Drone filmmaking

Where many fear Orwellian dystopia with drone technology, Pier Pictures’ Robert McHugh and T.S. Pfeffer see great potential for experimental filmmaking. After watching the duo’s Flabush Zombies x Trash Talk “97.92” video, it was clear that drones could rewire music videos into a trippy visual experience. In the video, the two groups move amidst an apocalypse-inspired landscape of miniature globes and psychedelic, geometric structures, created by 360-degree drone camera technology and software.

McHugh and Pfeffer originally got into drone filmmaking with Major Lazer’s “Sweat” music video, directed by friend and filmmaker Ryan Staake. Needing an aerial establishing shot of Los Angeles, the two quickly realized they would need a drone and GoPro camera technology. “We’d been looking for the right company to get the shot,” said Pfeffer. “And once we saw the capability of the drone with that shot of Los Angeles, we knew we had a long run ahead of us exploring this [technology].”

After working on the Major Lazer shoot, McHugh and Pfeffer again joined Staake to shoot the Booka Shade “Crossing Borders” video. It marked the duo’s first time working with Michael Kinter’s 360Heros, a 360-degree camera rig that features seven GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition cameras. It was also their second collaboration withOctofilms, a collective of drone pilots and filmmakers specializing in UAV cinematography. In a “Crossing Borders” behind-the-scenes video, McHugh and Pfeffer give viewers a peak at Octofilms’ DJI S800 EVO helicopter drone in action, piloted by Shane Latham.

Though the Booka Shade video impresses with its ever-shifting globe of stitched together landscapes, McHugh and Pfeffer’s Flatbush Zombies video melts the mind. For this shoot, the two incorporated Flatbush Zombies and Trash Talk as performers, while using various structures to create latticed, geometric effects.

“Part of what we were looking for with location was contrast between a wild nature, apocalytpic zombies roaming the end of the Earth feel, and an urban setting,” said McHugh of the Flatbush Zombies music video concept, which was something of an ode to Spike Jonze’s iconic music video for Pharcyde’s “Drop,” with its “cool, clean street corners” and other urban landscapes. “We figured out that if you were to put the camera beneath objects, like a domed jungle gym, you can create these [geometric] effects,” he added.

Pfeffer said that the difference when focusing on performances instead of landscapes is marked. “The scenes are much different than something you’d expect for a performance video that features hands and faces—the stitch is going to be different,” said Pfeffer. “So, with performers it’s important that they’re right in front of the camera so they’re not at the edge of the scene. We had to be particular about that with the artist when they were performing.”

Though the civilian drone subculture is still fairly new, Latham is already an expert at UAV cinematography. Pfeffer said that on the Booka Shade video shoot Latham was flying drones in the craziest of weather conditions. So, when it came time to film Flatbush Zombies and Trash Talk, they were confident he could pull off performance footage. “As soon as the drone went up in the air, it was great,” said Pfeffer. “I can’t say enough about Octofilms.”

“As we’ve been working with the camera rig and process, we’ve gotten better at it, and Flatbush Zombies video is an extension of what we learned on the Booka Shade video,” said McHugh. “We learn a little bit more each time. The Booka Shade video helped us know where to put the camera in the Flatbush Zombies video. What’s nice about that rig is you can really put it anywhere because you’re not taking up a lot of space.”

With the 360Heros rig, filmmakers are given seven different images that they then can log together and organize. Using Kolor Autopano Video, McHugh and Pfeffer take the seven images and stitch them together into an equal rectangular image. Despite 360Heros’s considerable raw footage, McHugh said that to create the drone’s tiny globe effect, the composite video needs to be manipulated in post-production. This, he emphasizes, is one of the quirks of 360-degree filmmaking.

“Software is the only way to see all 360 degrees of information,” added McHugh. “The ‘tiny planet’ effect is one of the trademarks of 360-degree video, and it’s one of the most common search terms for this type of filmmaking.”

“It’s a bit like taking seven squares and stitching them together into a quilt so that you have your top, bottom, and all 360 degrees of your peripheral,” McHugh said. “That image is then brought into After Effects and used with a plugin called Pixel Bender that gives us the ability to look at that equal rectangular image we stitched together, and go anywhere we want.”

So far, McHugh and Pfeffer haven’t worried about running afoul of federal aviation law. “What we do know about the FAA, we try to keep in mind,” said McHugh. “There are limitations as far as how close you can be to powerlines, and we don’t go near any airports. Shane is very knowledgeable about what’s okay and not okay; but, in general, people have been very responsive to aerial photography, whether it’s on public or private land.”

McHugh and Pfeffer hope that the trail they and other drone filmmakers are blazing will encourage others to use UAVs for music videos, narrative films, and other filmed media. Currently, they’re working on a feature film project that utilizes drone cinematography, and they hope to soon film a one-take music video using a drone.

As for the future of 360-degree video technology, the two have a vision of giving viewers a fully immersive 360-degree cinematic experience, where all actions up, down, left, and right are simultaneous. “We just want to find the right projects to really experience what’s possible,” said Pfeffer. “What we really want to do is take the technology into a film setting where there is action and dialog, where scenes take place, and place the viewer within that scene.” If they can pull it off, many will surely be watching.

News Source: Motherboard

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