Up, up, and away: NZ drone makers target Hollywood

Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:45am EDT
 
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By Naomi Tajitsu

RAGLAN, New Zealand (Reuters) - Deep in New Zealand's dairying heartland, drone maker Aeronavics tests aircraft designed to corner the fast-growing emerging market for unmanned aerial vehicles in the film and television business.

The developer of drones used in the production of "Dr. Who" and the "Twilight" films is one of a stable of New Zealand firms that are using the country's reputation for innovation in the film industry to stake out claims to what is expected to be a drone boom in Hollywood.

The relaxation of U.S. rules for commercial drones late last year has sparked a race to develop flying camera platforms that - while priced upwards of $100,000 each - will still cost significantly less to hire than the jibs, cranes and helicopters studios currently use to capture swooping aerial shots.

Until now, cinematographers have bolted specialized add-ons like cinema-quality cameras to off-the-shelf drones that cost a few thousand dollars each. New Zealand's drone makers want to change all that, with sophisticated, purpose-built aircraft.

"A lot of drone technology companies got their start in the custom-build film and photography sector, and the New Zealand film industry has a global reputation as leading technology advances in film," said Chris Thomson, aviation manager at government technology incubator Callaghan Innovation.

New Zealand's drone makers are building on home-grown innovation including animation software used in the "Lord of the Rings" and real-time motion capture technology that brought facial expressions to life in "Avatar".

Backed by "Avatar" director James Cameron, the New Zealand government is holding a competition for developers of drones for the film industry, focusing on criteria such as flight stability, noise reduction and weather-proofing. First prize is NZ$50,000 ($32,625.00) and an expenses-paid trip to next year's National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas.

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An Aeronavics drone sits in a paddock near the town of Raglan, New Zealand, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Naomi Tajitsu