London-based filmmaker Philip Bloom recently published a dreamy, captivating five minute film shot on the Thai island of Koh Yao Noi. He then wrote a piece about every aspect of the production: Packing for the trip, gear details, engaging the local kids, safe flying, post production. There is a lot to learn from his account for budding aerial videographers like myself. I have highlighted some of the learning points below but read the article for the full detail.
The openness and insight into the working process and choices of an established filmmaker using tools within reach of most of us make it extra worthwhile to study the article.
On the gear side, the footage is recorded from DJI Phantom 2 qaudcopters. I counted eight Phantom batteries in the gear bag photo. Each battery keeps the drone aloft for about 20 minutes. That is a substantial investment though, at around $160 per battery pack which is a proprietary DJI design.
The short film shows off some fluid takes, the kind of which requires a gimbal to stabilize the camera. Bloom uses Zenmuse gimbals on the Phantom quadcopters. He forgoes the simplicity of the Phantom 2 Vision and the Phantom 2 Vision+, saying that the camera on those models are “a let down”. The footage is shot instead on a GoPro Hero 3+ Black. (Although rumours have it that a new version of this popular action camera will be out soon, I just bought the same kind of camera and am going to mount it on the Tarot gimbal on a 3D Robotics Y6 copter.)
Some of the takes “go through things, skim under stuff, between trees” while others are filmed with the opposite way the camera is pointed. “There is something really cool about revealing the obstacle rather than seeing it come towards you.” Both techniques work great to illustrate the freedom to move the point of view in 3D space.
There is a part of the film where the scenery changes from the coastal images to a road through a town. I love the way it was recorded – not by flying the drone but by driving it. This way of shooting makes use of the gimbal as a kind of ATV steadycam. Wonderfully ingenious and something to keep in mind for when you want to mix aerial footage with something a bit more down-to-earth.
Bloom also describes the steps involved in post-production. He removes vibration from the images, lens distortion and explains how to achieve a 2.35: 1 aspect ratio. His tools of choice are Adobe Premiere and After Effects with some powerful plugins.
The account gets very interesting when it comes to colour. Bloom mentions two tools that help automate what would otherwise be a tedious process fiddling with colour settings for each bit of footage. Red Giant Colorista II is used to massage the histogram for each shot and even exposure and white balance to produce a coherent visual impression. Film Convert is a plugin that emulates the look of different physical films that are used in cinematography – it removes some the “digital sheen” and makes the images pop a bit better. With each plugin in the $200 range, I am not sure I will be using those, although the Colorista plugin looks tempting.
Part of the reason that the film gains so much by being subjected to colour correction is that Bloom used the ProTune setting on the GoPro. ProTune is to the GoPro what the RAW format is to digital still cameras: Output from the sensor is processed minimally in order to leave more detail in each frame leaving it ready for post processing tools to work with.
The choice of music is also considered. Your flying camera may not record audio at all, but if it does it is likely to be the constant whir of the propellers. Music thus becomes doubly important to aerial videographers. Bloom mentions Music Bed as a source for good tracks and I would mention SoundCloud as well. (If you are serious about music you should also check out Hookline, a service started by some friends of mine.)
The days of drone videos being characterized by take-offs from the local sports field, mad dashes to incredible heights and near crash landings had been over for a while prior to Philip Bloom published his film from Koh Yao Noi. But the prospect is for everybody to harness more of their creative side the more details are shared about what to consider when making films. In this summary have focused on the more technical aspects but there are many more angles to learn from in the article and from numerous other talented individuals who are sharing their drone films with the world.