Flying High

How we captured the amazing views across the Olympic Park for Manhattan Loft Gardens.

23.05.12 | News

By Mark Lee

Hero Blank

A few weeks ago, Laurie and myself spent a day playing working extremely hard in London, basking in the glorious sunshine. Yes sunshine, we couldn’t believe it either!

The task; shoot a whole lot of photography to show the amazing views from the roof terrace of the proposed Manhattan Loft Gardens, a luxury 42 storey hotel and residential tower in the heart of Stratford City. Once complete (in 2016) it will form an iconic part of the London 2012 Olympic Legacy due to its amazing double cantilevered architecture and three beautiful sky gardens.

The problem; we couldn’t get high enough with conventional methods. A cherry picker was far too small, and a helicopter couldn’t quite fly low enough. We were also stood next to the Olympic site and Athletes’ Village, so you can imagine, security were a bit twitchy.

The solution; a tool that we think will fast become the norm in our field, and one which will revolutionise at least a part of what we do. Meet the UAV, aka the HeliCam.


Our good friends at Upper Cut Productions brought her along, and up she went, straight up to 130m. The clever thing about the HeliCam was that she (I’ll keep referring to her as ‘she’ I think) had a GPS guidanceunit which meant we could get her in the correct position, make sure she was at the right height, and lock her into a specific GPS co-ordinate and she just hovered there, accounting for the wind and adjusting herself when needed. Clever girl.

For this job, we strapped a Canon 5D Mk II to the HeliCam and took a variety of shots with different lenses, at three different heights to match the three terrace gardens of Manhattan Loft Gardens. The results, as you can see below were a set of breath-taking images of the capital, in perfect weather conditions – not a cloud in sight. We could have been in Barcelona had it not been for the huge construction site that was the Olympic Park!

If you’re wondering, yes, we’ve added the Olympic Park in CG, the site doesn’t quite look that green, yet!

MLG OPL Day Shot Final V2 RGB 960 560X296

MLG OPL Sunset Shot Final V2 RGB 960 560X196

We were only using the HeliCam for shooting still images this time round, and it did have its limitations, such as having to adjust camera settings on the ground rather than being able to do it on the fly once airborne (pun most definitely intended!) but the possibilities it opens up are huge. We also wanted to be able to switch between still imagery and video up in the air, but again this couldn’t be done.

What it did do well though was feed its stunning views down to a crisp portable monitor on the ground so you could tweak the shot to your heart’s content (well, as long as you could before we got a dangerous looking red light and beeping telling us to come back down to Earth sharpish before the batteries died!). Having said that, it’s battery life was around 9 minutes per flight which gave us plenty of time for snapping 360 degree panoramas.

I think the next generation of HeliCam will iron out most of the niggling qualities of this one, and will be pretty darn awesome. There are other kits out there and I’m sure they do some of what this one didn’t, but the ability to add a HeliCam to your standard studio kit will surely become a reality in the not too distant future. Adding in an Orson Welles-esque, long and dramatic continuous shot will be easy as pie, and the beautiful cinematic feel of a Hollywood helicopter sequence will find its way down to arch-viz. Of course, you’ll still need the ‘vision’, but you won’t be limited to jibs, dollies and tracks, instead you can have fun with a shot and try that ‘impossible’ shot you really want to get into your film.

All in all, we had a great shoot, and got everything we needed from the HeliCam. All of the background images we took were composited into our otherwise fully CG film and you can see the results below. Now we’ve just got to save up to buy our own…
You can find out loads more about Manhattan Loft Gardens on their shiny new website, designed by our friends at Tom Hingston Studio:

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