Extracte de l’article Drones and everything after.

The Flying, Spying, Killing Machines that are turning Humans into Superheroes.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells & Andrew Rae. NEW YORK MAGAZINE. 5/10/2014

(…) If you were creating, from scratch, a taxonomy to describe all machines, these drones would not belong to the same species. They would probably not belong to the same phylum. The technology of unmanned flight has diversified so rapidly that there are now 1,500 different kinds of drones being manufactured, and they are participants in nearly every type of human endeavor, composing a whole flying-robot ecology so vast that to call every one by the same name can seem absurd. But drone, an impossible word, is also a perfect one.

Each of these machines gives its human operator the same power: It allows us to project our intelligence into the air and to exert our influence over vast expanses of space. Drones have become important to the pursuit of isis, the plans of Amazon and Google, the management of farmland in Asia, the protection of pyramids in the Andes. Just within the past two weeks, Facebook has announced a trial of a drone-based wireless internet, the delivery conglomerate DHL has revealed that it will use the machines to ship packages to isolated German islands in the North Sea, and the U.S. government has decided to allow Hollywood production companies to film from drones, making possible visual angles that have so far existed only in animation.

Drones are a different kind of new technology from what we’re used to. The communications breakthroughs of the past two decades have multiplied the connections within society, but drones offer something else: the conquest of physical space, the extension of society’s compass, the ability to be anywhere and see anything. This physical presence can be creepy when seen from the ground, in ways that echo the imaginings of science fiction. “Flying,” says Illah Nourbakhsh, who ran the robotics program at NASA’s Ames facility, “creates this dynamic where people are no longer on top.” And yet to the drone pilot, maneuvering through the air, it is liberating. (…)

THERE IS A FOUR-MINUTE shot that opens Pretty Sweet, a short skateboarding film from 2012 co-directed by Spike Jonze, shot entirely from a drone. The lens starts tight on a skateboarder’s face — a gnarly and meaty face, the kind an Italian butcher might grab, cure, and slice. Then the camera begins to move, past him and across the street, tracking four new skaters as they jump out of a pickup truck and scale a fence, then following one skater razoring down a flight of stairs, then soaring past them and down to a bug’s-eye view, another skater leaping, a girl tumbling, each figure quickly exchanged for the next but the movement continuous, as if the camera were working in cursive, until it lifts higher and disappears into a cloud of confetti. Money shot. “Even now I watch that and I get chills,” says Randy Slavin, a commercial director who recently founded the first drone film festival. “There is literally no other way to get that shot. You can put a camera literally anywhere in three-dimensional space. You can design any shot.”

Slavin bought a drone shortly after he saw that video, but it took him a while to get good enough to make much use of it. Certain moves turned out to be tricky. He wanted a shot that would track someone walking down the street, initially from the front but then turning as she passed and watching her from the back. That pivot was hard to perfect — you had to pull the camera back, dip it, and turn it all at once — and so he practiced it on a basketball court near his apartment in Tudor City. Soon, though, he could get the drone to run like a dog, low and fast along the street. He got it to skim over a swimming pool, like a bird hunting fish, and to stalk through gardens of friends’ mansions in the Hamptons, like a burglar. On his laptop, Slavin showed me one of the most famous sequences in 20th-century film, the beginning of The Shining, where the camera follows a car deep into the wilderness. Kubrick shot these scenes from a helicopter — far more expensive than a drone, and also less nimble. “You can just hear Kubrick saying, ‘Closer! Get closer!’ ” Slavin said. With a drone, you could always get closer; you could move back and forth between the intimate and the vast. “My dream,” Slavin told me, “is to start a shot in a living room” — on a couple having an argument, maybe — “and then very quickly go out the window and up, so that you can see the whole city.”

None of the early entrants in Slavin’s festival, which will take place in February, were shot by Kubrick or Jonze. This is a novice’s medium. In one infamous drone video, the camera swoops toward a bride and groom standing in a field with their foreheads touching and eyes closed. The drone flies under a flowery arch twined with flowers, then slams into the groom’s head. On YouTube, there is evidence that the technique of many drone photographers is better, and there is some artistry too: gorgeous overhead film of New Zealand’s landscape, for instance, and one dramatic video from a drone flown into a fireworks celebration in West Palm Beach, powder exploding all around the camera. “Pretty ballsy,” Slavin said approvingly.

There is something uncanny about the drone perspective that creeps up on you, the more videos like this you watch. The drone’s point of view emphasizes the mass scale over the individual. One of the early drone videos that got around, enough to collect nearly 2 million views, is a vision of last year’s Burning Man, roving across the encampments — the huge sculptures, the big empty desert beyond. From high above the festival, individual distinctions blur and the people look almost choreographed. The man who shot it, a San Franciscan named Eddie Codel, had been going to the festival for years, and he told me he was intrigued by the way the drone removed you from the usual individual perspective —­ circumscribed, on the ground — and let you see the “organized chaos” of Burning Man as a whole.

When this perspective first began to proliferate through aerial photography nearly a century ago, it was greeted both with awe and alarm. Observing the world from above distanced the photographer, and the viewer, from their subject: “the God’s-eye view,” as the film historian Paula Amad calls it. Walter Benjamin believed there was violence inherent in this perspective — dehumanization and threat. (The Futurist poets, early theorists of Fascism, loved aerial photography.) Other intellectuals were convinced that it emphasized the essential interconnectedness of people. The aerial view resembled the perspective from which audiences gazed down on mass stadium spectacles, in which individuals become “mere building blocks and nothing more,” the critic Siegfried Kracauer wrote in his famous essay “The Mass Ornament.”

Both the beauty and the strangeness of drone art come from this point of view. The line of sight seduces photographers. It also affects them. There is a San Francisco outfitter called Photojojo that rents camera-equipped drones for the day, and the company’s founder, Amit Gupta, told me that customers tend to take pictures of recognizable monuments from an unusual perspective, or to photograph themselves. The drone selfie has become a slightly ridiculous cultural artifact (at least since Twitter persuaded Patrick Stewart to take one in Cannes), but the perspective it provides is thrilling: a reminder of how small we are and how little we can see, of how awesome and humbling the God’s-eye view can be.

Here, for instance, is Gupta taking a video of himself from a drone, a young man in a T-shirt and jeans standing on Bernal Hill, next to two of his friends. The drone hovers at eye level as if it were a fourth friend, and then Gupta touches the controller and the camera begins to back away and the frame extends; now it captures not just the three men but the whole hill they are standing on, and then the park. Then, the neighborhood, and then most all of San Francisco. And then, majestically, the bay beyond. The film lasts only 15 seconds, but in Gupta’s hands the drone is not a tool of narcissism but a context machine. As the video ends, he is still in the center of the frame but his true subject has swelled all around him: San ­Francisco, the mass ornament.


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