Published May 2017

Some people think they’re a godsend. Others find them hokey or creepy. Undeniably, some have been used for dubious purposes. But the reality of drones is that they have become a useful and effective tool for a variety of industries. Here in Oregon, they are used for things like search & rescue missions, surveying elk populations, precision farming—and maybe a film festival or two.

While we haven’t all had the chance to operate one, Quango definitely appreciates drones. Also known as UAVs, or “unmanned aerial vehicles,” these remote-controlled flying robots have proven incredibly useful in capturing video from the air for several of our projects, like Dell’s Monster Excitement commercial and the Get in the Game spot we did for Alienware. And for our tech review video series, we got into the nitty-gritty details of the DJI Mavic Pro. What can we say? On top of their contributions to science, technology, and beyond, drones are just… cool.

Whether they’re being admired or admonished, these machines—much like their physical presence—are flashy, loud, and hard to ignore. In 2015, Intel set a Guinness World Record with a light show starring 100 drones. Then, in 2016, the company toppled its own record by orchestrating a stunning show featuring a whopping 500 drones. It was an impressive feat that involved one pilot at a laptop, directing hundreds of UAVs to move as a single fleet.

But beyond their dazzling effect—and our feelings about them—what do drones mean when it comes to how we communicate and execute our stories?

For starters, there are the cinematic opportunities. Industry expert and journalist Matt Waite says that while drones won’t “completely change storytelling,” they are tools that can “improve certain kinds of stories—stories with large spatial extents, where mere words struggle to convey the scope and magnitude of something.” This is evident in the short films and documentaries that are emerging with new perspectives on natural disasters, never-before-seen footage of wild animals, and a bevy of bird’s-eye views of… just about anything.

At Quango, we see drones as a democratizing device. Our creative director and resident drone aficionado, Tobias Sugar, explains it like this: “Aerial shots add production value. It used to be a dream to get (and afford) a helicopter.” These days, with the help of drone technology, agencies and other creatives have the ability to capture an establishing shot for much, much less. According to Tobias, “That’s new.”

He’s not exaggerating. Helicopter rentals can “easily run tens of thousands of dollars after insurance, fuel, pilot costs, and airspace approval.”1 Since establishing shots are no longer reserved for big-budget productions, creatives from a variety of backgrounds can use drones to tell their stories. And that “democratization” not only enables opportunities for as many creatives as there are ideas (and budgets), but also means that audiences benefit from a richer, more diverse array of stories. All thanks to this advancing technology.

Of course, a relationship with drones isn’t all smooth sailing. Regulations are updated on a constant basis, and keeping up with expectations surrounding proper safety and ethics can sometimes be a hassle. However, with an engaged understanding of how they work and an up-to-date knowledge of etiquette, drones can be wielded for good—the evidence is all around us. Today’s drones support learning and innovation. The idea of the hovering, invasive nuisance is quickly fading into the past.

There’s no doubt that drones will be hanging around for a while. According to Goldman Sachs, the market opportunity—including agriculture, energy, advertising, and more—is projected to reach $100 billion between now and 2020.2 Market forecasts aside, you can count on seeing increased drone footage in movies, music videos, commercials, and more—our work included. They’re just so… cool.

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  1. “Forget the Helicopter: New Drone Cuts Cost of Aerial Video.” Wired, 2012.
  2. “Drones: Reporting for Work.” Goldman Sachs, 2016.