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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cinechopper is a one-man business started by Chris Newman in Lindon, who flies a remote controlled drone for shooting aerial photography, Saturday, March 2, 2013.
Different kind of ‘drone’ pilot shoots aerial footage in Utah
Video » With mini-helicopter, Lindon’s Chris Newman makes a business of incredible images.
First Published Mar 05 2013 07:19 am • Last Updated Mar 05 2013 10:12 pm

Chris Newman likes to fly drones, only not the kind that can wipe out a village.

His "CineStar 8" octocopter is not apocalyptic but cinematic. The Utah County man flies an eight-propeller, remote-controlled mini-helicopter equipped with a video camera that in flight can produce incredible aerial footage for videos and commercials.

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Newman, 29, is such a fanatic, he started an aerial movie production company that shoots footage for hire. He started CineChopper a year ago out of his Lindon home, and he plans to teach courses on how to fly the remote-controlled rigs. He also has a day job working as a videographer and editor for the multilevel-marketing company Unicity, and sells software for digital filmmakers that adds faux film grain to their digital shots.

"I am so passionate about flying RCs with a camera, and I love to teach people how to fly them," he said.

Newman’s latest work can be seen in the popular YouTube video from fellow Utah-County filmmaker Devin Graham, whose Internet shorts of mostly adrenaline-filled action have generated as many as 19 million views per video. In Graham’s newest short, "World’s Most Insane Rope Swing Ever!" friends are seen swinging through a slot canyon at an "undisclosed" location somewhere in southern Utah. The video amassed more than 7 million views in the first five days.

To give a sense of how deep the canyon is and how high up the hikers are when Graham films them swinging, he uses Newman and his drone to shoot aerial shots of the canyon to provide a dizzying bird’s-eye view.

"I was blown away," said Graham of Newman’s footage. "There are shots no one else can get. The shots take your breath away and you think, ‘Whoa, this is real!’ "

Newman’s CineStar 8, which is built by Seattle-based FreeFly Systems and costs about $10,000 in a build-it-yourself kit (or $15,000 ready-to-fly), has eight propellers to help stabilize the gimbal that carries the camera, in this case a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) model.

It actually takes two people to operate the helicopter — one to fly it and another to operate the camera remotely while the aircraft is aloft. The footage is beamed from a transmitter in the helicopter to a ground receiver. The camera operator views images in real time through video goggles connected to the receiver. Each battery provides only about five to seven minutes of flight.

Normally, Newman hires freelance photographers to shoot the footage as he flies the helicopter. To shoot the spectacular views of the canyon in Graham’s short, Newman carefully maneuvered the optocopter over the cliff while Graham operated the camera.


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"It was like playing a video game, and I grew up playing video games, so it was easy to grasp the concept," Graham said.

Newman said he learned to fly the multi-rotor copter by himself through lots of practice and with a flight simulator on a computer.

His only concern when filming is crashing the craft, which he said hasn’t happened often and so far hasn’t ruined the helicopter.

"There’s always a little bit of a fear, but you fly enough that it becomes not a fear anymore," he said. "You’re just focused on getting the shot."

"[But] crashing is part of it. Everybody crashes it, even the pros do," he added. "I have some epic footage of hard landings, but I’m not going to put it out there because I don’t want the reputation of somebody who crashes."

An amateur filmmaker can get a simplified version of a four-bladed helicopter, called a quadcopter, for several hundred dollars or spend as much as half a million for a professional drone for aerial photography, said Kyle Allred, a sales representative for Montana-based Quadrocopter, which sells these multirotored helicopters for hobbiests and videographers. Many models even have built-in GPS receivers so the helicopter can fly to pre-determined points or automatically return to the pilot is when the battery runs low.

"Over the last two years, as the technology has improved and as people start to notice them, it has really taken off," Allred said. "Everything is getting lighter, the electronics are getting better."

Graham said he knows of more than a dozen Utahns who fly the craft to shoot videos.

"I get approached by a lot of RC helicopter pilots to do stuff like this," said Graham, whose YouTube channel, Devin Super Tramp, has more than 950,000 subscribers. "It’s getting bigger and bigger now because the cameras are getting smaller and smaller, and their quality is getting so good."

vince@sltrib.com

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