VR Takeover

Matisse Tolin


When a producer reached out to us with a proposal to shoot high quality 360° video across five countries, we brainstormed how we could achieve ultimate portability and high quality aerial 360° video on a budget.

The Drone Dudes had to decide whether we already had a system that would work or needed to come up with a new one. Thinking about lightweight, smaller options in terms of both 360° cameras and drones, we considered everything from Go Pro configurations to the Samsung Gear. While these cameras were definitely compact, they didn’t quite offer us the look that we needed for this job.

We ended up landing on the Obsidian S (for speed) system from Kandao. Here was a camera with cinema quality picture and higher frame rate options. While the ‘R’ version of the camera offers higher resolution, we decided to go with the ‘S’ for more speed options.

Kandao's Obsidian S 360° Camera array.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache
Kandao's Obsidian S 360° Camera array.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

Weighing in at only 1.2 kg’s, the camera was lightweight enough for us to lift with a drone. It’s a reliable piece of equipment with nice color reproduction, easy to use software and a post workflow that got rid of almost all stitch lines as well as intuitive auto stabilization options. Stability was definitely a priority for us on this job.

Next came our decision on which of our drones to use. With portability and compactness being a big factor for travel, we ultimately decided our larger Alta was not an option. We knew we’d find ourselves in tricky locations with some guerilla shooting scenarios, and we needed a drone that could manage. So fitting the Obsidian camera onto our smaller Inspire II drone became the mission.

Our custom-rigged Inspire II with the Obsidian slung below on a swivel connection.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

Incorporating some parts we ordered from China and others from hobby shops in the states, we created a frame that allowed us to suspend the camera under the drone in a swing arm. We also salvaged some carbon fiber pieces from our old Cinestar 8 UAV to build out the custom frame.

It took a lot of testing to figure out that the best way to suspend the camera was to use a swivel connection that could be tightened or loosened. In effect, the camera swings on a pendulum motion as the drone pivots and changes directions. If we instead used a locked or fixed arm, the centrifugal force could eventually death-flip the drone on its head… and that wouldn’t be pretty. With a swivel connection, the drone itself wasn’t being affected by the payload.

Our backyard of LA was the first shoot location.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

The client was Oath, an umbrella company that included AOL, Yahoo!, and other digital content subdivisions. With offices around the world in amazing locations, this promo video was all about showing Oath’s international reach in locations where they had offices. Our director was the esteemed Jonny Zeller.

With the team put together and the drone + VR camera built, we started rolling right here in our backyard of Los Angeles. We went up to Malibu and down to Mar Vista to get some sweet shots by the ocean and flew the 360° camera downtown as well.

Then we headed off to NYC where we launched from a barge in the middle of the Hudson River to get shots of the skyline and Brooklyn (because you can’t launch from land in the Big Apple). We loved the chance to fly amongst the skyscrapers, though it got a little hairy at times!

Hovering through Manhattan on our second leg of the tour.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

From New York we shipped off down to Sao Paulo, Brazil on a twenty-hour flight. It got pretty wild down in South America, but we had some local guides to keep us out of trouble. We got the chance to shoot the Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge, an iconic construction of architectural beauty. As we flew around Sao Paulo we came pretty close to running into some power lines– our Inspire got buzzed by electro magnetic waves and the GPS started acting funny! But we got awesome dynamic shots and that night we danced and drank the traditional juices of Brazil.

Near the famous Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache
360° equirectangular footage from Brazil.  Photo Credit: Drone Dudes

We left Brazil and jetsetted off to Dublin, Ireland. The weather was way colder but this place had such a cool vibe. We flew along the incredible coastline and it felt like something out of a movie. Everything was a lush green as we piloted the drone over sprawling parks and down a river over a bridge, capturing breathtaking 360° footage.

Flying high off the coast near Dublin.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

We headed off to Munich, Germany next and captured video over the Eisbach, a river in the middle of a park with a constant wave that surfers love to ride. They got a kick out of watching our Obsidian camera flying past as it captured smooth footage of them. The Drone Dudes also got the chance to fly around some big, open, monumental locations with a lot of history, and we even had time to check out the modern museum of art before we left.

Taking the Inspire through monuments in Munich, Germany.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

Our final destination was Tel Aviv, Israel. The whole crew had a great time bonding while we stayed at a hotel right on the beach (which reminded our Florida boys of Miami). Going from the cold of Ireland and Germany to the nice sub-tropical weather of Israel was a nice change up. We sent our Inspire out over the water, filming standup paddlers amongst other pilots flying their own drones. We launched downtown and got some sweet footage near the Oath offices, then headed down to Jaffa, an ancient port city. After we perused local shops and vendors, we took our drone up and down old corridors, getting terrific 360° video.

Taking up the Obsidian array over the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache
Taking up the Obsidian array over the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv.  Photo Credit: Jeffrey Moustache

Once we got back to LA, Michael Batty got to work helping us do post for our own cut of the footage. While the gimbal we used was great during flights, it did need a bit of post-stabilization. We got to work rotoscoping out the drone from the zenith, doing some sky replacement, painting here and there, and removing any unwanted lens flares.

360° capture from Germany.  Photo Credit: Drone Dudes
360° capture from Germany.  Photo Credit: Drone Dudes

The cut turned out incredible with no noticeable stitch lines. It was a great way for us to capture a ton of international footage, gain more experience working with VR and 360° video as well as the Obsidian camera, and build our relationships with producer Melissa Daniels and Jonny Zeller. Traveling the world with a drone to capture the experience is great if you plan it out and prepare with the right gear!