Pilot coordinating directions with a camera operator

Discussion in 'Camera Operating' started by Andy Johnson-Laird, Aug 12, 2012.

  1. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    I'm not sure this is the right part of the forum, so apologies in advance if it is not.

    Here's my question: I'm working with a 3-axis gimbal. I'm flying the C8, and I'm working with a cameraman driving a 3-axis gimbal.

    Has anyone figured out how to deal with the fact that the cameraman could have yawed the gimbal any which way, but then says, "hey can you dolly in/out/truck left/right..." -- the problem, of course, is that, as the pilot I know which way boom #1 is pointed, I have my own FPV, but I have no clue what heading the cameraman has yawed the gimbal to. Even if I peek at the cameraman's video downlink, I can't easily tell the gimbal heading.

    We can't even rely on being able to use ground-based landmarks -- if I yaw the aircraft to find what the cameraman's talking about, unless we're using the Radian, the odds are I've now caused the camera on the gimbal to yaw off target.

    The fundamental problem is that the coordinate system of the C8 and the gimbal is not isomorphic -- unless, just by chance, the cameraman has the gimbal yawed such that the FPV/Boom #1 happen to match the camera on the gimbal.

    It almost seems to demand a second Navi-Board on the Gimbal so that I could use a Smart OSD for the cameraman so that he or she can see the compass heading of the gimbal. Then they could say, "I'm looking at 090, can you come to 090 and truck left about 20 yards?" With the Radian sensors, I could then yaw the frameset to 090 without disturbing the gimbal and truck the frameset left. That then means two compasses to calibrate!
    Just curious how other people are solving this communication problem?

    Thanks in advance
    Andy.
     
  2. Tim Joy

    Tim Joy Active Member

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    Sometimes we use ourselves as a reference point, as in, "come towards us/ away from us." Or we use the subject as a reference point, like if I'm going straight out and he is 90 deg to the side, he'll say, "pull back/ move closer".
    I will announce my yawing to try and coordinate, but I try not to yaw at all!
    It's most difficult with events where you don't know what's happening. We still try and plan 2-3 shots and knowing the plan makes it easier.
     
  3. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    Thanks for your comments. Glad it's not just me!

    My observations thus far is that the camera operator loses him or herself in the scene and finds it really hard to know which way the gimbal is pointed. ("I'm looking at that big green tree...." :) )

    I agree with you about not yawing the frameset -- why make it harder on the pilot? I try and stay nose out while I can. Of course, inevitably that doesn't work all the time. Sometimes when I'm 150 yards out and 20 feet up (far enough out and low enough not to have any good visual cues for orientation), for safety's sake I'll resort to using the compass heading that was nose out at take-off even though that may now only be an approximation. But, first sign of loss of situation awareness, I'll immediately go up to, oh, 50 feet, enable Come Home until I can see the LEDs, re-orient, and have another crack at the scene.

    We also make good use of Google Earth and Maps to flight plan before a shoot. I also use the iPhone apps LightTrac and The Photographer's Ephemeris for lighting.

    Andy.
     
  4. Tim Joy

    Tim Joy Active Member

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    Yes, they do get lost! it's helpful too when he tells me what he's looking at, or panning towards.

    Recently I have started using an FPV camera fixed to the frame for what I like to call OVP- Orientation Verification Purposes. :)
    It's comforting to look down at the screen and see that it really is still pointed the way I thought, especially in those backlit long distance situations you mention. It also helps when tracking a moving subject and knowing how close you are to the 'tree line'. It takes a bit of practice to switch between but it's been very helpful for me.
     
  5. Josh Lambeth

    Josh Lambeth Well-Known Member

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    Once you have the new Radian system you don't have to worry about the panning thing. That was one of our biggest issues we ran into as well but now with the new system it's awesome! The camera and copter are now totally independent of each-other. So I can fly however I need to to get the shot and they can control the camera however they need to as well. It's a beautiful thing! :D

    Josh
     
  6. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    This is a VERY interesting topic. We just got the CS8/360 and are in the process of establishing some type of communication protocol. Any and all additional comments from folks that have a system that works for them would be appreciated. (JOSH) Not all of us are fortunate enough to be flying the Radian. Someday.
     
  7. Tim Joy

    Tim Joy Active Member

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    Another thing that helps me is to get a constant stream of info from the camera op regarding my placement, and his movement. Then the reference points kinda speak for themselves.
     
  8. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    We have been doing this type of communication stream for altitude - but altitude is obviously easy. Hope to get some advice on forward/backward lateral coordination without resorting to foul language. Thanks for lighttrac tip.
     
  9. Tabb Firchau

    Tabb Firchau Administrator
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    Good topic!

    Hugh and I handle this by setting our orientation before takeoff. Basically I find the stance I will fly in and we orient our directions to match that stance....forward, back, left, right.

    The hard part is for Hugh to mentally map how this correlates to the cardinal directions from what he sees on the monitor. I figure it is better for him to do this than me though as I would likely use up all my processing power and hit a tree branch ;)

    Tabb
     
  10. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    Glad I provoked some thoughtful discussion. Actually, Adam P. deserves the credit. We were chatting in my conference room on Sunday last and he suggested I post the question. Thanks for prodding me into action, Adam.

    As Mike says, altitude is the easy one -- but only because the coordinate system (altitude) is common to both pilot and shooter. If it's a sunny day, I was wondering whether we could use the sun or shadow angles for yaw -- as in can you dolly/truck up-sun/down-sun. I can see the sun angle both in FPV and eyeball. Imperfect at best, and demands sun/shadows (not guaranteed in Oregon) but better than anything else I can think of right now.

    On the other hand, jus' thinkin' outside the box, what the pilot really needs is a coordinate translation system so if the shooter says "dolly out" it would tell the pilot, "yaw to 270 degrees and fly the bird away from you." To do that the "system," be it electronic or human needs to know the heading of both boom #1 (let's not get into Carefree just yet please ;) ) and the heading of the gimbal.

    If, by magic, the Smart OSD on the FPV system could report the gimbal heading to the pilot, we could use the Mark IV human brain to figure out what "dolly out" means -- there is already a "home is that-a-way" marker on the artificial horizon ring on the Smart OSD, so the scene is set for another marker for "and gimbal is that-a-way." Perhaps this could be implemented via a wireless datalink (Bluetooth?) between the gimbal and the frameset -- I don't see using slip-rings for electrical connection between the frameset and the gimbal somehow.

    Now if this is a great idea, Tabb, remember you heard it here first. If, on the other hand, the idea sucks so badly that it's not even wrong, then I disavow all knowledge of it and will attempt to lay it off on some unsuspecting passer-by at the first opportunity. :)

    Andy.
     
  11. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    All good ideas. Let's see if Andy's has legs. At this point, we have discussed trying the following, similar to this suggestion by Tabb: We use a fixed camera op station in a tripod mounted pelican case. We stand side by side. The forward direction is 12 o'clock. Simple directions relative to forward that don't involve compass math will be attempted. 12 o'clock is forward, 6 back, 3 right, 9 left. All relative to the case. Very rough but we are going to give it a go and will let you know. This is a great discussion. Thanks all.
     
  12. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    Mike: Do you find that the shooter can keep spatial awareness at a sufficiently high level that they can back convert from camera bearing to the 12 o'clock is that-a-way system? Do they know intuitively that the camera is pointing at 5 o'clock, say? My experience tends to suggest that the shooter (not unreasonably) fixates on the target and does what's required to the gimbal to position the target in the field of view, thus losing that all important spatial awareness. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to get us both confused...."Oh, you mean *that* 6 o'clock...."

    Andy.
     
  13. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    Andy, we are going to give this a try shortly. It's too soon to tell, but simpler is better. There has to be a simple solution here. Everything else reminds me of the NDB approaches I had to learn as a pilot. I was horrible at them. I'm hoping the shooter can maintain a reasonable enough awareness of the relationship between the target and the podium. I will measure success by the lack of foul language. We shall see! I'm open to any and all approaches - especially before I learn bad habits.
    Regards,
    -m
     
  14. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    Good luck. I used to have a tough time even calculating reciprocal headings in my brain!

    Andy.
     
  15. Emanuele Chiocchio

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    Hi all, verrrry interesting topic here. Let me contribute w/ my 2 cents. :)

    I'm currently flying with a CS8/360 setup: I'm the operator and my brother is the pilot and what we do before every single shoot is to plan carefully the direction/altitude and discuss the exact movement/framing I would obtain. In our limited, humble experience, the pilot needs to learn to think as a cameraman to understand our needs (as operators) better.

    One reason that convinced me to order a full Radian kit is not only the almost perfectly leveled orizon but also the possibility to be free from the rotational movements of the frame: infact the pilot needs, according to the flying conditions, to do some corrections and those corrections, even if minimal, can be visible or compromise the shoot.

    There's one more thing that's not a technical matter but absolutely relevant, IMO: when we're on set shooting for someone, they often think that the few minutes we spend talking each other before the flight is "wasted time". Those people do NOT understand at all the difficulties of aerial filming, they focus only on what they want and do not care of the implied problems of a complex thing like this: they're even not interested of other people involved in the shot.

    Last month we were at a sport event and we were asked to make some very low (2 meters) flybys over the people attending the final ceremony: we refused because of the risks (there were families, kids and very crowded). As a result, after a whole day of very hard shooting, we were "fired".

    Anyway, the flybys where NOT specified on the contract so they paid, afterall.

    What we learned: educating the Customer is an essential part of our work. If your Customer understands the complexity of aerial videos, it's easier to overcome the issues, otherwise a day of shooting can be a nightmare.

    Ciao,

    Emanuele
     
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  16. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    Excellent perspective and opinion Emanuele. We agree with the Radian kit and are waiting. Well Done. I'm glad you refused buzzing the crowd, at the expense of future engagement. We have been pondering what types of limitations to establish in our contract (FORMAL INVITATION FOR OTHERS TO OPINE HERE), and have considered weather(temperature, rain, wind etc.. parameters), airspace access (they must have clear access/usage authorization to airspace - they can't ask us to fly over someone's property that will get ticked off and start skeet shooting) and above all any perceived safety issue. How are others thinking about this?
     
  17. Tommy - KnightDesignDev

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    Great discussion.
    My Camera Op ( and Business Manager / Partner) and I will discuss and get back to everyone with our input.
     
  18. Shaun Stanton

    Shaun Stanton Active Member

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    We do an extensive pre-flight of our shot and I have my camera op crosscheck what he is looking at with the aircraft. I have his feed on my other monitor so I am seeing where he is pointing the camera with reference to my FPV. So if he says come left and he has paned 90 degrees to the right I interpret that as move the aircraft forward. Not to sound braggy, but this might have be something I am used to in the ISR world flying predators. In that world I have to move the plane to get it in position for the best view for my sensor operator i.e "Camera Op" on a specific target. Of course the predator gimbal is able to corelate the ball with A/C position so it is a bit easier. That is what we need in this community is an OSD overlaid on the Payload camera feed that can correlate gimbals position to the Aircraft's actual heading.

    Based off of the pr-shooting choreography that we do I always position the plane and cross check it with the camera viewing angle to make sure that I am aware of the camera with respect to my heading. I find it easier to avoid heading changes unless it is absolutely necessary, such as following a target on a changing path like a turning road. It seems that a good pre-flight planning session and crew brief is essential to accomplishing this. IMO both camera op and pilot should be flying the best flight path as briefed with minor in flight corrections as necessary to get the optimal shot.
     
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  19. MIke Magee

    MIke Magee Active Member

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    Interesting approach, and as Mom would say... It ain't bragging if it's true..
    -m
     
  20. Andy Johnson-Laird

    Andy Johnson-Laird Administrator
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    Good points, Shaun.
    I suspect you're blessed with disciplined colleagues. The camera guys I work with are, hmm.....a little more spontaneous, thus one hears phrases like "hover over that white shed over there...." or "Go left a bit...." and this adds a certain level of uncertainty to the equation. "Huh? What white shed where?" "Which left?"

    Andy.
     

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