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Top 10 Favorite Drone Videos of 2013

2013 has been quite the year for the proliferation of flying robots with high definition cameras. For less than $1000, it’s now possible to put together your own stabilized flying camera rig. This has resulted in many early adopters going down the rabbit hole, like I have, in building or acquiring their own rigs. Here are ten of my favorite videos shot from the drone’s perspective in 2013.

I’ll start off with the OGs of the FPV (first person view) UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) scene, Team BlackSheep’s own 2013 retrospective video of their work. Team BlackSheep is a European based collective of “R/C daredevil” hackers and pilots. These guys specialize in building and flying multirotor and fixed-wing RC aircraft.  TBS has been very active this past year, capturing epic footage all over the world as is obvious in their retrospective. One of my  favorites in this montage, is the renegade Costa Concordia wrecked cruise ship flyover.

Over the summer, police tried to supress a demonstration at Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey. This is the first aerial riot footage I can remember seeing from a drone and it’s an amazing point of view. Riot police with water canons and tear gas take on the demonstrators. Also notable is that the Phantom used to capture this footage, was eventually shot down by police. You can see that perspective as well.

Here’s one vision of a dystopian drone future.

Pal and fellow Phantom owner Nate Bolt, got permission to fly his rig inside the historic New York Public Library in NYC. Such classic. So spacious. Wow.

A top 10 list isn’t complete without a Burning Man video. This one by Ziv captures the morning light nicely as Truth in Beauty awakens.

You’ve likely seen this one already. This is an example of what happens when bad piloting and weddings mix. Don’t be this guy.

This Niagara Falls video is pretty epic. It got me super interested in the possibilities.

Eric Cheng’s aerial footage of surfers at Steamer’s Lane in Santa Cruz really illustrates the beauty of the Northern California coast.

Morning at the Santa Monica pier. I love the precision of this pilot’s chosen flight path. He has balls.

This video by my pal Nate is what finally got me to pull the trigger and invest in my first flying robot. It’s short, simple and poetic. Also, slo-mo. Who doesn’t love good slo-mo?

If you like these, I’ve got a YouTube playlist going of aerial favorites as I discover them. Feel free to subscribe and follow along. Happy New Year and may your 2014 be filled with peaceful, unarmed, non-surveillance drones!

Aerial Footage from Burning Man 2013

I’ve been really getting into shooting aerial drone video lately. I took my rig to Burning Man recently and here’s the results. This was shot using a DJI Phantom with an Arris CM2000 gimbal and a GoPro Hero3:Black in 1080p60. Be sure to watch in HD at full screen. Enjoy!

Drone’s eye view of Burning Man 2013 from ekai on Vimeo.

The DEFCON Documentary

DEFCON: The Documentary, the film I helped shoot last year for intrepid nerd documentarian Jason Scott, is complete and ready for viewing. This doc chronicles the history of the world’s largest computer hacking conference, on its 20th anniversary as it took place in Las Vegas.  There is so much packed into this.  Even if you’ve never been to or heard of DEFCON, you’ll find this film to be quite accessible. Hundreds of hours of footage went into the making of this as did thousands of hours of Jason’s time directing and editing the thing. I’m quite proud of the results and am honored to have taken part in its creation.

You can watch the whole thing below, or grab the legal 720p torrent and download it.  It’s also on YouTube.  You can also find it on the Internet Archive, complete with subtitles.

DEFCON: The Documentary from Jason Scott on Vimeo.

Evertz Dreamcatcher Instant Replay System at NAB 2013

Ok, this is beyond the scope of what most live stream producers would ever need in their workflow, but the Evertz Dreamcatcher is pretty damn cool.

The Dreamcatcher is a 48-channel 4k instant replay system that you might find in use at say, the Super Bowl. As you can see in this video, an editor can easily scrub to a point in live captured footage and then select a portion of the frame as your edited output. If you’re shooting with 4k cameras, you can output that selection as full resolution 1080 HD. Not a bad trick, if you can afford it. No idea how much these go for, but you can bet a fully kitted system is in the 6 to 7 figures.

Sony Anycast Touch All-in-One Live Video Switcher, Recorder, Encoder and Streamer at NAB 2013

In the all-in-one live production switcher and streamer category comes the Sony Anycast Touch. This looks to be a convenient portable solution, especially if you’ve already invested in Sony PTZ cameras.

Sony Anycast Touch

What’s unique about this guy is that it’s all about the touch screen. Everything is driven by either selecting shots and elements on the primary multi-view touch screen or the secondary smaller “settings” touchscreen.

Sony Anycast Touch

The Anycast Touch can take up to six HD inputs (4 HD-SDI, 2 HDMI). The HDMI inputs can be substituted for RGB inputs from VGA computer sources. It can also take 4 separate audio sources over XLR or 1/4″ TRS.

Program mix outputs include 2 HD-SDI, an HDMI and a VGA RGB connection. There’s also an HDMI port for duplicating your multi-view primary touch screen on a separate monitor. Also included are several USB 3.0 ports for importing content or exporting recorded video from the Touch’s internal 192GB SSD storage.

The built-in streaming encoder will encode your program output in H.264/AAC and stream to any RTMP based CDN or your favorite live streaming platform.

The Touch has CG titling capabilities, graphic overlay layers, transitions and the ability to create templates with these elements and camera picture-in-picture.

Probably the most compelling, if you already own Sony PTZ robocams, is that the Touch will control them. You can create scenes that lock in camera positions for easy dynamic switching.

At an expected retail cost of $20k, this unit will likely challenge Newtek’s TriCaster in some key markets such as schools, churches, corporate communications and amateur sports.

Engadget has a video of a Sony rep giving the rundown.

NAB 2013 is the Year of Drones

I’m a sucker for remote controlled autonomous vehicles (non-weaponized ones, of course). Lucky for me, there are plenty of them this year at the NAB Show. This is only a smattering of the ones which I came across today. They range from small quadcopters that can carry a GoPro to heavyweight beasts that can carry 17lb RED cameras.

DJI Phantom drone

DJI Phantom drone

This little guy was a big hit. The DJI Phantom can carry a GoPro for 10-15 minutes of flight time. Retails for $679. GoPro not included.

DJI drone with 360 Heroes

DJI drone with 360 Heroes

DJI also makes a heavier duty hexacopter called the Spreading Wings S800 that can handle a camera load up to 5 pounds. This version has a unique rig by 360 Heroes that uses 6 GoPros to create a 360 degree panoramic experience.

Flying-Cam 3.0 SARAH

Flying-Cam 3.0 SARAH

If you like traditional helicopters, you know just two rotors, then you’ll dig this heavy duty workhorse, the SARAH 3.0 from Flying-Cam. This guy can take a payload of up to 17 pounds, which is perfect if you’re shooting a scene from Skyfall with a RED Epic camera.

Deconstructing The Deconstruction

The Deconstruction

This past weekend, I was involved in a pretty cool project call The Deconstruction, the brainchild of creative collaborist Jason Naumoff.

What is the Deconstruction?  It is a game about re-thinking the world as we know it, taking it apart, making a few adjustments, then putting it back together a little awesomer-er.  It’s a light-hearted competition, but it’s really more of a large-scale collaboration between friends, participants, and the public. The concept is to make the world a slightly better, more fun, and more interesting place over 48 hours.

Yes, that’s an aspirational tall order, but we pulled it off with the help of over 60 participating teams spread across six continents. The winners have yet to be officially announced, though one lucky team will walk away with a Full Spectrum laser cutter.

My role in the Deconstruction was to put together the live stream infrastructure and production. Similar to the Red Bull Creation project that I helped Jason with last year, this was to be a distributed happening. Each participating team was encouraged to live stream the builds of their creations and update their team page on the official Deconstruction site.

We setup a home base at the studios of Synergize Live here in San Francisco. Alan, who runs the space, already had much of the streaming infrastructure in place. A multi-camera studio set with a green screen, live video switchers, encoders, monitors and plenty of decent bandwidth.

The plan was to have our hosts here on set communicate often with various team members from around the globe throughout the 48 hour challenge. To do this, we needed to make a variety of technologies work well together. In the mix, on the video side, were Skype, Facetime, Google+ Hangouts, Justin.tv, Ustream, Livestream, Black Magic, Wirecast and Resolume Avenue.

Deconstruction 2013

We brought in several Mac Minis that would serve as media hubs for communicating directly with remote teams over Skype and Facetime. Based on our experiences with Red Bull Creation, we knew what we needed to do to make this work. We took the HDMI output of the Mac Mins and fed them into a live video switcher (a tower PC with several Black Magic video capture cards running Resolume Avenue) and did a little mix-minus magic on the incoming and outgoing audio feeds. This allowed our producers to make “calls” to remote team members and then bring them in live so the local hosts could communicate with them on the virtual set. It’s similar to what you might see on a newscast when anchors communicate with remote reporters in the field, though without expensive satellite trucks.

Remote teams could use whatever live stream platform they wanted, though we encouraged them to use Justin.tv if they didn’t already have an account somewhere. We made this choice because it’s easy for users to setup and stream for free. While free does mean Justin.tv inserts annoying pre-roll and mid-roll ads (as does Ustream) we were able to avoid seeing them by paying $10 for a Justin.tv Pro account. Ustream also allows for paid removal of ads, but from the broadcaster side at much greater expense. This gave us a way to inexpensively host team feeds and let us cut to them without having to worry about ads popping up mid broadcast.

We used Livestream’s “new Livestream” product for the main produced live stream which we embedded on the front page of the Deconstruction site. This worked reasonably well, though we weren’t happy with their text based chat system. While the new Livestream text chat looks good and is attached to the player, there is no way to embed it without the additional event page chrome. Also, their text chat requires a user to create a Livestream account and it censors links automatically, which sucks.

We did have the intention of making use of Google+ Hangouts and Hangouts on Air as our primary way to communicate with remote teams, but we ran into several roadblocks.  The primary problem being that Hangouts wouldn’t recognize our capture card in the live encoder. Hangouts is really meant to work with webcams and doesn’t give you much control over input options. A second big issue is that if you push a Hangout to a Hangouts on Air, which is essentially a live YouTube feed, there is no persistent URL. Also, Hangouts are limited to 4 hours. We worked with our friends at Google to try and make this work for us, but the product just isn’t ready for the type of event we wanted to pull off. We’ll revisit Google+ Hangouts next time.

All told, we pulled off a successful global decentralized, multi-participant fun live event using an assortment of disperate technologies. Have a look at some of the final videos of what people built over those 48 hours.

 

Tips for Making Fun Vine Videos

OK, I admit, I’m sold on this Vine nonsense. Being a video dork, I like to experiment with new video apps to see how they might be useful or make my life more interesting. Vine delivers on that. For the uninitiated, Vine is an iOS app that enables you to record 6 second looping videos with your iPhone. Sounds stupid, I know, but read on.

Stop Motion

This my favorite thing about Vine. You can easily hammer out a stop motion video by simply tapping the screen during the record process. Just a quick tap to capture a single frame a time. Combine this with a tripod and you’ll a master animator in no time. Ian Padgham has created some great examples.

 

Fade-in Trick

This is a simple, yet effective trick to fade into a scene from blank white. When you’re ready to record, put your hand over the lens for a few seconds then take it away and start recording at the same time. Your iPhone will auto adjust its iris to accommodate for the current amount of light which has just changed from not much to a lot. This results in a fade from white to your scene.

 

Looping

All Vines are loops, keep that in mind when coming up with ideas. Try ending a sequence so your last frame or clip makes a logical connection to the start of your sequence.

Audio

You’re always recording audio. Take advantage of capturing snippets of sound in the same way you are capturing snippets of video. Combine the two for extra epicness!

Hastags

Hashtags are a great way for people to discover your stuff, especially if you use ones listed on the Explore page, but do keep them relevant. No one wants to see your cat drop a load in her litter box when they click #travel. Try to limit yourself to three. No one likes a hashtag whore.

Upload elsewhere

Vine saves your movies as Quicktime .mov files in your camera roll. You can upload those directly to other places like YouTube, Facebook, Path or Socialcam. Yes, the videos will only play out once, but sometimes that’s good enough. Experiment. Better yet, string them all together into one video, like this from my last 2 weeks of using Vine.

If you like what you see, feel free to add me on Vine or find me on Twitter.

DEFCON Documentary Overview

Venture Beat ran this nice piece on the DEFCON 20 Documentary that I helped shoot for Jason Scott back in July of this year. He’s editing it like a madman now with an expected release date before Christmas. I’ve seen some of the rough clips, I know it’s going to be quite the visual feast with tons of in-depth interviews. If you’re into hacking culture in the slightest, this will be a must see. Here’s the teaser trailer.

Celebrating the Giants Win with Fire and Mayhem

I threw together this quick montage of what I saw transpire in San Francisco’s Mission District shortly after the Giants clinched the World Series last night.

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