How to Think about Solo’s Smart Shots: A complete video production unit
Smart Shots aren’t what you thought they were. They weren’t even what we thought they were.
Our video production team has now spent over half a year living with and shooting with Smart Shots. Over the course of this time, we’ve learned from our own technology. This had led us to totally reframe the language we use to help us understand this extraordinarily advanced and complex feature of Solo. Long story short, Smart Shots are much more dynamic storytelling devices than even we ourselves first understood them to be. Solo isn’t a drone as we’ve traditionally thought of drones; thanks to Smart Shots, it’s really a practical, versatile and unique storytelling tool. A complete video production unit in a backpack.
Here’s the language of Smart Shots in real-world applications, from a video production standpoint.
The name seems fairly self-explanatory: Lock Solo onto a virtual cable to get the perfect shot. But today our team has been thinking of this Smart Shot not merely as Cable cam, but as “Narrative.”
Why do they say “Narrative”?
Cable cam allows you to set not just a cable, but to use autonomy, keyframes and fully-integrated camera control to tell an actual narrative from your first frame to your last. What’s more, you not only have the option to fly this set cable and work the camera as you please, you have the option to set a narrative arc from your first frame through to your last and have Solo capture it automatically — it hits all the marks, and you can even repeat it exactly until you (and your actors or athletes or pets or other subjects) nail their performance. Once we understood this, suddenly we weren’t thinking of capturing great drone shots in terms of lines in the sky and waypoints, but as arcs of a story: Use Cable cam to go from keyframe to keyframe, introduce or reveal new elements or characters, follow a line of action or illustrate a change.
Plus, unlike other drones, Solo is a fully integrated computer/copter/gimbal/camera system, so it can control all of the technical elements of getting the perfect shot smoothly and reliably. You can work the camera as you wish, or let Solo control the camera position and aiming, easing in and out of your desired frames automatically — all you have to do is set the beginning and the end of your narrative, then press “play” and let Solo be your cinematographer and handle all the filming. No jerky stops and starts in your shots that might otherwise cause a viewer’s suspension of disbelief to fly away. In other words, a crafted Narrative.
Again, the name nails the prime function: Solo will circle a subject of your choosing and automatically capture an iconic “wrap-around” shot. Other drones can do this, as 3DR’s earlier products have been doing for years now. Orbit, however, does much more: Our team now calls it Spiral.
What do they mean by “Spiral”?
Right in the app, you can adjust the circle’s radius in real time to get the exact frame and angle that you want. This means you can make responsive adjustments midflight for truly sophisticated — yet still automated — shots. You can also adjust Solo’s altitude as you fly.
Plus you can adjust them both at once — this gives you real time control over incredible corkscrewing shots, where Solo controls camera pointing so you’re always focused on your subject. Because other drones can’t control the camera in this way, these shots are not only mindblowing, but also inimitable: 5-axis shots, captured automatically.
Now with Solo humming along automatically, you’re free to play with its radius and its altitude to create amazingly cool and brand new corkscrew shots. You can even change the altitude of the “point of focus” (the center of your circle) by simply adjusting gimbal tilt with the paddle on the controller’s left shoulder.
It’s a ton of fun to shoot with, too. You can improvise, create new motion and action as you go. Solo is a full-on video system, with the computer controlling the gimbal and the camera direction, so you don’t ever have to worry about what you’re going to be looking at.
Just tap “play” on the app and Solo will do it all for you — both the flying and the camerawork — with you adjusting the speed, altitude and radius. Now you can use Spirals as a storytelling device: React to the moment and to elements coming in and out of the frame; or, choose when to make your own reveals and bring elements in and out of the frame.
We know what a selfie is. Some love, some hate. Solo has the ability to automatically capture a pretty dramatic and dynamic selfie — just set it up in front of you, hit play and Solo automatically flies itself up and away, showing the expanding scenery around you as it goes, all while keeping you in the center of the shot. Solo keeps filming on the way back down, too, so you can also get a cool aerial zoom in on yourself from a distance. But in our creative application of this shot, our team has discovered a few reasons why “Selfie” isn’t a perfectly accurate way to think of this Smart Shot.
It turns out that the name “Selfie” belies the true storytelling power of this Smart Shot. Instead, when we use it, we tend to call it “Reveal.” Here’s why.
First, selfies themselves have a narcissistic connotation — you’re the subject of the picture. What this Smart Shot does is sort of the opposite — true, you’re still the center of the shot, but as Solo soars away, you yourself get smaller and smaller. The shot then transitions from being about you to being more about your position and size in relationship to the world around you.
Second, in filmmaking terms, Selfie is actually more of what’s known as a “reveal.” That is, as the frame of the shot expands it reveals new elements, and eventually a whole new scope and scene. You can use this as a narrative device, adding surprising elements and even characters, transforming in one smooth, automatic shot the way we see your central character. On the returning “zoom” shot, you can do the opposite — go from a larger and expansive context to a more intimate one.
And it doesn’t even have to be a “Selfie” — you can set anything up to be your central focus in Selfie: a third-person character; a group of people; even structures or natural features or other objects.
Smart Shots: Much more than lines, circles and selfies, yes?