Keeping up with the latest technology advancements is an arduous task, even for some of the most tech-savvy people. But for the small staff at Four Directions Media, the Oneida Indian Nation’s high-end video production house, it is a must.

Jason Rood (Turtle Clan) stepped up to take on the role as Four Directions’ drone pilot when it was clear that would be the future of video production.

“Being a production house, we saw that’s where video was going,” Jason said as he placed a DJI Inspire 1 drone on the table during a recent interview. ”I volunteered because I already had an interest in it.”

Jason received his remote pilot certificate to operate small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) after passing the Part 107 aviation test in September of 2016. The test covers the certification and operational requirements that are needed to fly sUAS in the National Airspace System.

“Basically I’m a pilot,” he said frankly. “Once we decided to go down that road, I studied for the test. You have to know how to read maps, communicate with the air traffic control tower and navigate the air spaces. It was a bigger deal than I thought it was going to be.”

Permission to fly from air traffic control is necessary when flying within five miles of an airport and participants undergo a background check as well.

Jason’s experience with gaming eased the learning curve early on, which made the process much more manageable. But it was his skills and passion for dirt racing that really helped him become an excellent drone pilot. Intense focus and hand-eye coordination are critical for both.

For the last 23 years, Jason has competed on the local dirt track racing circuit, which includes trips to Utica-Rome Speedway and Fulton Speedway on numerous weekends each summer. Turning Stone Resort Casino and its Tin Rooster restaurant sponsor his car and team.

“I have a couple cars and my own team,” he said. “When I got started, I would race three nights a week. It was a lot of traveling so I try to stay local as much as I can now to stay close to my family.”

His aviation certification is strictly for unmanned aerial systems, but in addition to learning the technical aspects of flying a drone, he also learned how to read and interpret the codes coming from the control tower. Those codes tell him if he’s in a cleared space for flying or if he needs to move or land the drone.

Once Jason was comfortable with flying, the next step was learning how to capture quality video. Getting the camera positioned at a precise point and keeping the motion shots smooth and steady are constant challenges. But with practice, Jason can now fly any course he creates. He goes through a checklist every time he flies to ensure he operates the drone with consistency.

Visual communication and graphic design have always interested Jason, which ultimately led him to Cazenovia College. He transferred there after spending one year at Mohawk Valley Community College where he studied animation. He received his Bachelor’s in visual communication and began interning at Four Directions.

“I knew I eventually wanted to be here,” he said. “I didn’t start full time until 2009 and began as a basic graphic artist. We all wear different hats since there’s only a few people here.”

Jason is currently working on a seasonal time lapse video of the Turning Stone Resort Casino. He’s setting a course to fly in the spring, summer, fall and winter to showcase the great seasons in Central New York. Third party apps for the drone enable the pilot to enter specific longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates so he can fly the exact same path. After setting the course, Jason just has to master the proper camera movements to make it appear seamless from one season to the next.

Jason also contributed on other projects such as the Nation’s animated shorts, “Raccoon and Crawfish” and “My Home.” He sat in on brainstorming sessions for “Raccoon and Crawfish” as an intern and worked on the coloring for “My Home,” which took over two years to complete. That project underwent a lot of revisions and changes from beginning to end.

The crew at Four Directions also worked on a video for Syracuse University Athletics at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ and another for Ferris Industries, a local commercial products plant in Munnsville.

In addition to completing projects and meeting deadlines, Jason monitors the latest hardware and software updates for the drone. New updates can change the drone dramatically so it is vital that the pilot knows how the updates will affect it. Still, there’s a lot more control with the newer drones that even allow the pilot to hover without moving the control sticks.

Jason enjoys his new role as the drone pilot for Four Directions and hopes to learn more about video editing and post-production from the talented crew at the production house. Four Directions is a small operation, but it hopes to grow in the near future and bring on some more talent to an already exceptional staff.