Rihanna Music Video Features Otherworldly Drone Shots

Rihanna recently released the music video for her Star Trek Beyond track, “Sledgehammer,” and critics have been praising the video for its stunning visuals and woman-heavy crew — we’re here to praise it for its use of drones.

Los Angeles-based Wild Rabbit Aerial Productions filmed all the aerial shots featured in the music video — and there are quite a few. Watch it and you can see just how important drones are in telling the “Sledgehammer” story.

“It’s one of the coolest projects that we’ve worked on,” says Drew Roberts, CEO and founder of Wild Rabbit. He was also the drone pilot for “Sledgehammer”.

This otherworldly film was shot at the Trona Pinnacles, which are about three hours outside of L.A. in the Mojave Desert. The Pinnacles are a unique geological U.S. landmark and are often featured in films, including hit movies like Planet of the Apes,Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, and more.

Roberts says people are always “stoked” when they see drones on set, but it was the type of flying he was doing that garnered attention this time. The Freefly ALTA 8 had to weave precisely through the tall rock spires that occupy the film site.

“We were doing really technical, close-proximity flying, so people were really excited to see how we were operating the drone, which was above and beyond what they had seen before,” Roberts says.

Pilot Drew Roberts flew the Freefly ALTA 8 in a very technical and precise manner through the rock structures that occupy Trona Pinnacles (the filming location for “Sledgehammer”). Ben Stefanides
He praises Director Floria Sigismondi for allowing him and his crew to make mistakes and move freely when shooting, which in turn let Sigismondi find inspiration for shots.

“Hearing the director get super excited and say, ‘Yes, it’s amazing. More, up, up, higher, higher!’ Getting that feedback in the middle of shooting a shot and them finding something that they just absolutely love and then tell you to push further is really an amazing moment,” Roberts says.

The 1:23 mark — when the swarms surround Rihanna and the top of the pinnacle is shown — was one of those moments.

“That’s the beauty of working with a drone. It’s such a freeform tool. It’s not a tool that’s locked to rails or locked to a crane,” Roberts says.

As fascinating as it is to hear about the technically advanced drone maneuvers, you’re probably wondering what it’s like being around RiRi, huh?

Pilot Drew Roberts (left) and Head Technician Nate LaBruzza, inspect the Freefly ALTA 8 to ensure everything is functioning properly for filming. Ben Stefanides
“We rehearsed our shots with stand-ins and then I executed the real shots with Rihanna,” Roberts says. “She was pretty isolated most of the time.”

Despite her celebrity status, Rihanna didn’t receive any preferential treatment when it came to safety. He says she received the same safety briefing as the rest of the crew, including a drone operation brief.

When asked about future projects for Wild Rabbit, Roberts casually remarks, “[None] that we can talk about, no.” However, he does mention they’ve worked on some big television shows that will be released within the next few months.

Don’t hold your breath, but it sounds like we can expect to see more technical and creative drone work from Roberts and the whole Wild Rabbit team. Until then, relish in the ethereal “Sledgehammer” music video.

Grab a copy of Drone360 ‘s July/August issue to learn about another Wild Rabbit film, Dance Crazy, which took home a New York City Drone Film Festival win.