Take a look behind the scenes of the LMB’s single-shot drone film and read more on the story behind this video project
Earlier this year we created a fly through video of the LMB to share a snippet of everyday life at our institute. The 4 minute 39 second continuous film was made entirely by members of the LMB. There was a lot of effort behind this one shot, with months of planning, many hours of practice and more than a hundred members of the LMB involved on the day. We are really proud of everyone’s effort, and here we share the story of how it was made.
Back in 2019, LMB Director Jan Löwe held a video competition where staff could submit their ideas for ways in which a video project could help showcase the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.
One contestant was Head of Division for Neurobiology and Group Leader, Michael Hastings, with his idea of a drone flight inside the institute. The aim was to cast LMB staff and show people a taster of the daily life within the LMB. Everyone loved the idea, so the next challenge was how to bring the vision to life.
Paul Hart, Head of IT, had flown radio-controlled models since he was young and offered to be the LMB’s in-house drone pilot for the project. It was Paul who had the ambition to attempt a one-take fly through the atrium, rather than edit together separate pieces of video footage.
Paul decided to use a first-person view (FPV) racing drone, which allows the pilot to see as if they were inside the drone, using a pair of goggles. They are also very manoeuvrable and small, so they can fly through very small spaces – just what Paul needed to deliver his vision. He built the drone himself as it cannot be bought pre-assembled and began practicing.
Paul said: “Once I had built one, I had to learn to fly it. This is actually very hard, and I crashed a lot, to the point where I bought another two whole drones, so I had spares to fly while they were rebuilt after crashes! I put in around 600-700 hours of flight time (400 of that was in a racing drone flight simulator). I practiced by flying outdoors, inside my house, and inside the LMB at night and at the weekends in order to get the accuracy needed to be able to fly smoothly and stable, and to be able to fit though gaps to complete in one take.”
Once Paul felt ready and had established a route around the LMB, Liz Pryke and Lydia Melville from the Public Engagement team recruited LMB members to be cast in the film. They had to know what they were going to say ahead of filming, as the audio track was added after the flight along with the music. This is because the drone is too loud to allow audio to be recorded as it flies during filming, which our behind-the-scenes video gives you a taster of.
Another challenge was ensuring that all 87 cast members were in the right place for filming and that other members of the LMB knew what was happening on the day. We cast 14 safety marshals who were stationed around the flight route to ensure and confirm over walkie talkie radio that each location was ready before each take began. This helped to keep people safe, preventing anyone from accidentally walking into the path of the drone. An air horn was used to alert the building when filming was about to start and when it had finished. This was an additional warning to remind everyone not to look at the drone during filming, ensuring we captured the feel of a normal day within the LMB rather than it feeling overly staged. “Don’t look at the drone!” quickly became a well-known phrase at the LMB from the project!
It took an impressively short five takes on the day to get a final film without any major errors. The previous four tries had issues with the position of the drone in relation to people, or other errors. Despite looking through the goggles to see the drone’s flight path, the pilot cannot see the footage that is being recorded by the GoPro action camera attached to the drone. This meant that each flight had to be reviewed afterwards by the production team to see if it was good enough, building suspense for all of us after the air horn ended each take.
Whilst filming took place, Shraddha Nayak, Head of Visual Communications, captured some behind-the-scenes footage to share how we coordinated everything on the day. This was edited into our ‘The making of’ film (see above or on YouTube) for us to share now.
Liz, Engagement and External Communication Manager, said: “The drone flight through the LMB was a challenging project to deliver, but it was great to be part of something that the LMB community created together, and we are really pleased with the end result.”