In my new Elements of Visual Media second-year course we have spent the first three weeks studying the fundamentals of typography and learning typographic controls in Adobe InDesign. At the beginning of week 4, I felt that the students needed to get some fresh air and exercise and decided to enlist them as actors in an experimental bit of “human typography.” We used a small multi-rotor helicopter with a Go-Pro camera attached underneath. The camera was configured to point straight down. The students arranged themselves to form a crude sans-serif rendition of the upper case initials “VM,” standing for Visual Media. To provide some uniformity and emphasis, the students held orange (RIT orange!) cards above their heads. When the camera was approximately 40 feet above the heads of the students, a signal was given and the students lowered their orange cards and walked away from their positions in random directions while the camera platform continued to rise to an altitude of approximately 200 feet. Students were instructed to walk backwards, so we could reverse the direction of the resulting video.

The camera was mounted on a small quad-rotor device called a DJI Phantom. This flying machine has a GPS system on board that is capable of locking onto multiple GPS satellites to maintain its position relative to the ground. The device provides a stable platform that can be placed anywhere in the open air to obtain aerial video or still images.

The camera we used is the latest GoPro Hero 3, capable of recording at full HD resolution at up to 60 frames per second, or at close to 4K resolution at 15 frames per second. The angle of view can be adjusted from an extreme wide fish-eye to a somewhat narrower (although still quite wide) field. We set the camera to the narrowest field of view, approximately equivalent to a standard wide-angle lens on a DSLR.

After reviewing the resulting video, we made a list of improvements that will be implemented the next time we attempt a project like this. These include mounting the camera on a servo-controlled gimbal that stabilizes the camera as the quad-rotor encounters turbulence to provide smoother video. We will also position the platform more precisely above the center of the formation to produce better framing, perhaps with a wider angle of view. We will also fly the camera to higher terminal altitude to take in more of the RIT campus in the initial frame.

To view our first experimental video click here!


Photo by Greg Halpern

Photo by Greg Halpern