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This film wasn't just shot entirely with drones, but with drones on autopilot

Hillary Grigonis
A drone love story, shot entirely by autonomous drones? That's the premise behind a new film debuting at the London Film Festival next weekend and while the drone love story may be science fiction, the automated drone cinematography is not.

Drones have aided in search and rescue attempts, recorded history unfolding, and explored the skies — and now, they’re telling a love story, and all without a human operator directing the flight pattern. In the Robot Skies, the first fiction film shot entirely by autonomous drones, is expected to debut at the London Film Festival on Oct. 8.

Directed by Liam Young and written by Tim Maughan, the film uses drones to record the story while simultaneously treating the unmanned aerial vehicles themselves as a cultural object — much as the subway created hip hop and graffiti, the video’s creators explained.

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In the movie’s science fiction society, two teenagers are confined by police and a network of security drones. The unmanned aerial vehicles identify and track people, and using the on-board computer systems, identify antisocial behavior, categorizing which numbered citizens are societal risks. Using hacked drones, the two teens find ways to communicate with each other as the quadcopter becomes not just a security tool but a way to fall in love.

But drones play a big role in more than just the film’s storyline. The production team collaborated with the Embedded and Artificially Intelligent Vision Lab in Belgium to program camera drones with a set of cinematic rules — essentially, the entire movie was shot with autonomous drones that follow a set of rules without human input. Of course, programming the drones involved human input to create a different set of rules for creating different camera effects, but the automated video operation is impressive regardless.

The film isn’t director Liam Young’s first shot at using drones either. A self-described speculative architect, he also collaborated in the exhibit “Under Tomorrows Sky” (yes, the apostrophe is missing intentionally) on what cities of the future might look like, and “City of Drones,” another conceptual piece of art.

Produced using drones supported by DJI, the production team released a trailer yesterday. With the debut scheduled for the London Film Festival, there’s no word yet on how (or if) the film will be widely distributed.