SkyPan Int’l shoots 1400’ liftoff for Willis Tower Skydeck

Aerial photographers branching out from core business in real estate

Visitors to the Willis Tower Skydeck are presented with the opportunity to experience their 1400’ elevation through a unique display: they can stand above 50-inch HD monitors with images of six Chicago landmarks, then with a press of a button, zoom up the quarter mile in three seconds.  The effect is similar to Google Earth, but with far higher resolution.

“The image looks straight down while rising quickly to the top, pauses and falls back down,” says aerial photographer Mark Segal, who created the video with engineer Jeff Jones, his partner in SkyPan International partner. 

Segal and Jones deployed their proprietary, 5-foot, 22-pound remote controlled helicopter mounted with HD camera to shoot above Water Tower, Shedd Aquarium, The Bean, Chicago Theater, North Avenue Beach and Wrigley Field.

“Using downlink transmission we view and control our HD camera, which mounts on a gyro-stabilized platform,” Segal says.  “We hover over a specific target at 6 feet above ground level and rise straight up as far as we can safely control the aircraft.”Mark Segal (with camera) and Jeff Jones (with controller)

Segal has been shooting aerial photography for 30 years, 20 years as SkyPan.  The biggest chunk of the company’s work has been in panoramic skyline shoots for ad agencies and architectural previsualization for developers and architects. 

“We are experienced in providing aerial solutions using full-scale helicopters and remote control aircraft that are not handled by most production companies,” Segal says.  “We know ways to create rich imagery desired by many in the advertising industry.”

For instance, in November they shot a 360-degree panoramic series for a proposed condominium development in Hawaii.  But these kinds of jobs are much rarer than they were a few years ago.

As the real estate market tanked in 2008, SkyPan saw a steep drop-off in demand from their core clients.  “Far too much” of SkyPan’s business was in real estate, Segal says, as “projects were stalled or abandoned nationally.”

Even as the economy rebounds, high-rise construction remains soft, so Segal and Jones are exploring new media markets for their distinct specialty and creating a new set of motion samples incorporating dynamic aerial imagery. 

“As a small company we are resourceful and responsive,” Segal says.  “Our focus now is to partner with production companies and other organizations who conceive great ideas involving aerial footage.”