What Was Up With That Roadtrip?

The astute amongst you might have noticed a larger than average posting of iPhone photos on this blog over the last couple of weeks.

What was up with that?

Driving Plates Roadtrip

This roadtrip was a project to capture driving plate footage for sale to production companies for movie, TV, series and commercial use.

If you need help breaking down that sentence, let me explain: a plate, in Hollywood parlance, is a scene filmed typically without the primary characters in it. It is often used either as b-roll (think of a montage or the opening sequence to a TV show when it shows various scenes around a city) or in the case of driving plate, it is the scene moving past actors as they pretend to drive a vehicle.

View Driving down the Strip in Las Vegas
The Bellagio Fountains along Las Vegas Strip

Typically the car is in a studio with the actors inside, then a green screen (or two or ten) is placed outside. In post production the driving plates we record are then put in place of those green screens and now it looks like the characters are moving down the road.

More and more, production companies are moving to the use of giant LED screens that directly project the scene as a giant TV would.

I am a partial owner of Overflight Driving Plates (overflightdrivingplates.com), a business started a little over a year ago in earnest but it has been in the R&D phase for longer than that. It is for that company that I drive around recording the passing scenes that will later be licensed by production companies.

How To Make Driving Plates

We use a proprietary system that uses nine cameras strapped to a car, recording in short clips and then compiled at the head office.

On a car, it looks like this:

View of a car with multiple cameras strapped to the top.

Eight cameras point every 45° so there is full 360° capture around the vehicle. Then there is one camera that faces up to capture the sky. This is used as a reflection typically washing over the car to make the scene more believable.

Five up front and four on the back. The magical custom-built controller automatically start, stops and powers the cameras, which record 4K video onto SD cards like any other camera.

What Do They Look Like?

With three cameras facing forward, three backward, two to the sides and one up, the best configuration for presentation is a 3×3 grid. It looks like this (example shown is driving through Yosemite Valley in the Fall). <click the image to see it in action>

The point of view driving through Yosemite National Park in the Fall

What Subject Matter Were You Shooting?

On a roadtrip like this, the subjects were numerous. I wanted to get larger cities and captured Portland and Salt Lake City. Equally as important were open roads, small towns, National Parks, vistas, close-in towns, rural neighborhoods, outskirts and a bit of Route 66.

While I have a set list of targets, the key to getting useful driving plates is to be open minded and wander. For instance, here are all the semi-random tracks I have produced in LA:

Map of driving paths around Los Angeles

Or, just a day wandering downtown Portland:

Satellite view of Portland, Oregon and driving paths

Substitution Is The Name Of The Game

As you might imagine, Hollywood fakes it. A lot.

We all know this (especially when it comes to science fiction). A movie is set in Seattle, for instance. But maybe it is filmed in Vancouver, BC. Jurassic Park was filmed partially in Hawaii. Star Wars: A New Hope STILL has the remains of sets in Tunisia, Africa.

While I am based in LA, we have found locations just outside of town that pass for a large number of areas around the country.

This allows me to often film close to home and represent a different state or city. Traffic on the 101 (a clip we have licensed) can substitute for traffic just about anywhere. Especially if the magic-makers in the studio add mountains to the distant background.

What Does The Future Hold

While we are not the first in the industry to make these driving plates, we do have a system that allows us to capture more than the average company. There are about four decent competitors in the space so we are always looking to get unique content near and far.

Later this year I will be heading back up California to get more wine country clips (we have already had footage from Paso Robles substitute for Sonoma County, but it would be good to get the real thing). I’d also like to get footage of Sequoia National Park, Colorado, the Rockies and more of Southern Utah.

Seasons are also important to capture. While we have hours of footage in New York City, capturing Summer and Winter there are priorities.

Beyond that, we are also available for contract work when a studio has very specific needs. The rig can pack into two 50lb boxes for air travel.

International travel is also on the list for 2023 when we have a solid 10,000+ clips from the US.

Recent Clients

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