CUPRA Born: Focus on the Moment

Precise timing. Focusing on the moment. Redefining the horizon . . . Business as usual for Philipp Freybott, whose cinematic drone flights are helping to revolutionize motion picture productions. Along the Great Wall of China with 200 km/h. Or over the passes of Austria’s Kaunertal in a CUPRA Born.
Text Nadine Hanfstein
Photo Matthias Mederer ·

A drive from Munich to Kaunertal. At the wheel of the CUPRA Born: Philipp Freybott, a specialist in electrified performance and speed, if you will. Together with his friend Angelo Felchle, he founded the company Cinequads. The two drone pilots met as rivals at world championship drone races. A rather momentous encounter, it must be said, because their company is now active worldwide in commercials and films, permanently setting new standards with spectacular flight maneuvers and in-house developments for lightweight camera drones. Or, to put it another way: Philipp Freybott knows a thing or two about new technologies in a changing environment. So it’s only fitting that our tour in the electric CUPRA Born starts in downtown Munich with a new form of agility and ends on a mountain road with a high degree of safety and control.

Mr. Freybott, when was the last time you did something for the first time?
That actually happens fairly often, seeing how our customers are always coming to us with crazier and crazier ideas. It seems like only last week we again pushed the limits of the technically feasible.

What did they ask you to do?
The big challenge right now is to maneuver large drone-mounted movie cameras as nimbly and as smoothly as you can with a small GoPro. That doesn’t sound all that exciting at first, but once you’ve had a camera like that in your hand and compare it with a GoPro, that makes it pretty clear what the challenge is all about.

Can you give us an example?
Imagine a scene where you fly the drone through a car, passing close to the driver and passenger. That works pretty well with a GoPro and a small drone. But to fly a movie camera with more than ten times the weight, you need a larger, more powerful drone. That’s kind of like asking you to drive a CUPRA Born down a twisty mountain road at the limit and then do the whole thing in the same amount of time with a fully loaded minivan. That’s not really possible, but that’s exactly what’s expected.

"The big challenge right now is to maneuver large drone-mounted movie cameras as nimbly and as smoothly as you can with a small GoPro."

Philipp Freybott

And how do you make the impossible possible?
We’re lucky that we’re always at the cutting edge of innovation. Like now with movie cameras. The idea of using movie cameras came up about a year ago and was completely new territory for us. We had to think about how to tackle this challenge, so we took the cameras apart to reduce the weight, basically leaving only the chip and the sensor. Three hundred grams instead of one kilo. That means I can build smaller drones and I have the same quality with superior agility.

Where do you learn to do things like that?
When you fly drones like that, you’ll automatically know a thing or two about how they’re put together. After all, shit happens . . .

You mean you’ve crashed more than once? How often?
[laughs] I get asked that a lot. I think I’ve crashed somewhere between two and three hundred drones in the past eight years.

Oh, wow!
Don’t get me wrong: This high number of crashes comes from the time when we were flying races. When there are eight people racing against each other, all of them aiming for the ideal line and giving it full throttle, things just happen. But on a film set, when forty people are standing behind you waiting for their next scene, you can’t afford to make a mistake. Not to mention the costs involved. Filming is a tightly scheduled affair.

“We see the challenge in moving the camera through the air in such a way that we can create choreographies.”

Philipp Freybott

Does your racing experience help?
Immensely. The pressure was different, but in a race you also fly a designated route at top speed. On the set of a film, it’s all about perfectly executing the director’s ideas. You can’t just fly around a tree the way you would in an open field. When shooting a film, you have to slow down at blades of grass four and five, fly a little higher at branch three and on top of it all do a barrel roll.

Could you say that your work is redefining the way films are made?
It’s more important to us to be considered specialists in fancy camera work than to be a registered drone team. Of course, it’s okay to show things from above. But we see the challenge more in moving the camera through the air in such a way that we can create choreographies or artistic flights. In one shot of ours that went viral and that was recognized worldwide by the filmmaking scene, we fly through a forest at 60, 70 km/h parallel to a moving car. That in itself is cool and can be done well with a cable cam. But then the video moves onto the road, very close to the car and above it. That was sensational a year and a half ago, but of course it also raised the expectations people have from us.

The new CUPRA Born. Beautiful. Powerful. 100% electric. Built for a new world of electric driving full of passion. The Born is the brand’s first car to be produced and delivered completely carbon-neutral. Even the standard sports bucket seats are made using SEAQUAL® Yarn from upcycled marine plastics. A real “game changer”, as CUPRA says.

Electricity consumption (combined, WLTP): 16.8 kWh/100 km; CO₂ emissions: 0 g/km. CO₂ efficiency class: A+++

Your job takes you halfway around the world . . .
It’s an absolute dream job. We meet new people every day, and the locations are spectacular. There was this race along the Great Wall of China, the next one took place in the Mojave Desert, at the aircraft boneyard. Though I have to admit that traveling so much is very challenging. We drive about sixty thousand kilometers a year by car, plus the air travel. And still, you have to be fully concentrated on the set so you don’t crash a €15,000 drone against the wall.

In the automotive world, there’s a similarly rapid development as with drones. How do you see that?
The electrification of the automobile is extremely interesting for us because the technology is changing as quickly as with drones. Drones can be used as air taxis, in agriculture . . . or to shoot breathtaking movie footage. There are lots of parallels here.

“It’s not necessarily my aim to be the best, but to get the most out of whatever I do.”

Philipp Freybott

Are you personally interested in cars?
I am. I’ve always been into speed and adrenaline. Today I fly fast drones for a living. Cars let you feel that same speed and power

Last question: What or who motivates you?
“If you’re going to do something, do it right.” That’s my motto. It’s not necessarily my aim to be the best, but to get the most out of whatever I do. That was also the case in some of my past endeavors. I used to ride BMX and had even started a professional career. Then I discovered drone flying, and eventually got into drone racing. It’s hard work, but if you really want it, you can do it.

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