Vancouverites out for a morning recently may have seen an unusual sight: a dark cloud hovering directly over the head of a young person walking through the park, tracking their movements and following them wherever they went.
What they saw was the “CloudCopter” – a drone disguised as a cloud – intended to raise awareness of the prevalence of depression and anxiety, particularly in young Canadians.
To achieve the desired effect, a professional drone pilot hovered the cloud drone just a few feet above the heads of participants as they walked, recreating the familiar cartoon-like metaphor of a dark cloud looming over a person to simulate the sometimes isolating feelings that can come with depression.
“About one in seven young British Columbians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime,” said Bev Gutray, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division.
“While we know that depression can be much more serious than this, those who may never have had a personal experience will still have heard depression being referred to as a dark cloud. We wanted to create a visual analogy that people could understand and help raise awareness for the resources available to everyone.”
The goal of the project is to encourage teenagers and young adults to participate in CMHA’s Bounce Back program, which has been proven effective for people suffering from mild-to-moderate depression and/or anxiety.
“Evidence shows that when caught early, and with the right treatment, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are very treatable,” said Gutray. “The Bounce Back program offers this evidence-based self-management program for free throughout BC, without waitlists.”
It is estimated that 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness, yet less than 20% will receive appropriate treatment.
Pulling off the CloudCopter’s maiden flight wasn’t without its challenges, said those involved with the project, which was created by Vancouver-based marketing firm Rethink Canada.
“It’s surprisingly tricky to fly,” said certified drone operator Rob Massie, who piloted the CloudCopter. “The cloud material essentially turns the drone into a sail that can be pushed around by the slightest breeze. But the visual effect you get is really powerful.”
The CloudCopter exoskeleton is a custom-made cylindrical frame built to attach to a DJI Inspire drone. It was prototyped, constructed and painted by White Monkey, a Vancouver-based prop shop.
The entire cloud attachment, including the frame, had to weigh less than one kilogram for the drone to carry it.
The CloudCopter stunt was performed in a controlled area with all necessary insurance, drone flight, and filming permits.