How FPV Drones Modified the Recreation for Reside Casting Motion Sports activities
What if you could visually experience a steep freestyle run in the backcountry from the perspective of an elite snowboarder? The view takes into account speed, known and unfamiliar terrain as the driver navigates trees, the precipice over a 70-foot jump, and the first image of the landing after falling blind from a cliff. What if that experience was in real time? That was the question put to the production teams at the recent Natural Selection snowboard event by pro snowboarder Travis Rice in Jackson Hole. The solution turned out to be a multi-year technological search, in which more than 100 production experts from all directions participated – live television producers to professional FPV drone pilots (first-person-view). Everyone was asked to push the limits of their experience and do so in a harsh, high alpine winter environment with all weather variables. The result was a viewing experience that put the audience straight into the action.
In snowboarding, Rice is known as the ultimate motivator. His nickname is “Optimistic Prime,” an indication of his willingness to push himself and others to achieve exceptional results. Reis works with a kind of forward dynamic that overcomes any obstacle between himself and the finish line. Chris Steblay was primarily responsible for this live POV endeavor as the creative director and producer at Uncle Toad’s, a production company focused on live broadcasting with roots in action sports. Steblay was up to the challenge and ready to break what he saw as a bit of complacency in some action sports productions. He says, “We took it upon ourselves and our crew to just do it that way because the rewards outweighed the risks if we could do it.” He also adds, “Travis Rice asks, we’re all big fans. When he says, “This is what I want.” Well, there isn’t much wiggle room other than giving it to him. In this case it worked for us. “
For Steblay, the solution was a need: developing stabilized racing drones with a high-resolution live video feed that can be used as the main camera from the top of a mountain in winter.
The racing drones
The first step was to work with professional drone pilots who have the skills to build the fast, agile drones required. In contrast to a conventional consumer drone, Steblay says: “Racing drones give you the experience of flying on the back of a bald eagle. They’re quick, quick, agile, and allow you to approach the riders like 10 feet back and a few feet above us. “The goal: to get the video game angle.
They also needed the same pilots to fly the camera-equipped drones during the snowboard competition. The tour was aimed at the world champion drone pilot Gabriel “Gab707” Kocher. Kocher turned out to be perfect, the Vancouver, BC-based pilot happens to have a PhD. in physics and is also a passionate snowboarder. Kocher brought with him Jordan “Jet” Temkin, a fellow world champion pilot who is also a solid skier. The pilots’ participation in skiing and snowboarding was seen as critical in order for them to have the instinctive eye to anticipate the rider’s movements and speed. Rice shared, “Honestly, I don’t care how good you are as a drone pilot if you can’t predict what lines these drivers will take or how they will drive. It just won’t work. “
The pilots flew drones, so-called FPV drones, which they operate remotely with video glasses and offer a first-person view. Racing drones are not sold off the shelf, but are kits that have been expertly built, balanced, designed and optimized by the pilots themselves. For the event, the pilots had five complete FPV racing drones ready to fly. (For another glimpse into the cinematographic potential of FPV drones, check out the recently viral single-shot short, Right Up Our Alley, by pilot / filmmaker Jaybyrdfilms.)
The angles of the Natural Selection racing drones have been complemented by a pair of Freefly Alta-X drones that fly higher in the air and provide a stable overhead angle. Yes, a second fleet of drones.
The camera rig
While the pilots designed the racing drones, Steblay focused on finding the ideal small HD cameras to film from the drone. The cameras had to be compatible with antennas that relay the live footage. With this live footage, it was necessary to figure out how to stabilize the camera to avoid what steblay describes as the seasickness effect (this step is usually done in post-production). The crew added a pivoting gimbal mount for the camera – a first for a racing drone.
And finally the antenna mount so that the camera can broadcast the footage live. Steblay brought in RF Wireless to create a 100 percent wireless event from high up on the mountain with reception towers that allow the footage to be broadcast straight to the live broadcast.
The end results
The coverage was a true feat of broadcast art (and a new top grade for coverage of action sports). It should also be noted that the production was conducted in an extreme mountain environment for over a week, with five feet of snow struck the resort. The conditions not only made for a shovel feast to keep equipment (housed in weak ice fish tents high up on the mountain) visible and accessible, but also for a crew capable, aware, and able to spend long hours in freezing temperatures in bonafid avalanche areas – not to mention the efforts that have been made to keep a variety of drone batteries warm and charged. And yes, thought was even given to keeping the drone pilot’s hands warm with small personal hand warmers attached to their drone controls. And let’s also acknowledge that despite navigating the wooded course hundreds of times during the two-day event, often in strong winds and snow, there wasn’t a single drone tree fall. Props to the experienced pilots.
Live production like this was previously only thought possible at the Olympics or NFL level, but the Natural Selection proved it could be done with a reduced crew in a remote setting that was completely wireless and Travis Rice’s neck breathed down.
The Natural Selection Tour continues
Kocher will be at the remaining two stops on the Natural Selection Tour in Canada and Alaska, capturing these incredible video game-style camera angles, but without the live broadcast and an even more remote location.
The highlight show of the Bronco Natural Selection at Baldface Lodge in Canada with the best lines and the outstanding action of the week will be broadcast on Red Bull TV on March 19.
The Natural Selection Tour ends from March 20-27, 2021 with the superfinal in the HempFusion Natural Selection at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska.
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