RC Helicopter Work for New Balance Commercial

Somewhat out of the norm for me, this project allowed me to mix my personal hobby with business. Normally I would be behind the video camera on similar shoots, but for this project I was in front of the camera. Well, sort of. I was contacted by Red Tree Productions, who were working with Arnold Worldwide for a television commercial for New Balance. Part of the commercial called for a radio controlled helicopter for various stunts. They ended up finding me through my RC club affiliation, and not through the typical channels I advertise in or use for networking.

Here is one part of the finished commercial.

After performing independent testing a few days ahead of time, just to be sure we could accomplish the stated goals, the helicopter needed to be prepared on the day of the shoot. This involved masking over the painted graphics, logos, etc, that were already present on the heli. Graphic artists tape was used in matching colors to hide the New York City Police decal, N number registration, and RC helicopter manufacturer logos.

A small High Def camera was then mounted under the fuselage such that it could capture video at multiple angles during the several flights we would make. After seeing the footage from the camera, we ended up purchasing one for our own projects. The camera, GoPro HD, shown below, is very small, enclosed in a waterproof case, can be virtually mounted anywhere, and delivered high quality HD footage. Once everything was checked out, angles selected, test footage was recorded, it was time to head out for actual shooting.

The shoot location was in a parking lot adjacent to the New Balance headquarters in downtown Lawrence, MA. As a shooting location goes, it was just another outdoor shoot location. Not the best, not the worst. As an RC flying area, thats another story. It was very challenging to say the least. If the location wasn’t challenging enough all by itself, a few other challenges were thrown in to keep me on my toes.

High winds. Down drafts and turbulence coming off the top of the building 6 or 7 stories up, and around the clock tower they wanted me to hover in front of. An electrical sub-station next door with possible electrical interference, which didn’t show up in the initial location scouting. Cold temps to keep my thumbs shaking and add further instability, and also challenge the batteries capacity. Ok, I thought, I can still handle this. I’ve flown in worse, just not in a small parking lot, in the city, surrounded by buildings, with a crew of people focused on my flying skills. I’ll need to really focus, but I can still handle it.

Oh yea, and one more challenge! I need to take off and land on a 2.5′ x 4′ table. Ouch. Ok, now that made it really hard.

In the shot above, you can see the size of the take off and landing area! It also shows the flying area we had available, including the flag pole right dab in the middle, building in the background, cars and tractor trailers in close proximity, a terrible approach and take off angle based on the angle required for the shot and the suns direction. With the wind, tight location, etc, an autorotation would be very difficult at best should I have an engine or mechanical issue.

While the crew in the background attend to the ‘cargo’, we are preparing the helicopter for a few more flights. All in all, we flew about 6 or 7 flights in order to get the shots we needed. For each shot, we needed to close the parking and building entrances from vehicle and foot traffic, and have all the crew behind a nearby chain link fence for safety.

From a piloting standpoint, it was challenging with the high winds, turbulence off the building and clock tower, and the small take off and landing area, if you want to call it that. I’m really glad I took the challenge, worked through the issues, and had successful and safe flights and overall shoot. Sometimes its really easy to look at a situation, and talk yourself out of it even before you take the time to see if it can’t be done successfully. I’m glad I didn’t, as this was a very fun and rewarding experience.

Once the commercial is released, I can reveal more details about the shoot, but for now I can only provide some behind the scenes images.

Here is a link to the final video, just posted a few weeks ago on YouTube.

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