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Mulan movie was shot using NZ homegrown quiet drone technology

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Keen not to spook the horses while filming the movie Mulan in New Zealand, producer Barrie Osborne found a homegrown solution.

Noise from drones used to capture big scenes from above is a problem across the film industry, and Auckland-based Dotterel Technologies has come up with the answer, Osborne said.

“We’re pushing the boundaries to find a solution to the impediments of using drones in movie-making,” Osborne said.

“Dotterel’s technology incorporates shrouds around the propellers or rotors. This provides a safety barrier around the rotors as well as a significant noise reduction allowing us to safely get closer to the actors and horses.”

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Producer Barrie Osborne was keen not to spook the horses while filming Mulan.

Disney

Producer Barrie Osborne was keen not to spook the horses while filming Mulan.

Dotterel chief executive Shaun Edlin said its role in Mulan had spurred it on to further development in its shroud technology.

“Drones are really starting to replace helicopters in cinematography, and have been for the last few years,” Edlin said.

“There’s a lot being done on multiple technology fronts on drones to make them quieter, safer, to fly longer, to be able to lift more, and that’s going to improve their use across all films. There are producers and directors that are all pushing the boundaries of how drones can be used in film.”

Dotterel had also created an aerial microphone sensor that allowed two-way verbal communication in real-time, which had search and rescue applications among other uses.

Auckland-based Dotterel Technologies provided quiet drones for the screening of Mulan.

Supplied

Auckland-based Dotterel Technologies provided quiet drones for the screening of Mulan.

“It’s essentially a world-first acoustic sensor technology that allows you to hear what’s happening on the ground from the drone in real time, but also to speak back. We’re the only ones doing this in the world at the moment,” Edlin said.

“Part of the problem is drones are very loud, and while they are equipped with amazing sensors, they are all essentially flying deaf so there’s no way to hear what’s happening on the ground. Which is a big problem with public safety – they can see, but they can’t hear.”

In search and rescue, a normal drone flying over a disaster zone would miss the sound of someone calling out while trapped under rubble.

“It helps obviously with detecting survivors, but once that person has been located they then have the ability to speak to the drone, communicate their immediate needs, the location of other survivors,” he said.

Drones are starting to replace helicopters in cinematography.

Supplied

Drones are starting to replace helicopters in cinematography.

The drone could also be used in the screen industry, to do live interviews through the drone or capture audio from hard-to-reach places.

Unmanned aerial vehicles were still in their infancy, he said.

“Drones are doing some pretty impressive stuff, but over the next five to 10 years there’s going to be amazing gains in endurance, so flight time, there’s going to be amazing gains in things like noise, and they’re just going to be used increasingly across a wide range of industries.

“Things like drone deliveries are kind of getting started which is pretty exciting, you’re starting to see them used in ways they weren’t before like mapping, and this is just the beginning really.”

The live-action Mulan adaptation will stream on Disney+ from Friday. It was filmed in New Zealand and China in 2018, and directed by Kiwi director Niki Caro. Weta Digital helped with visual effects.


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