How To: Use Your Drone/Quadcopter for Motion Control Video

by planetMitchLeave a Comment

Last week, I shared Rufus Blackwell's DJI video (which is shared below as well) and promised to share with you the “how to” of his usage of the DJI Inspire as a ‘motion control' platform.

This is it!

Fascinating concept frankly. Being able to repeat drone moves could be a big thing for filmmakers.

Here's Rufus with all the info:

Mui Ne Sessions: A Preview of the Motion Control Techniques

From Rufus Blackwell:

Classic motion control techniques involve a camera mounted on a robotic arm. The movements of the arm are programmable so that it can make the same move repetitively, this means that even if you change the location of the mo-con rig, the the resulting images will match perfectly. This has been used for VFX shoots for quite some time, allowing multiple elements to be shot in the controlled environment of a studio and combined in post.

Drones are making big waves in film world, allowing people to film in ways never before possible. With a drone the camera is a free agent, able to make pretty much any move possible. As a filmmaker, it's actually a weird transition to make. Previously you had to work within the confines of how you could physically move what was often quite a heavy camera. A drone can move freely allowing the most amazing camera moves, more akin to what you would have seen previously in animated CG movies, where the camera can fly free of the constraints of the physical world.

Watch the video:

DJI – Mui Ne Sessions

So with all that in mind we move to the next stage of Drone work. Automated programmable flight plans. You can now program a drone to make the most amazing complex 3 dimensional camera move. You can pre-program the position and speed of the drone, you can create beautiful curved fight paths and at the same time control the focal point of the camera. This you can do from the comfort of your home, mapping it out on google maps. When you arrive at the location, you set your drone up and press execute. It will take off, move to first position, execute the move and return home to land at the take off location. It's an amazing advance in technology.

Should you miss the shot and need to rerun it, it will follow exactly the same route over and over again, giving you the equivalent of an aerial motion control move.

You can even take the same camera move and repeat it in another location.

Regarding the technicalities of shooting, I use a DJI Inspire 1 drone. DJI has a great app for controlling the drone and for automated flight patterns. They also provide a SDK (software development kit) that allows third party developers to create their own software for controlling the drones. I use two of these Apps:

Litchi – is a really nice app, not too complex, but gets great results. you can set some beautiful smooth moves and the UI is easy to work with.

Autopilot – This is a really techy app, not for the part-timer. You really need to spend a day or two going through all the details and get to know it inside out, just to get started. But it has a lot of amazing controls and you can get some incredible results if you are prepared to make the investment to master the app.

A word of caution, these apps take control of your drone, so you really need to make sure you have programmed it right. It is very easy to program it to fly your drone straight in to a tree/building. My top tip is that when it is on an automated flight, always keep your finger on the flight mode switch so you can take back control at a moments notice (it's really, really important).

These are some techniques I have been messing with recently. I shoot time-lapse photography and have won the Travel Photographer of the year video award twice for my work. DJI approached me and commissioned a series of experimental videos pushing the boundaries of what is possible with drones. This Mui Ne Sessions video is really just the first test, I have much more coming in the future.

Here is a good example of some more recent stuff, a Litchi flight plan with the corresponding sequence. You can see it is programmed to start high, sweep down while making a smooth arc, always with the camera focused on the centre point of the circle, towards the end of the move it ascends back up to 110m:


And another amazing aerial time-lapse shot:

I love my drone

Real Life Commercial Use:

Lastly, Rufus sent this yesterday:

“Here's another example of the effects I was discussing. Just finished this today”

(cover photo credit: snap from Rufus Blackwell)

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