Read our great interview with Roberto Fernandez of CopterClouds, who filmed Ludovico Einaudi playing for Greenpeace on a floating platform in the Arctic.
In today’s Skytango feature, we interview Roberto Fernandez of CopterClouds on the behind-the-scenes of filming Ludovico Einaudi, an epic aerial, sea and ground filming experience.
On the 20th of June 2016, #WorldMusicDay, the Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi, performed, for the first time, his own composition “Elegy for the Arctic” on a floating platform in the Arctic Ocean near Svalbard, Norway.
This project was launched by Greenpeace Spain, as part of the Save The Arctic campaign, aimed at generating awareness and encouraging world leaders to protect and safeguard the future of the Arctic, in particular before the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic in Tenerife, Spain which took place at the end of June.
Ludovico Einaudi, one of the most popular pianists and composers in the world, travelled onboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise before performing against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier, to add his voice to those of eight million people who signed Greenpeace’s petition to demand protection for the Arctic.
Einaudi played on a floating platform built on top of a 2.6 x 10 metre artificial iceberg.
This platform was made from more than 300 triangles of wood attached together and weighed a total of nearly two tonnes. A grand piano was then placed on top of the platform.
CopterClouds, a Spain-based aerial filming company with a long history of collaboration with Greenpeace, shot and edited the video of Ludovico’s perfomance, using both aerials from drones and shots from the floating platform and the zodiac rib.
Their haunting video “Elegy for the Arctic”, whose beauty left me breathless when I first watched it, has quickly became a viral success on YouTube, surpassing 1 million views in a few weeks, and on Facebook, with over 1 million views in Ludovico’s page only.
Thanks to the Greenpeace International Press Desk and Rafael Ordóñez, Greenpeace Spain Comms Manager, I reached Roberto Fernandez, drone pilot, and owner of Copterclouds.
I’m happy to bring you Roberto’s interview, in which he talks about the behind-the-scenes of Ludovico Einaudi’s video in such an amazing setting and extreme conditions.
Whether you are a film-maker, a drone lover, a video lover, or a music lover, you can’t help but appreciate Roberto’s video and insights. Enjoy!
The Questions for Roberto Fernandez – CopterClouds
- Can you please tell us about yourself and CopterClouds, your background, when you started using drones, what you specialize in, etc?
- Have you already worked on similar unusual filming projects for Greenpeace or other organizations?
- What was your role in Ludovico Einaudi’s shoot, and who were the crew?
- Where did the creative idea of Ludovico Einaudi playing on the ocean come from?
- Why did you use aerials? How do aerials contribute to the video, from a storytelling point of view?
- What were the main challenges of shooting with drones in such extreme environmental conditions?
- What equipment did you use (drones, cameras, lenses, apps etc)?
- Did you have a problem with lenses fogging up and how did you deal with this?
- Were there any difficulties with props on the copter in the cold?
- The video shows an amazingly timed shot at the crescendo of the music and the glaciers’ collapse. Was this how it really happened or was there some movie magic employed?
- How excited were you when you got the glacier shot?
- Were you taking off from a boat, and if so did you have any difficulties with locking your GPS when taking off?
- How long were you out there and how many times was the piece played?
- Was there any trouble with RF due to the levels of moisture in the air?
- Did your fingers have any trouble in the cold? What did you do to combat cold trembling hands?
- If you do this again (or anything like it), will you bring John and Lucy, my two great colleagues always ready to jump on video adventures?
The Interview With Roberto Fernandez – CopterClouds
1. Can you please tell us about yourself and CopterClouds – your background, when you started using drones, what you specialize in, etc?
It all started a long time ago, almost without knowing it. I started flying RC model planes as a hobby when I was 12 years old (I am now 42!). My professional life revolved around film and TV.
A few years ago a producer I worked with asked me to do some aerial shots for a TV pilot and that’s when I started building my first Drone. My two passions collided and CopterClouds was born.
We provide aerial filmography services for TV shows and Film and we also design and build our own equipment.
When you push the limits and can’t find commercial solutions on the market that meet your needs, then self-design and build is a necessity. We are currently working on a Multirotor that can withstand rain, snow and extremely low temperatures. It has a heating system for electronics and batteries on board and we are molding and cutting our own pieces of carbon fiber and aeronautic aluminum.
2. Have you already worked on similar unusual projects for Greenpeace or other organizations?
We do a lot of work for the Spanish office of Greenpeace, covering their activity. It is very different from Film and Television work – live action, often working against the clock. It’s very exciting!
We covered stories involving the Greenpeace Flagship, Rainbow Warrior in Ibiza, protesting against oil exploration.
We documented activity off the Canary Islands on board the Arctic Sunrise where Greenpeace activists protested against a Repsol drill site getting ready to soil clear waters.
When they told us about the Arctic project, we said Wow! Two days of shooting a highly creative and beautiful piece … Cool!
3. What was your role in Ludovico Einaudi’s shoot, and who were the crew?
My role in Ludovico Einaudi’s film was as a drone pilot, Movi operator, and technician. We had a super small team of 2 people; Raul Alaejos, the videographer and camera operator, and me.
Space is tight onboard the transport vessel for this type of expedition and each department needs to be super focused and compact; the ice pilot, the polar bear security guide, VIP manager, etc.
I generally work with the same cameraman all the time, as familiar communication and synchronization is vital to help achieve the best shot, but on this occasion it was not possible.
Raul and I had known each other for several years through Greenpeace, and when this opportunity arose to work together we said… why not?
Raul is a great cameraman, and after a few training sessions we were ready for the shot.
4. Where did the creative idea of Ludovico Einaudi playing on the ocean come from?
Somehow we wanted the viewer to hear the voices of 8 million people who have signed up to protect the Arctic.
Ludovico Einaudi embodied those voices in a poetic way.
The aim was to find iconic imagery outside of Arctic stereotypes, which would represent the man / nature scale and juxtapose it against the stark beauty of the surroundings.
The subtlety of Ludovico’s compositions is the perfect soundtrack for such a delicate environment and as such, a live sound recording was crucial to capture the majesty of the occasion.
5. Why did you use aerials? How do aerials contribute to the video, from a storytelling point of view?
Aerial shots were key for the narrative of the video. We wanted to close with a picture of loneliness; of humanity’s insignificance against nature but at the same time the paradox of our destructive capacity.
We originally planned to include more aerials in the final cut, but during filming we discovered that Ludovico was so powerful in front of the camera that the aerials almost paled by comparison.
We think that the use of drones must be justified within the narrative and not used just because they can be used. Drones allow for impressive visual appeal when used correctly.
6. What were the main challenges of shooting with drones in such extreme environmental conditions?
We were concerned about low temperatures, GPS coverage, and compass errors. At low temperatures, the battery performance is reduced, so we had to take special care when handling them.
We had prepared some covers with resistors powered by a Lipo battery to keep them at 25º Celsius, but couldn’t use them because as they got delayed in customs.
Upon reaching Longerbyern, we calibrated the compass, and we did our first test flights.
We were receiving signals from 14 satellites, and there was no fluctuation, but we noticed that the positioning of the aircraft was not rock solid and was drifting to the right, so we quickly turned to manual control to avoid any possibility of ‘flyaway’.
7. What equipment did you use (drones, cameras, lenses, apps etc)?
We had a lot of setbacks on this expedition. We sent 180kg of equipment ahead of us but it was delayed at customs and was not delivered on time. Included in that shipment was our coaxial Multirotor X8, our favorite tool which has a heating system for batteries and a self-inflating flotation device!
We have flown with it in the most extreme conditions ie; 29 knots of wind, without any problems:
We always carry a back up, and on this occasion it was necessary to use it. We flew one S-900 modified with a telemetry sensor for voltage, current consumption, and RSSI signal and a self-inflating attachment. As payload we used a Zenmuse z15 gimbal and a Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera.
We modified the gimbal to accommodate an Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm lens instead of the recommended 12 mm, with this we avoided any wide angle distortion of the frame, and added more depth of field to the image with a 35mm optical equivalent of 52mm.
On land we used two Futaba 14SG radios, mounted on a Tx Tray for the gimbal operator with a 7″ monitor, and for the pilot we used two 5” monitors, one for FPV camera and Telemetry, and the other for the image captured by the GH4.
For the boat shots we used a Movi gimbal with a Blackmagic Production 4K, a Canon L 16-55mm and a Canon 5d MKIII with a C-100 as support.
8. Did you have a problem with lenses fogging up and how did you deal with this?
It wasn’t difficult. We simply allowed time for the equipment to adjust to the ambient temperature. Raul already had experience working in Arctic conditions, so he knew how to handle it.
We stored the equipment in the flight cases and packed them with big bags of silica gel, the kind used in the packaging of actual aviation parts.
9. Were there any difficulties with props on the copter in the cold?
We experienced vibrations that are unusual in other environments, easily solved by adjusting the gain of the flight controller.
10. The video shows an amazingly timed shot at the crescendo of the music and the glaciers’ collapse. Was this how it really happened or was there some movie magic employed?
No magic! No special effects or compositing! Only video editing.
It was amazing to see the fragility of the environment with constantly falling ice that caused big waves. We repeatedly had to evacuate Ludovico from the platform for safety. A true team effort, coordinated by Tom, our polar bear and security guide, and the boat drivers.
11. How excited were you when you got the glacier shot?
That’s very difficult to express. It was amazing, a mixture of awe and adrenaline. The environment was wonderful, it was a dream come true that is hard for me to express in words.
12. Were you taking off from a boat, and if so did you have any difficulties with locking your GPS when taking off?
We usually took off from the Helideck of the Arctic Sunrise, which was our preferred platform, but on this occasion, the narrative demanded clear space around Ludovico to convey a feeling of loneliness, so we had to take off from the Zodiac (inflatable rib).
For this we had the support of Gonzalo and Pedro who held the drone for takeoff and landing. In order to do this, we took a series of security measures (such as using helmets) and rehearsed our coordination, agreeing on the signs to guide us on approach for landing.
This was a delicate operation, because we did not trust our GPS assistance because of the lateral drift we experienced in test flights.
Today anyone can fly a drone with electronic assistance, but this type of operation (manual control) is where we value our experience and is something we think is very important when embarking on such complex projects in harsh environments.
13. How long were you out there and how many times was the piece played?
We were in Svalbard for 5 days in total. The filming was done in two days.
We arrived at the Wahlenbergbreen glacier at 5:40pm. After a briefing, we prepared the pontoon and lowered the piano and began filming the close-ups and location sound at 00: 30am. The first block of shooting from the Zodiac with the Movi gimbal lasted about 2 hours.
We took a short break to warm up and then we started with the aerial shots of Ludovico on the platform. There were two flights of around 8 minutes. Everything was fine, take offs and landings from the zodiac were impeccable.
We ended the first day at 4am, very happy with what we got without any incidents.
The second day of shooting began at 04:00pm with aerials of the glacier while the platform and the piano was being prepared. We could only stay in the air for about 10 minutes before we were interrupted by rain, so we had to break and resume filming at 01: 30am.
The Movi shots from the Zodiac lasted about three hours before it was time to shoot the last of the aerials with Ludovico on the platform, but the ice kept falling and the surface of the water was completely covered, making it difficult to move with the boats.
So it was decided, for safety, to finish the shoot early. There was so much ice floating, we had difficulty getting back on to the ship.
The next morning we returned to Longyearbyen Port, where we began the two-day editing process. We were all ready to go home at this point.
14. Was there any trouble with RF due to the levels of moisture in the air?
We had no problems at all. We programmed an alarm in our 14sg telemetry to warn us if the signal reception dropped under 100%. The maximum distance that we moved to was approximately 350 meters and 90 meters height.
15. Did your fingers have any trouble in the cold? What did you do to combat cold trembling hands?
This is something we really had to pay attention to when we were told about the project. It is impossible to fly with hands numbed by the cold, so we modified one TX muff to fit our TX tray and added resistors fed by a Lipo battery to create warmth, and of course gloves with the fingers cut off!
16. If you do this again (or anything like it), will you bring John and Lucy, my two great colleagues always ready to jump on video adventures?
Yes, of course! If it’s possible, we would very much like to share one of our next adventures.
Finally, I would like to thank the whole team, from Mike the captain, who always had a smile for us, to Willie the chef who prepared us delicious meals.
It is not our first time on a Greenpeace ship, and it is always a special experience. They have always made us feel at home. The crew were more than willing to help us solve any problem, very professionally. Many we knew already, such as Phil, who built us a hanging bracket for the Movi in the Zodiac, or Ana Paula, Paul, Helena, Tom, Javi.
We can’t wait to share the next adventure…
Read more on Ludovico Einaudi’s performance for Greenpeace:
- Greenpeace Press Release: “World renowned pianist Ludovico Einaudi plays historic concert on Arctic Ocean”
- Greenpeace’s media material on the performance with interviews to Ludovico Einaudi
- Save The Arctic campaign
- Greenpeace’s comment on the result of the OSPAR Meeting
- CopterClouds’ website
- CopterClouds on Facebook
- CopterClouds on Twitter
- CopterClouds on YouTube
- CopterClouds on Vimeo
- CopterClouds on Instagram
A sincere thank you to Roberto for this fantastic interview, and to Pedro Armestre, Tom Foreman and Gus Pfaffendorf for allowing us to use their great photos!