Tell us about SCP Aerials. What inspired you to start it?
We began experimenting with drone filming about five years ago after winning a bid to film the world’s biggest multi-sport adventure race in Inner Mongolia. The Chinese government had invited the world’s top endurance athletes to race through the deserts and grasslands of the region and we were brought in to film it all. The terrain was vast and the scenery was stunning. Many of my film team were keen amateur endurance racers themselves and we were really excited to try to capture the amazing vistas and show how tiny the athletes appear when confronted by huge sand dunes and rivers. Exploring in this type of wilderness is the very essence of adventure racing so it was really important to capture it. Also we all love playing with new technology and we were sure that if we could make it work for this project we could find lots of other uses for it in the future.
What are your main projects to date?
We have worked on everything from Hollywood movies and TV shows to stadium concerts and construction sites. The application of drone technology is so wide ranging there are many areas where it can be useful. Currently one of our biggest clients is the luxury property sector, as we can capture unique angles for video and photography that help to market new developments.
We have also just started offering 360 degree immersive drone filming, which looks really exciting in VR goggles, and are also developing a drone surveying business to create "orthomosaic" maps of plots of land to help with surveying and industrial inspections.
Another development we are experimenting with is using infra-red FLIR cameras on drones to help identify structural damage and find injured persons in wilderness environments.
Drone filming is a fast growing business and a well established industry in Hong Kong. Can you give us an overview of the industry and how it has grown?
When we started five years ago I couldn’t find anyone else doing this in Hong Kong so we were learning a lot through trial and error. Since then drones have become household consumer products and are often in the news. Drone manufacturers such as DJI have grown into hugely successful companies and as a result, drone technology is available to everyone. There are now many people offering to fly drones for money but very few of them are doing it professionally, with government permission, qualifications and insurance. We do a lot of work with DJI and have been meeting regularly with the aviation department here in Hong Kong to help develop regulations that can safely manage the growing industry.
Hong Kong is the biggest drone hub in the world. Is the competition for drone filming tight?
There is lots of competition as there are lots of people who have drones, but there are very few professional companies doing this properly and safely with permits and insurance. Also, there are very few companies that have our bigger, more sophisticated drones that are customised to carry heavy movie-grade cameras, or the 360 immersive camera rigs that we offer. It is certainly important for us to keep innovating to stay ahead, but it is even more important to keep operating safely.
There are raising concerns about safety or privacy with drones. How do you address these?
We have been meeting regularly with the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department over the past few years to help communicate the type of requests that we get in a bid to help develop more comprehensive regulations. There are now fairly clear rules about drone use in Hong Kong on the aviation website, although currently it seems that not everyone is aware of them or takes notice of them.
The key thing we have learned over the years is to make sure that you are clear with all your potential clients about what is possible and legal and what is not, and to think creatively about how you can still achieve interesting results while still working within the rules. As a reference, we have probably turned down around half our job offers since we began due to safety concerns.
What were the main challenges you’ve encountered/solved?
The biggest challenge is often not the flying itself, but making sure that your entire operation is organised enough to cope with being under the pressure of a real film shoot. There is a huge difference between flying for fun as a hobbyist somewhere beautiful and quiet, and working on a movie set with hundreds of people around you and multiple directors all shouting different instructions at the same time! It is really important to draw up a basic safety checklist and keep it on hand so that your team can focus on making sure everything is in place before you take-off each time.
What is your most memorable moment so far?
I recently returned from an adventure documentary shoot in the jungle in Papua New Guinea. I was staying in a remote village and was able to capture some amazing shots of the scenery. The shots looked great so the TV crew were happy, but what was even more fun was showing the footage to the local people who had never seen anything like this before.
What is the future of Drone technology according to you?
Drones will continue to become smaller, fly for longer and hopefully continue to become safer. There is also a growing industry for companies offering piloting training, qualifications and insurance to wannabe operators. Another big movement now is new technology that allows more autonomous pre-programmed flying. The big challenge for governments is deciding how to adapt regulations to fit with these many developments.
What do you think of Hong Kong’s Startup Scene?
I’m not much of an expert on this I’m afraid… but Hong Kong is certainly a fantastic place to live if you want to meet people who can help help you get your ideas off the ground, and whatever is happening economically in the rest of the world, there always seems to be a hunger here for developing new ideas.
What’s next for SCP Ariels?
We have just taken delivery of the newest, most professional DJI "M600"drone that will help us fly almost any camera, even big movie units, and we are having fun developing our 360 immersive filming rig. When you are wearing VR goggles and watching the drone footage it really feels as though you are flying!
What are 3 things you want consumers to remember about your company?
We love being creative, love capturing amazing shots, and also love being safe.
Interview by Ludivine Taverne