Flying the super-stable GoPro Fusion under the DJI Mavic
I'm just starting up my next 360° project, which is a tour of the abandoned ruins of the Nike missile targeting station on top of Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco. I've been making films about this site for the past 6 years and often give public tours under the auspices of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (our next one is February 14th, in case you'd like to come along... just email me). This week's project is going to essentially be a tour in 360, providing a guided overview of the entire site -- as such it's critical to include aerial establishing shots in that huge dynamic space. I already have a DJI Mavic and, based on my GoPro Fusion stabilization tests and positive experiences handholding it at the Women's March, last week I bought a bottom mount for the Mavic to hold the Fusion. I tested it yesterday and the results are outstanding (it looks like the camera was stabilized on a gimbal, or better). I'm now ready to get started on the larger project. Check out this test:
If you're reading this on your phone and want to watch the video on your Google Cardboard (mobile phone) headset, just tap the title of the video and it'll take you directly to the Youtube app where you can click on the cardboard "glasses" icon to begin watching immersively. Also viewable immersively in Samsung Gear, Google Daydream, HTC Vive or Oculus Rift headsets.
Lessons Learned so far:
Height: It's best to stay relatively high above the ground for a couple of reasons: 1) Seeing the shadow of the drone on the ground pulls the viewer out of the immersive experience, so flying it high makes it much harder to see the shadow. 2) It's just more interesting... flying near the ground is very much like a traditional crane or jib shot, so the "wow factor" is not as great as when you're flying up where the birds go. When viewed on a headset, the "superman effect" is very pronounced and dramatic... way better than being in a helicopter because you can look straight down (maybe it's like being in a glass helicopter :).
Don't look up! Of course if you look up you'll see the drone, which spoils the immersive effect also. I could absolutely fix this by buying a second Fusion and the Mavic top mount (made by the same 3D designer, also available on Shapeways), synchronizing the two cameras and then compositing them together in post. Would be quite straightforward but requires another $700 for the second camera, so for now (at least) we see the drone. :) Hugh Hou of CreatorUp has described a technique to remove the drone that you can read about in my West Peak Air Force Station tour post and Hugh's first test of that is here..
More Lessons Learned:
The most effective drone moves for 360° video are linear. No curving or arcing, just straight forward/back and up/down. It's also best to begin and end each shot with a pause/hover and then slowly accelerate and then decelerate at the end. You want your viewer to feel like they have at least some sense of agency in that they can move their viewpoint around while the craft is going in a deterministic direction. If the craft is moving all over the place, the viewer will definitely feel like they are out of control.
Always remember to shoot some static hover shots of your area of interest, and keep the craft high enough to make sure its shadow isn't easily visible. It's a good idea to try to hide the shadow on a dark object or in another shadow.
When stitching, choose Full Stabilization, but know that no matter how you've yawed the craft while shooting, Full Stabilization will maintain the orientation of the craft as it was when you began the shot. All yawing the craft will do (in that case) is rotate the stitch line through the image, which can be distracting.
As I mention above, when you yaw the craft the stitcher will maintain the original orientation, so the stitch line rotates through the image. Ergo, it's a really good idea not to yaw the craft while flying (one of the things I learned in this test). Best would be to start and stop the shot after every specific shot but for this test I was letting it run for convenience. There's a lot to learn here, and hopefully some enterprising 3D part designer will come up with a vibration-damped mount for the Mavic and that'll help the stitch line artifact a lot.
The shots in my example were captured using the Protune/Flat color profile, with minimal sharpening and saturation added in post. Unfortunately for this test I smudged one of the lenses as I launched the craft and if you look down you'll see some blurriness. Whoops... gotta watch that in the future.
Onward to the bigger project. Have fun flying your Fusion!