Gliding over the ‘L’ as it approaches Addison, through Murphy’s Bleachers, up over the top of Wrigley, inside the stadium’s iconic scoreboard, into the locker room and out onto the grassy field of the Friendly Confines in time for the first crack of the bat.
That’s the twisty-turny, soaring journey viewers take in a four-minute drone video that was published across the Cubs’ social media as an end-of-season thank you message to fans. As of Monday evening, the video has been viewed more than 7 million times on Twitter alone, not to mention views through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
The viral video was shot earlier this summer, with the help of a Minneapolis-based production studio. With a “lean crew” of just three people, Sky Candy Studios paid a visit to the Windy City in late July, the company’s founder Michael Welsh said.
Over the course of a Saturday and a Sunday, Welsh piloted an FPV-style drone with a GoPro attached through the nooks and crannies of Wrigleyville. The “high-precision drone,” which weighs under 250 grams, is meant to cruise through tight spaces and wouldn’t do any damage if it were to bump into something — or someone, Welsh said.
“It’s incredibly small and safe and allows you to do these maneuvers that in the past you weren’t able to do with drones,” said Welsh, who initially started flying drones about 12 years ago when he was in the Army.
The final product includes five different videos that are stitched together “with some creative editing magic,” Welsh said. For each of the five videos, Welsh says they probably did about five takes, with a lot of prep and talking with the people who appear in the shots. Inside Murphy’s Bleachers, for example, they let patrons know a drone was coming through and they should ignore it. At first, Welsh said people can’t help but look at the camera flying by them, but by the third take “they’re kind of bored with it.”
“You have to run these takes a handful of times before you get it right, because there’s always a small thing that goes wrong,” Welsh said, admitting he did crash one time attempting to fly the drone through the open windows of a firetruck — a shot that appears around the video’s one-minute mark.
Similar style videos have gone viral in recent years, including an inside look at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility. Welsh also piloted the drone in that video, which was used as promotion for the HBO series Hard Knocks. And back in early 2021, video from a drone flying through a Minneapolis bowling alley got more than 2 million views on YouTube — Welsh appears in that one and helped produce it.
When they got the chance to work with the Cubs, the Sky Candy team leapt at it, he said. When scoping out the “iconic” stadium, Welsh said the first thing he thought of was “we have to fly through the scoreboard.”
“That’s just something you look for — those fun moments to fly through,” he said.
While there have been some big hits, Welsh has also had some flops before, he said, adding that the key to making a successful video is giving the viewers something new and interesting in every frame.
“I think people get captivated by it,” he said. “I think it’s almost as if the drone is your avatar and you get to feel as though you’re flying through spaces in a very short amount of time.”
Keeping the viewer engaged also depends on the sounds that are included. Using sounds from the scene — in this case, things like the train, announcers and fans cheering — puts the viewer there in a way that wouldn’t be the same if music were put over the video, Welsh said.
But that immersive sound experience is not as easy as simply gathering noise as you fly. Since the drone is loud, the crew doesn’t capture the audio while gathering video. Instead the separate elements are mixed in post-production and, for the Cubs video, was largely reliant on archival audio clips provided by the team — such as the instantly recognisable voice of Harry Caray.
The video tour of Wrigley ends just as the Cubs take the field, but for this part, the drone was benched. The crew had initially planned to fly the drone onto the field, but the MLB wasn’t willing to play ball, so instead Welsh followed Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki onto the field with the GoPro in hand.
It ended up being Welsh’s favorite part of the video — but also the most nerve-wracking.
“You only get one shot at that,” he said. “I was running up the stairs and I was so worried I was going to slip and fall and ruin the shot.”
But it paid off. “I thought it was really cool to end the video running out into the field right before opening pitch, we’ve never had that opportunity before to end it like that and I think the fact that we got access to run out with a player — that was my favorite part.”
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.