Amazing Stanford work on adding cinematic camera control to APM-powered drones

An interactive tool for designing quadcopter camera shots

SIGGRAPH Asia 2015

Cameras attached to small quadrotor aircraft are rapidly becoming a ubiquitous tool for cinematographers, enabling dynamic camera movements through 3D environments. Currently, professionals use these cameras by flying quadrotors manually, a process which requires much skill and dexterity. In this paper, we investigate the needs of quadrotor cinematographers, and build a tool to support video capture using quadrotor-based camera systems. We begin by conducting semi-structured interviews with professional photographers and videographers, from which we extract a set of design principles. We present a tool based on these principles for designing and autonomously executing quadrotor-based camera shots. Our tool enables users to: (1) specify shots visually using keyframes; (2) preview the resulting shots in a virtual environment; (3) precisely control the timing of shots using easing curves; and (4) capture the resulting shots in the real world with a single button click using commercially available quadrotors. We evaluate our tool in a user study with novice and expert cinematographers. We show that our tool makes it possible for novices and experts to design compelling and challenging shots, and capture them fully autonomously.

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Comment by Gary McCray on October 3, 2015 at 8:35pm

Great Work,

A really nice system, something that is sorely needed at every level of multicopter based video.

Best Regards,


Comment by John Arne Birkeland on October 4, 2015 at 5:27am

I fully agree, this is fantastic stuff. Full blown sci-fi made in the flesh today.

On the other side, my concern is the same as before. Again the user is one more step removed from the real and very physical limitations and implications one have to take into consideration when operating a UAS. Things like maintaining radio and GPS reception, and avoiding unforeseen changes/object during the flight.

Comment by Gary McCray on October 4, 2015 at 10:10am

I agree with your concern as well John,

Going forward it is going to be very important to balance these excellent professional camera "dollying" tools with a functional means to maintain a continuous manual override capability. (And the real ability to be able to exercise it when necessary).

There are many of us who definitely think that autonomous capability should only ever supplement capable manual control.

The ability to be able to resume full manual control under any circumstances is most important and is not being stressed enough.

Best Regards,


Comment by Jesus A on October 4, 2015 at 1:43pm

Amazing work.

Designing a shot in such a visual way is great for both drones operators and filmakers. You can review ans simulate it until you are happy with it saving dozens of battery and flight time.

On the other hand, perfect execution of a "designed" shot is just not trivial

Will we see this system/software open up in the near future?


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