China Diary

Day 104: Drone Nation


Finding a single unique visual language to a film is always a tricky business. Whatever you do, everything has been already done before and there’s absolutely nothing you can throw at the audience they haven’t seen a thousand times. But as a director, that’s your job anyway, to bring something new for the audience to chew on.

Sometimes, the answer can come in through quite a surprising way; in the case of Iron Sky: The Ark, the drones are (part of) the answer. When I started planning one of the key scenes of the film, I wanted to have drones in the picture following our road racers taking the highways, but I never realized how amazing stuff you can achieve with a killer drone team in a high-speed action scene.

See, action is always about four things: camerawork, stunts, special effects and visual effects. Whatever you do with cameras, it’s always a bit clunky: whether you’re following a the action with a camera mounted to a vehicle, do tight close-ups or handheld style, it’s all been done before. But when you add a really skilled drone team with actual drone racers who can zip in between the action, you have suddenly entered into a storytelling mode nobody has really seen before. You’re not just following the action, but actually riding in between the characters, just inches away from all the craziest stunts and wildest action, in a way that no human-operated camera could ever be, just for the sake of security to begin with.

So, one line in the script – “drones follow the racers” – turned out to be a loot box full of amazing treasures for us. We had brought in a team over from Europe for the Long Night to bring their expertise to the racing scenes, and they exceeded our expectations tenfolds. Added with the Chinese drone racers, we certainly made a set of scenes I bet nobody has seen in a cinema before, and just can’t wait to get editing this stuff!

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