Westworld Season 2: the Importance of Drones & Wireless Lens Control

Wed, May 02, 2018

Are we products of intelligent design? Do we possess independent thought? These are questions posited by the world’s favorite futuristic dystopia TV show, Westworld - and it’s back for its second season! After the shocking finale last year, Westworld proved that despite its fledgling roots, it’s got the teeth to be one of the biggest HBO series of all time. After all, just Season 1 of the show was nominated for 22 Emmys, among other awards. And who doesn’t appreciate something good to watch when Game of Thrones isn’t on?

Westworld Season 2 has a surprise for fans though, especially viewers who appreciate good, high-end cinematography. You know those beautiful valley landscapes that exemplify the Westworld look? This season, we get to see much more of them! And who better to capture those shots than the masters of aerial UAV cinematography, XM2?

“There are a bunch of scenes this season that include a lot of deserts, canyons and wide-open fields. 90% of the aerial shots on the show were from our drones,” said Stephen Oh, CEO of XM2. “We took an Alexa 235 into the skies of Utah and captured train scenes, horse-riding scenes, establishing shots and others.”

Drone Setup

Shooting from drones is a challenging task in essence, but Westworld is a whole other animal. Filming in the desert of Moab, Utah, the increased brightness of the sun adds another level of complexity in achieving rotating shots. When doing 360 pans on the drone, natural lighting from one side is wholly different from natural lighting on the other.

So how do they deal with the lighting issues? With the right video tools. Here’s the XM2 setup on Westworld:

ARRI 235 is mounted to the Romeo, with Bolt 3000 transmitter connected to the camera. On the lens, XM2 used 3x RT MK3.1 motors, all of which were looped into a Latitude M receiver.

On the ground, Stephen and his crew monitored a live feed from the Bolt 3000, which allowed him to operate the aircraft and the AC to pull focus, iris & zoom on the 6-Axis MK3.1 controller.

Westworld in View

As fans of the show all know, riveting character development and existential philosophies aren’t the only elements that make Westworld great. We have to give credit to the amazing cinematography that creates the distinguished look of Westworld, encompassing majestic landscapes and action scenes in the desert.

“When Dolores and her company are on horseback riding through the plains, we’re following around them shooting close-ups and high-wides from the air,” explained Stephen. “To the average viewer that might look like a simple scene, but it actually requires a lot of skill in precision piloting and follow focus.”

These compelling shots are achievable with gear like the Teradek RT. Lens control commands need to transmit instantly, and the MK3.1 set allows for real-time control at up to 5000 ft.

“Without spoiling anything, there are shots where one moment we’re pointed directly at the sun, and suddenly we’re pointed away. And then back again and away again. It’s a constant back-and-forth that makes it difficult. That’s why controlling the lens is so important on our drones - we need the looks to be flawless.”

And with XM2 deeply involved in Westworld S2 cinematography, we can expect a season full of breathtaking views and awesome new action scenes.

“The RT was our greatest asset on this production. Our entire workflow depends on the reliability of our follow focus system, and I expect our devices to work flawlessly when we’re on location. The Teradek RT is something we never leave home without.”

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