Aero Film's Klaus Cam Can Where Helicopters Can't
Director Klaus Obermeyer on Exotic Locales, Impossible Shots, and Precision Flying
Klaus Obermeyer: Aà©ro Film is based on the runway at Santa Monica Municipal Airport. We, as a group, love aviation. Our pigeonhole as a brand is creating really beautiful visuals that require going to exotic locations, finding beauty, capturing it, and bringing it back. We have our own corporate jet, which is capable of taking people anywhere in the continental U.S., non-stop, from the office. We have a helicopter parked at the office for close-in scouting. We attract shoots where people are reaching, logistically. We help them bridge that gap. So we like that pigeonhole. And it’s driven us to create some great innovations, like the Klaus Cam. That’s one of many things we’ve come up with.
My first question about the Klaus Cam is how did you come up with the name?
[Laughs.] The person who really created the Klaus Cam is Scott Howell of Cine Moves. He is famous for importing the Technocrane to the U.S., and Cine Moves is the leade in camera movement in the U.S. Scotty and I have been working together for about a decade, and he named the camera after me when he built the first one in Greenland.
What were the circumstances?
We were shooting a Chevy Olympics campaign, and reaching for images we hadn’t seen before. That led us to Greenland. From an airplane on the way to Iceland, we had seen these huge ice structures by full moon. I wanted to use them as a metaphor for what Chevy could handle with alacrity.
We were going to hang a SpaceCam by a cable so I could get in and around the ice, but at the time, SpaceCam couldn’t handle the 17mm lenses I wanted to fly. I don’t know about lately, but at the time, it was impossible. I had a 6mm fisheye ‘ so wide that you see your toes and the brim of your hat at the same time – and I wanted to fly that lens not just superficially over the ice, but to lower it into the crevasses and do helicopter shots. I was trying to create an extra dimension. I challenged Scott: How the hell are we going to shoot these 6mm aerials in ice?
He fashioned it out of a two-by-four, a 1000-foot film mag, a roll of duct tape, and a few pieces of magic grip equipment in about 10 minutes. We had no control over it, and no gyros, so it spun uncontrollably when we flew it for the first time. But some of the footage was really beautiful.
So the key is that it allows a camera to be positioned far enough outside the body of a helicopter that it puts the camera into a dangerous position without putting the helicopter into the same dangerous position?
And if you want to get aerial shots that begin or end with a close-up on a person, rotor wash is a bid consideration. If you come up to someone with a SpaceCam mounted on the nose of a helicopter, you’re going to blow the clothes right off of them. With our system, you’re able to really lessen the effects of rotor wash. Under the right conditions, a person could be holding the camera and you won’t even blow their hat off!
Can it shoot 3D?
It could. It would require few further innovations to fly a dual-camera system on it. If we had a project that would benefit from 3D, we could attain it very quickly. We just need the right project.
What format do you usually shoot?
The lion’s share is 35mm. We’ve run RED cameras on it, but for the kinds of projects we’re involved in, film is still the dominant acquisition medium.
How long can the cable be?
There’s no limit. But the pilot is a huge component of any shot. Frankly, it’s an aerobatic stunt every time we do it. The guy who flies for us, Craig Hosking, is a unique individual. He’s a very famous Hollywood helicopter pilot, but ultimately he’s a director as well. Although another person is controlling the camera, in essence, the pilot is directing the shot. The difficulty of keeping the camera inches away from a moving car at 60 mph? There’s a guy focusing and rolling and aiming to frame the shot, but the helicopter pilot is driving the choreography.
To give you an example of the kind of flying it takes to get the best out of the Klaus Cam, I can tell you a story about Craig. He is famous for many things, but once when he was doing a Japanese TV show, Craig taped a pencil to the skid of his helicopter, facing forward, and put an electric pencil sharpener on the trunk of a limousine, facing backward. He sharpened the pencil he taped to the helicopter skid with the sharpener on the trunk of the limousine – at 60 mph. That is an indication of the kind of tolerances we’re working with. It’s serious. I can’t even name a handful of pilots who can accomplish it.
Is that why you don’t sell the Klaus Cam?
We’re for hire, but it’s not possible to mass-produce the system. This is not a tool for everyone. It’s for very specific shots. I’m a director, so I focus on commercials, but we do a lot of feature work and we evolve the equipment. We’re very particular about the jobs we take. If we hear about a job that can be accomplished with a simpler aerial system, we tell them to us those systems. Scott doesn’t even get out of bed unless he’s guaranteed to get a revolutionary shot. If we’re going down a path that’s been traveled, I’ll see him yawn and he’ll check out.
For more information, check out our previous coverage of “Citizen Soldier,” Obermeyer’s 2006 promo for the National Guard, or visit: www.aerofilm.tv.