Filmmaking is a medium that defines itself by its ability to push the envelope, to make audiences suspend their disbelief, and to allow us to disengage from the real world for a couple of hours. The best filmmakers take us on a journey — not always a literal one — and tell stories that linger in our minds long after the credits roll. But behind every Jordan Peele-level genius, is a whole range of technology tasked with turning a filmmaker’s imagination into images projected across a screen.
The film industry is in a constant search for innovative and groundbreaking technologies with the aim to dazzle audiences and make the process of filmmaking more manageable. When digital cameras hit the scene it wasn’t because they were inherently better at capturing motion — some would argue digital still doesn’t hold a candle to film — but because it made movies cheaper to make, easier to edit, and more convenient to reproduce. This is an industry that depends on technology to keep it vital (and keep budgets in check).
From tech that allows us to reach heights we’ve never been to digital makeup effects that turn “aging out of a role” into a thing of the past to 3D printer-made camera parts that level the playing field between studios and amateurs, these are the products and ideas in use or on the horizon that are sure to change the game.
The use of aerial drones is already a prevalent practice in the filmmaking industry. Movies like Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom or the latest entry in The Fast and The Furious franchise rely on a drone’s ability to reach previously unreachable camera locations and capture angles that help to make a movie a more immersive experience. But drones still require human operators and tons of planning in order to avoid issues like collisions and to compose shots that jibe with the aesthetic sensibilities of humans — at least for now.
Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are already in the midst of working on an aerial drone-based system that will enable directors to specify everything from the orientation of a shot, to on the fly preservation and framing as an actor moves in real time, all while avoiding collisions, capturing the director’s intention, and keeping equipment safely intact.
The system — as explained by Javier Alonso-Mora, one of the authors of a paper accompanying the tech — “continuously estimates the velocities of all of the moving objects in the drone’s environment and projects their locations a second or two into the future. This buys it a little time to compute optimal flight trajectories and also ensures that it can recover smoothly if the drone needs to take evasive action to avoid collision.”
In experiments with the technology so far, the MIT researchers had subjects repeatedly attempt to collide with a camera-operating drone equipped with the new system, only for the drone to avoid collision and resume prescribed framing completely without fail.