Ventures sees Alaska from difference perspective

Chris Carson, left, and Lion El Aton of Firefight Films demonstrate their DJI Phantom drone quadcopter at Mendenhall Lake in Juneau, Alaska, on Thursday, March 20, 2014. They have been using the unit to film the glacier and an ice cave this winter. (AP Photo/Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)

JUNEAU — Juneau residents Christopher Carson and Lion El Aton want to show off the beauty of Southeast Alaska, and they’re doing it in a way that’s never been done before.

That’s because the technology driving their company is nearly as new as the company itself.

“If the final product is not going to be different than what’s been done already, then we don’t see the point in doing it,” El Aton said.

Their most recent video — a captivating aerial tour through the world-renowned Mendenhall Glacier ice caves — is part of a project called “Bigger than Life,” and there will be more like it.

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” Carson said of the project. “We’re showing the nature, beauty and grandiose of all that Alaska has to offer.”

The five-minute short film was shot entirely using a GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition camera attached to a remote-controlled drone.

Yes, a drone.

“Whatever we do, we try to break down barriers of what can be done,” Carson said.

The approximately $4,000 drone is a DSLR Pros DJI Phantom Cannes P2 Kit capable of carrying up to seven pounds. The device is also outfitted to transmit the live feed of the GoPro from miles away so its pilot can fly it from a computer without actually seeing it.

The duo founded Firefight Films two years ago after talking about their mutual interests: exploring and capturing the world around them with videos and photos.

“We both edit, and we both film,” El Aton explained. “We do everything together.”

Both are in the Coast Guard, but their plan is to build the company into one of the “best in the world,” El Aton said.

“We’re making great strides to get there,” Carson said. “We’re always trying new things to expand our portfolio.”

Their work impressed the people at DSLR Pros enough that the company allows them to use the drones at no charge. In addition to the main one, they have a $500 to $600 base model, and another that has a waterproof casing for flying in heavy rain.

Another venture the team is working on is a feature-length documentary about snowmachines in Alaska.

“It’s really about showing a passion for a sport that’s truly incredible in the amount of skill it takes,” Carson said.

They are hoping to begin shooting commercials for the City and Borough of Juneau and other groups. This summer, they plan to record wildlife across Southeast Alaska.

“Even with the small projects, we want to draw attention to something amazing,” El Aton said.

The emergence of their company and its unique approach comes as lawmakers are mulling legislation governing the police use of drones.

There have also been other meetings around the capitol about expanding drone education programs at University of Alaska campuses, and about possible uses for drones in Alaska’s rugged climate for things like search-and-rescue and wildlife monitoring.

The FAA announced in late December that Alaska was one of six states selected as a testing site for drones. The University of Alaska was named a test site operator and will oversee testing in Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon.

The announcement was part of a bill passed by Congress that requires the national skies to be open to civil and commercial unmanned aircraft by the end of next year.


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