My Approach to Micro-cine shots
So you want a shot which captures a scene in a dynamic and fluid manner? Set out on in this artile are some pointers for the planning and execution of a successful shot.
A 'Micro-cine' or 'Cinewhoop' drone may be just what you need to achieve it, though there are several things to consider when using this type of aircraft. It's not a novice style of flight by any means, and planning a safe and sucessful flight takes some serious planning.
This style of shot has been popularised of late by pilots such as Paul Nurkkala, KatsuFPV, Robert McIntosh and though there are many others pushing the boundaries of micro HD shots (too many to mention). Muscle Up by Robert McIntosh (Proxcinema) won the 2017 Drone film festival awards and quite frankly blew people's minds! This style of shot is very appealing to me as it incorporates multiple interesting elements of composition and drone flight.
In the context of a commercial application, our approach has been developed through LOTS of testing, practice and a fundamental understanding of the kit and what we need it to do. I've set out below an insight into what we look and plan for when considering a micro shot as opposed to a traditional camera (ground or aerial).
In the early stages of development, we'd employ this technique as either B roll shots or single take videos which work well as tours or social media content but also make great test flights. I'm always looking for opportunities to deploy it, though only if the scene warrants it. This scene for example was a linking shot between two areas of a building.
The drones we use for this type of shot are purpose-built in house and are constantly being tuned and adapted. We know what we need the aircraft to do and can tailor it to the task. If a certain antenna is necessary to get decent range or penetration we can select that or if a certain camera needs mounting, we can print it! Using this type of kit requires a more in-depth knowledge of how multi-rotors operate, though it's all fairly straight forward once you know the basics.
Whatever drone you use, it has to be small. The DJI Phantom, Mavic or even the Spark are probably too big for what you want to get, though the effect can be simulated to some degree with some careful and slow flight through larger spaces. By all means go for it, though be aware of the risks and fly within your comfort levels.
Maintenance must be strict with self builds. Screws should all be tightened before a shoot and periodically throughout if conducting numerous flights. Parts also have a habit of failing, so a thorough understanding of how to fix faults is essential. Oh, and plenty of spares at hand!
Access to power for charging or having a field charging capability is a good idea as battery life on these drones is short (2-5 minutes). That or have lots of batteries...
We run a core set of aircraft for these shots ranging from 100m HD micro drones to 210mm freestyle set ups. Often when flying through things and close to people, some form of propeller protection is wise. Ducted drones offer this and also the necessary additional thrust required to lift a heavy camera.
Several location visits will likely be required to ensure the flights can be made safely and you have an interesting route to fly. There have been so many times and locations I've thought an FPV shot would look fantastic, though the conditions just weren't right. A thorough understanding of the environment is essential in mitigating risk and usually a flight won't go ahead because we can't control an area well enough. Such a shame, though safety is more important than getting a good shot.
Unless the shot requires it, keeping people or more specifically third parties not involved in the shot as far away as possible should be a priority. Understandably, it is usually easier to manage this indoors rather than outside. Lock doors (not fire doors though!), deploy signs, inform people, pick your times, deploy marshals. These are all valid forms of mitigation, though every location is different and should be treated as such.
Gather an understanding of any sensitivities in your flight area. Is there anything that the client wants you to maintain distance from? Anything delicate or vulnerable to a potential impact?
Plan the route several times. Walk it if you can (obviously hard sometimes if over water etc...). There is also nothing wrong with not having a route and going freestyle if a location warrants it.
It is very important to understand where areas of poor signal strength exist. The multi-pathing is real with most indoor flights especially in structures with a lot of metal in them - warehouses are the worst! We will often conduct a video and control signal test by having one person walk the route with the drone powered up, though not flown. The Remote Pilot can then view the feed through the googles and see where poor signal areas exist. The flight can then be changed or a new position found to fly from. Pick appropriate antennas and power rating for the environment also.
This type of aircraft suites certain applications, like anything you should pick the right tool for the job. Make sure you have several Interesting things to fly through or around and that you have a decent start and end shot. The middle sections of the flight is where you get to shoot the gaps and pass object at proximity giving that lovely sense of speed and depth.
Know your limits. This isn't a flight around the park, this is a job, very likely with additional spectators, observers or the client present and watching. Emphasise from the very beginning of the conversation with the client that if you aren't 100% happy with the flight, it will be adapted or not go ahead at all. This is usually not the occasion to 'risk it for the shot'.
Think about how the scene is lit and whether the camera you are using will be good enough. Often small sensor cameras have poor low light ability, so make sure you're not flying in an areas which is too dark. If the scene is dark, consider enhancing that with lighting or make the most of the dark, moody shot.
When planning your flight path, consider how you will show the final video after post. Are you going to reverse the shot or keep it forward facing? This will have a bearing on your start and end scenes.
It is more important than ever that you as Remote Pilot are happy that the flight can be made safely. If there are any doubts, they should be addressed before flying. Have back up plans ready in your head and plan for numerous eventualities. Try and be as comfortable as you can be. I like to fly sitting down, so take a camping chair with me so I can fly in comfort. However you position yourself, check your whereabouts as you'll be flying with a headset on and blind to the outside world. Ensure you don't conflict with any cables and don't stand or sit somewhere that isn't stable.
You'll want to shoot with a camera angle appropriate to the speed you are flying. More speed equals a greater angle of attack which in turn requires a more raised camera position. For these slow steady shots, I like a 5-10 degree angle, though can go up to 25 degrees if 'giving it the beans'.
As far as indoor flights go, the CAA have released a statement outlining their scope and definition of airspace.
Indoor use - The applicability of the regulations regarding flights within buildings has been clarified recently. Under the CAA Act 1982, the Air Navigation Order is made for the purposes of regulating air navigation. Flights inside buildings have nothing to do with air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air. As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation. Persons intending to operate drones indoors should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations.
As far outdoor flights are concerned. Several factors such as the ANO, your CAA permission and any amendment notices. Have a read of ORS4 1294 for more information about the current FPV exemption.
After having spoken to the CAA directly regarding outdoor flights in open airspace, the following points were clarified (March 2019):
If you want to be exempt for the requirements of 94(3) for commercial use then you must abide by the conditions of the exemption ORS4 No. 1297.
The operator must abide by their permission and ensure that the flight can be made safely. Please take note of 241 and 94(2) of the Air Navigation Order (ANO).
The CAA does not offer any legal advice
I hope that helps share some insight into how we approach this type of shoot and some of the lessons we've learnt along the way.