The future of Drone Filming

Drone Pilot Richard Brooks

Drone filming is considered an art form in its own right. It is after all both the artistic discipline of media production and the ability to control an aircraft remotely and safely. This can be done by single or multiple operators.

Drone Palau

Drones or more specifically quadcopters in 2019 can be operated with just hand gestures. However for the best results the aircraft is controlled via the traditional multiple channel radio transmitter.

This blog post though is not about the technological aspects of drone filming. The industry is evolving at such a pace, this blog post would be out of date before I’d finished writing it.

What I want to talk about is the aesthetics of good drone footage. What makes the difference between something that is run of the mill and something that is truly dynamic.

The beauty of drones after all is that we can put them and the cameras they carry in a space that would either be very expensive or impossible with traditional systems. I’ve talked about this before here and the big reasons I use them myself.

Are drones still a novelty?

Broadcasters and filmmakers have been incorporating drone shots into their productions for a number of years now. Gone are the days when all that was available was a fisheye GoPro image and people were amazed by that. Now we have at our disposal the best cameras that money can buy and behemoths of aerial platforms to carry them.
The technology to accomplish this is likely to be cutting edge for many decades to come. But the footage coming from them will start to be more and more commonplace. The regular shots, the reverse, the ascending reveal, the orbit even, these are going to become so commonplace that they will stop being noticed. Consumer drones available now for less than $800 will pull off an orbit shot with the press of a button….

drone operator
Flying drones often gathers interested onlookers, the aerial perspective is always very interesting.
What makes good drone footage?

As with any piece of footage, aesthetics are important. Composition needs to be there to attract the viewers eye and this is relatively straight forward in a static aerial shot. Moving the camera however starts the ball rolling on what becomes a much greater challenge.

Adaptive three dimensional composition

I just made that bit up. It kind of fits what I’m trying to explain. Moving the camera through 3 dimensional space and maintaining a well composed scene as the subject is itself moving. Sometimes predictably, often not. Aesthetics is an appreciation of beauty, and creating a beautiful shot of something simple is where this art form will flourish.

Dare to dream

“Spiral around a boat, as it itself meanders through a maze of coral heads in a shallow lagoon. Introduce the passengers on that boat.”

Imagine starting out high and wide. Then as you orbit, dramatically descend in a spiral down to 10-15m above the water. Now you are orbiting 20m from the boat as it meanders. Maintain composition depending on where you are in relation to the boat and it’s wake. The shot is smooth and flowing, the arc of the camera movement is continuous. There are no interruptions in the shot, no hard stops or movements that disrupt the evolving three dimensional parabolic arcs.

“Imagine you are a bird”

It is as if we are a bird wheeling around the boat in total control of ourselves moving with the utmost ease. The boat stabilises to a straight path accelerating. You flatten out your curve to track next to it. You accelerate past the boat, rotating as you do but closing in on the passengers until you are just ahead and at eye level. One seamless, smoothly flowing, beautifully composed 2 minute shot that would be impossible by any other method than cutting edge CGI. The shot then transitions seamlessly via the sun flashing off the water to a continuous shot within the boat with close ups of the passengers faces. Can it be done? I think it could.

The future is now in drone filming

Cinematic drone filming is not a one man job. There will be the pilot, the camera operator and the focus puller at least. You’ll then have various people looking over the shoulder of those people. They give them directions or just observe what is a well rehearsed manoeuvre. There are marks to be hit at different stages to tie up with the surrounding shots etc….

I don’t pretend to know everything but being able to orchestrate and pull off something like this is where drone filming will really shine. I think that it will continue to shine even as CGI gets ever the better.

The big question however is just how far 360 VR filming will take us away from traditional media production? Will we rely on VR “Overcapture editor” with its ability to point the camera in any direction after the fact? The answer might be: of course, but you still need to move that VR set up through that 3 axis reality. We shall see.

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