“Lights, Camera, Action!” has a new meaning as students use quadcopters to get Hollywood style aerial shots.
As educators I believe it is our duty to get out in front of these new technologies so we can provide our students with instructions on how to use them in a safe and responsible manner. After a year of flying with my students and reading everything I could about the subject, I would like to share what I have found and encourage you to share your experience in the area.
I was introduced to aerial videography by a former student and talented local photographer, Tyler Austin, when he demonstrated examples of his work to my class. We were all blown away with the breathtaking aerial shots of Snoqualmie Falls. You can see couple different examples at: http://www.taustinphotography.com/cinematography/ My students were hooked and we immediately began researching our options. We ended up purchasing the DJI Phantom 2 and a GoPro camera. This copter is fairly easy to fly but getting good video requires the addition of an FPV (First Person View) system so we purchased the Fat Shark goggles and Tyler helped me to install them. This is the critical feature that separates the DJI Phantom 2 and the Phantom 2 Vision+ because the Vision+ has the integrated camera from DJI. It seamlessly sends a video signal to your smartphone! Another huge advantage is all the additional data you get from the copter like altitude, distance, speed, orientation, number of satellite connections and most importantly detailed information about remaining battery life.
Once the football team heard we had this capability they quickly enlisted my students to videotape practice and games. They loved the practice footage because they could fly directly over the action. However, since we don’t have permission to do this from the opposing teams we had to fly over the end zone, and found the game footage was just too small to be of use. The other major limitation is the battery life is a maximum of 20 minutes, with a safe flight time of about 15. The reason I mention the football team is they often have the funding to get programs off the ground. We will be meeting with our league athletic directors soon and providing demonstrations at a coaching clinic this spring. Here is an interesting video from the UCLA football team outlining how they are using this technology.
Our first film that incorporated aerial shots was a Film Riot “fight scene” contest entry. We learned both how challenging it can be to get just the right moving shot, and how incredibly cool this unique perspective looks in a film. http://youtu.be/0TB63sabsZg We now require the pilot and director to storyboard and discuss the shots prior to going out into the field to shoot.
Currently we are planning a variety of projects that feature aerial video.
● Costco Headquarters: A former student wants us to film some shots of the Costco corporate headquarters.
● Research: This spring we hope to work with a local group that studies our elk population and another group that is studying the effects of salmon habitat restoration.
● Public Safety: We are working with local fire and rescue to help film training exercise for analysis
● Golf Course: This spring/summer we plan on working with a couple of our local golf courses to create flyover videos of their courses
These are just a few ways to get your students actively using this new technology to build their portfolios and get real world experience.
DJI is the leader in the field of consumer quadcopter video. They have two models that I think are worth comparing. Regardless of the copter you choose, make sure to purchase an extra battery, extra props, prop guards, and a case to protect your investment.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (http://www.dji.com/product/phantom-2-vision-plus )
You will shoot great video right out of the box with the DJI Phantom Vision+. It comes with a built-in camera that connects to your smartphone and is very easy to set up and fly. I have been able to test this model out with my students and it is by far their copter of choice.
$1,500 w/extra battery and Fearless Backpack
DJI Inspire 1 (http://www.dji.com/product/inspire-1 )
The DJI Inspire 1 is the perfect mix of professional level features, ease of use, and affordability. The two-controller configuration allows you to have a pilot and camera operator. Since the controllers have an USB and HDMI output you can easily monitor your flight on your iPad mini and broadcast a live video feed! I am currently trying to talk our football team into getting us one of these.
$3,400 w/dual controllers
Coptershop: These guys are a ecommerce DJI dealer with a physical store front in Woodinville, Washington. They have competitive pricing, will work with school purchase orders, and have knowledgeable staff that can help you make the right purchase or provide great tech support for after your purchase. They have been great to work with and want to offer a discount to educators.
Discount Code: EDCOPTERS http://coptershop.com/
The FFA is currently working on changes to the regulations for this new field. In the mean time we have built a pilot training process, and flight procedures that will help to maximize safety for our students and staff.
● Pilot License Training: http://quadcoptervideo.weebly.com/training-materials.html
In order to check out and fly our quadcopter, students must first earn their pilots license. This process consist of watching training videos, reading the DJI pilot training materials/manual, and a series of hands-on flying exercises. Once students have completed this training and feel prepare they can take both the hands-on and written exams.
● Planning - pre-production
Prior to filming with the quadcopter students are required to scout the location for any obstacles, private property and people. Then they create a storyboard that is used in a discussion between the pilot, the director and the teacher to create a flight plan. Written permission must be obtained from the owners of any private property and actors that will be directly under the flight plan.
Adult supervision is required at all times. This adult must keep the copter in sight and sign this form.
● Policies and procedures - http://quadcoptervideo.weebly.com/phantom.html
We have developed basic policies and procedures based on our knowledge of the FAA guidelines and common sense. These procedures and guidelines are taped to our copter case and bookmarked on our mobile phones so we have them in the field. They are broken down into the following sections:
● Copter Setup
● Post Flight
Part of the post flight procedure is completing a flight log to track our use and learn from our experience.
This is an excited new technology in the video production process that has huge creative and practical potential, but comes with some serious safety and privacy concerns. I hope that you will help me in developing materials to educate our students so they can maximize the value and minimize the danger of aerial videography.