The Commercial

April 2017, I was commissioned by G.A.P. to build a drone ‘payload release mechanism’. It was for an Old Navy commercial, shot in Santa Maria, California.  A friend of mine was working the shoot and spoke-up when the director made an announcement. “Does anyone know a guy that can design and build a claw for a drone?”, he said. “I know a guy”, my friend replied.

Old Navy Logo

The shoot was in a week and the practical effects person they’d lined up, “didn’t work out”. The project was simple: Create a remote controllable drone-claw that could hold and drop flip-flops. No problem. Not to be cocky but I’d done it before, and i had walked others through the process. First step was establishing the payload: Old Navy Flip Flops.

The Flip Flops

My buddy picked up a pair before coming over to do some tests. Red Flip Flop 3d renderI’m all about the visuals so I ended up modeling & rendering everything for the email chain. A requirement for most remote or satellite development, and the end result being a wonderful visual journey through a project.

Next step, establish the transport: DJI Inspire1 with the X5 camera add-on. (This was actually beautiful because I had just spent the last eight years working in drones and the Inspire 1 was a very popular model. DJI later released the X5 camera and an extended lower platform specifically designed t hold the larger, bulkier weight.)

Inspire 1 blender 3d model

Naturally, I had to have a model. I found an inexpensive, rigged, FBX on I made these visuals to propel the creative discussion for the commercial. We had to establish the look of the claw before I could mount the Flip Flops to the drone. Step Three.

When claws came up in the discussion, they wanted it white, and sleek, and looking like the drone. We went back and forth with style and design until the question was asked, “Whats the point of the shot? Is it the drone? The claw?”. The answer is simple. It’s the Flip Flops.Hook 3d model

The design became simple. Two swept hooks to hold the Flip Flops in place and a servo to counter rotate them. If the angle was right, the Flip Flops would just fall. I 3d printed a set and did a test, changed them a bit because of snagging, and had version 2. I created a custom X5 plate that slid into place and grooves that fit into the gimbal slot which secured with the collar.

Final Product

Payload release mechanism

The finished product had a battery eliminator circuit, RC receiver, and two LG18650 cells installed and covered. Everything black to keep it low profile. One of my favorite and most forwarded renders was the drone with the Old Navy logo and Flip Flops on a black background. It made the sandals stand-out and I think sold the mechanism. The logo was the last thing addressed and eventually taken out of the final design.Inspire 1 flip flop 3d render

The drop sequence was easy and tuning the hardware to reflect it was simple servo rotation. I offered a simulation or animation of the drop but was denied, and an image sequence was requested instead. (An animation would have been easier, and taken 60 seconds. Thank you OGL render!)

The Drop Sequence

inspire 1 drop sequence 1

inspire 1 drop sequence 2

inspire 1 drop sequence 3

And here’s some excerpts from the final video.


Here’s a link to Ryan Monroe’s website where you can view the full video. He was the colorist for the commercial and has done a few others as well.

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