As the camera zooms in for a close up of a car screaming across a dry lake bed, there's no dust flying around. The shot is made possible by the Klaus Cam Aerial System, a new kind of aerial camera rig developed by Klaus Obermeyer of Aéro Film and Scott Howell. With a three-axis, gyro-stabilized head that hangs on a cable far below a helicopter, the rig makes it possible to literally fly a camera through otherwise completely inaccessible terrain and go places that no other rig can safely handle.
"It has completely revolutionized aerial photography, because it allows you to distance the airframe and mitigate the rotor wash, which normally causes so much dust," states Obermeyer. The rig also allows the camera to be put in places that are dimensional, he adds. "That's always what you're looking for in aerials and cinema, to create layers of images that make it 3D and really dimensional. It allows you get inside tight, whether it's an ice crevasse or tight rock canyons--really any interesting structure that was basically inaccessible before."
As an example, Obermeyer cites the new 3D IMAX film that the company just shot for the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. "The Klaus Cam was used to shoot the whole film, including spectacular scenes through waterfalls and out again and then into the ocean to create amazing transitions. Obviously, you couldn't do that if the camera was attached directly to the aircraft."
The Klaus Cam has been 10 years in the making. The initial inspiration for the rig came in 2000, when Obermeyer and key grip Scott Howell went to Greenland to do a Chevrolet Olympics spot. "Scott put together the first Klaus Cam using a 2x4-foot piece of wood, a 1,000-foot film can, and a lot of duct tape," recalls Obermeyer. "And it wasn't gyro-stabilized. We'd even tried using a Space Cam from a line, but the problem was, you couldn't use wide lenses with it. I had this new super-wide 6mm lens, and I'd wanted to fly that inside crevasses and so on, but you'd see your toes and the brim of your hat at the same time. But our first jerry-rigged attempt worked, and we actually used the footage in the final campaign. So it was really born out of necessity."
Since then, the team, which also includes a key third member--veteran pilot and Aéro Film director and DP Craig Hoskings, whose extensive credits include aerials on Batman and
Mission Impossible--has spent over a decade refining the rig. "It's a very advanced piece of equipment," cautions Obermeyer. "This is not something we're looking to have mass-produced, or even have other people use--although there's a huge demand out there. We're not interested in expanding the market for it."
Obermeyer is far more interested in keeping the rig in the Aéro family, for the company's own projects. "And a big part of that is because Klaus Cam team is a highly refined operation that works like a tight band of musicians," he explains. "So you simply can't mass-produce or duplicate this operation as it requires a very close working relationship between Scott, myself, and Craig. Craig directed the IMAX Hawaiian film and he's done the lion's share of developing the aerial parameters needed for this whole operation. So he's a huge part of the equation."
Obermeyer also cautions that, if used incorrectly, the rig can be "very dangerous, like any piece of aerial gear. It's a serious bit of business and isn't designed for your average project. We want to use it in areas where it can really make a difference. And the tolerances that make the shots look so amazing are at the very edge of what's possible for a long-line pilot and aviation. So when we do fly, we push it to the very limit."
As a partner in Aéro Film, Obermeyer notes that the rig "is available to all our directors, and we'll send the team out when everyone agrees the project is right for the rig, whether it's a commercial job of a movie sequence."
Aéro Film has used the Klaus Cam for a recent Fruit of the Loom commercial, a Ram truck spot, and a special 3D project for the Navy using aircraft carriers and F18 jets, reports Obermeyer. "The look has a certain magic carpet feel to it, which makes it so appealing. It's not robotic at all."
Looking ahead, he says that Aéro is interested in "any project that's revolutionary, and specifically in projects that can make a difference to the environment. It's ideal for ecological-based projects. We'd love to do a big documentary series like the BBC shows--it's just the ideal rig for that."