kansas State Polytechnic University’s Applied Aviation Research Center offers drone flight training.
Academic institutions have even begun to explore the wide-ranging artistic possibilities drones offer, with Hunter Ewen, an instructor at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Department of Critical Media Services, studying the use of drones to collect sound. He is working with students to develop and test low-interference recording rigs that will be used to create sound art from recordings captured by drones.
There are some indications that institutions are starting to incorporate drone technology in their video production and digital media programs, but so far the content remains low key. Most film and TV production degrees on offer don’t explicitly include modules that cover drone cinematography and there may be some way to go before this technology is fully integrated and marketed as part of these courses. This is not surprising though given the pace at which digital technology progresses and the financial pressure universities find themselves under.
Universities may also experience delays incorporating drones into degree programs while ensuring they adhere to FAA regulations. The FAA is responsible for managing public airspace and issues tight regulations around both commercial and personal use of drones. Universities are treated as commercial operators requiring special certification unless an exemption is acquired for using drones for academic and research purposes.
It will be interesting to track developments in this area, including the the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act, a bill introduced in 2016 and widely backed by U.S. universities, to see how academic drone use is accommodated in the future. Fortunately, the FAA has already loosened how regulations are applied to students undertaking coursework, giving them what amounts to a 'hobbyist exemption'. If they stay under 400 feet and 5 miles away from an airport, they should stay out of trouble. Otherwise further rules need to be followed and notice provided before flying a drone.
Meanwhile, institutions are developing their own policies in relation to drone use, largely concerned with meeting FAA requirements, as well as general safety, privacy, insurance considerations and establishing safe areas for use on campus. Subsequently, institutional processes involved in drone equipment use need to accommodate and support these policies. This is an area that Lorensbergs' connect2 inventory management solution supports. The reservation software ensures that only students with the right training and terms and conditions acceptance get access to specialized equipment such as drones. This helps protect the equipment, as well as students and staff, from instances of inappropriate use.
Drones on the horizon
With out-of-the-box drones becoming more advanced and more affordable, and the aforementioned demand for drone cinematography from the film and TV production industry, there’s reason to believe that more universities will broaden the syllabuses of relevant courses to include it. As the technology becomes more mainstream, drone cinematography will quickly be seen as less of a specialist skill, and more of an essential, if cutting-edge, technique that graduates will need an understanding of in order to be well placed to succeed in the industry.
By incorporating drone use into their film and TV production syllabuses sooner rather than later, universities can capitalize on demand for skills in this fast growing industry-standard technology, while boosting their appeal to prospective students.
Lorensbergs’ connect2 equipment reservation and management software has been developed to support university media, film production and photography courses, whatever the range of resources lent out to students - from digital SLRs, to handheld video cameras, to drones. It optimizes resource access, promotes usage and provides invaluable analytics to support new equipment investment.