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Robert McIntosh’s “Pretty Sweet” Quadcopter

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A beautiful French film-buff friend of mine recently turned me on to the Channel Four documentary series The Story of Film. As it turns out, when a beautiful French film-buff recommends that I watch something, I’m 100% more likely to watch it, even if that “it” turns out to be a 15-part series of one-hour episodes covering a century-plus in cinematic history. (Despite its imposing length, The Story of Film is brilliant and I highly recommend it.) Somewhere between the eighth and ninth hours we’re introduced to Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film I Am Cuba, as narrator Mark Cousins uses his Irish drawl to slowly trace the camera’s path through an innovative sequence in the film.

“The camera seems to levitate. Wide angle lens, handheld, beautiful exposure, slow motion. […] The camera climbs a building; a crane shot so beautiful that in the ’90s, after years of I Am Cuba being forgotten in America, it was shown at the Telluride Film Festival, impressed Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola and was re-released. But then the camera crosses the street, still no cut. It moves to the end of this room. A flag’s unfurled, and we glimpse two wires in the sky. The camera’s attached to those wires then floats out over the funeral down the canyon of a Havana street.”

It’s a seductive and remarkable shot regardless of the time period.

Cut to the new collaboration from skateboard companies Girl and Chocolate titled Pretty Sweet. Co-directed by Ty Evans, Spike Jonze, and Cory Weincheque (the trio was also behind 2007′s award winning special effects bonanza Fully Flared), Pretty Sweet opens with what first appears to be a swooping crane shot, capturing a school-yard skate session. Quickly the scene escapes the reaches of any crane however, extending the frame as it follows a daisy chain of skaters before a series of confetti canons bring the single-shot introduction to its celebratory close.

Granted, I don’t think I’ve seen another skate-vid since Fully Flared was released, but still, the entire thing is gorgeous. Here’s a brief Pretty Sweet trailer:

The sweeping endless crane effect in Pretty Sweet was shot using a remote control heli-camera navigated by Robert McIntosh. While the idea of strapping a camera to a remote-controlled helicopter to capture first-person view (FPV) isn’t unique to McIntosh (Luke Phillips’ videos are also stunning, and YouTube has a great selection of other amateur copter-cams), McIntosh blends his unique background and skill-set to give his videos their awe-inspiring effect. A computer animator who has worked on such films as Spider Man and Toy Story, McIntosh’s quadcopter uses a custom stabilizing device and proprietary software that help lend his clips their unique flavor. Take for instance his beautiful “Weekend in SF” video, which earlier this year found some momentum online when it was featured by a few high-profile sites including The Atlantic.

Ongoing discussion surrounding the clips speaks to the questionable legality of such shots, which possibly come in violation of FAA regulations. “Radio-controlled helicopters have also been the target of regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration,” notes an SF Bay blog post. “Commercial use of RC helicopters has been grounded by the FAA until final rules are written. And any rules are certain to forbid swooping around mere feet over people’s heads.” But The Man be damned: the range of such gorgeous aerial visuals is absolutely breathtaking and I applaud McIntosh for his work, regardless of its legal status. And when going through McIntosh’s portfolio of work (Vimeo, YouTube) I can’t help but wonder what directors of yesteryear might have come up with had they been blessed with the technological gifts employed by today’s generation of visual-art creators. The story of film rolls on…