By Ken Stone
“Good Morning, San Diego” has drawn a flock of glowing reviews since going live Nov. 29 on Vimeo, with 125,000 views and comments like these:
- “I have been living in San Diego for almost 30 years and your clip is the most beautiful I have seen so far.”
- “Absolutely spectacular!! I can’t stop watching.”
- “Best drone video I have ever seen.”
But a pilot posted a critical comment, contending the drone was “directly in the flight path” of North Island Naval Air Station, saying: “You quadcopter pilots are not going to stop until you kill a lot of people who legitimately belong in the airspace you’re so casually violating.”
Arvelo took pains to explain he was mindful of FAA rules and broke no rules, writing: “The fisheye effect of the camera may give the wrong impression that flights were at a higher altitude than they actually were.”
A 38-year-old R&D engineer at Qualcomm, Arvelo isn’t a professional videographer. He describes himself on his website as “Engineer. Adventurer. Photographer.”
With a GoPro HERO3 Black Edition camera attached to a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter, he shot at sunrise between August and November 2014. GoPro officials already have an eye on featuring his footage, which includes nearly three dozen scenes from the coast, Balboa Park and elsewhere.
In the final scene, he zooms toward a figure standing on the “Potato Chip Rock” ledge on the Mount Woodson Trail. It’s Arvelo with his controller.
He says he hasn’t made a penny off the video, saying it was done solely for hobby and recreational purposes.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Arvelo grew up there with his parents and younger sister until he finished high school. He attended college at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
He moved to San Diego in July 2000 and says he was very proud, in October 2011, to become a U.S. citizen.
This interview was conducted via email in early May:
Times of San Diego: Your favorite adventures? Destinations?
Eladio Arvelo: My favorite adventure to date has been a one-week scuba diving trip with friends to the island nation of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean, where we marveled at the amazing marine biodiversity and underwater landscapes, including several World War II wrecks.
Another adventure that I remember fondly was a two-week solo trip to Argentina to experience the city of Buenos Aires and natural landmarks such as Iguazu Falls and the Perito Moreno glacier. Within the USA, national parks are my favorite destinations, having done multiple road trips over the years to Utah and Arizona.
When did you begin drone play? What gear? How much invested in drones?
I purchased my first quadcopter, a Parrot AR Drone, in November 2012. It worked great indoors but found it challenging to fly outdoors. I purchased my current quadcopter, a DJI Phantom 2, in April 2014 along with a Zenmuse H3-3D 3-axis gimbal to stabilize a mounted GoPro camera during flight. It’s amazing how quickly this technology has improved within a couple of years. My current gear (without GoPro camera) cost less than $1,400.
When did you begin photography? Who trained you? What equipment do you own?
I purchased my first DSLR camera in November 2009 and fell in love with photography pretty quickly, thanks in part to my desire to share travel experiences with friends and family. I learned photography techniques by attending various classes and seminars in San Diego, and have developed my own artistic style independently over time. I currently own a Canon 5D Mark III camera along with a few Canon lenses.
How long did it take to edit the footage?
I was able to edit the footage in two days, during Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving to be precise. I used Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 for video editing.
In light of recent incidents (White House drop-in, etc.), did you get in trouble at any time? Any hassles?
Aerial filming took place between August and November 2014, so recent incidents that have made news headlines had not happened yet. I knew I wanted to shoot either a sunrise or sunset video for optimum lighting conditions but I settled on a sunrise video for two practical reasons: 1) No risk of flying over people since there’s very few (if any) people walking about before 6:15 a.m. and 2) better flight maneuverability since there’s barely any wind in San Diego early in the morning.
Most of the (few) people I encountered during my early morning flights were genuinely curious about the technology, so I would show them what I could see from the real-time downlink video stream and explain that I was putting together an artistic video of San Diego sunrises, a conversation that typically ended with well wishes towards my effort.
There was only one case when a gentleman in Balboa Park seemed bothered by my flying because he said that kids would fly drones around to chase birds and annoy wildlife. I took extra time to hear this gentleman’s concerns, agree with his point of view, and explain my intent to avoid wildlife and instead capture open spaces. He too wished me good luck at the end of our conversation.
Which scene took the most takes?
The fly-by of Balboa Park that starts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and ends by the plaza in front of the Museum of Art. The challenge was not really the number of takes but the number of early mornings that I had to go to Balboa Park to finally find the place completely empty, without people sleeping on the pavilion benches or cars driving through the main avenue.
Any scenes not come out?
Not really. I was able to capture all the locales that were on my original list. Some locales did not make it onto my original list in the first place due to close proximity to the airport. A couple of examples include the Star of India ship and the Waterfront Park by Pacific Highway in Downtown.
How far away can drone go under your control?
The limiting factor in my setup is the range of the real-time downlink video stream, which appears to cut off somewhere between 300 and 400 feet away. I used the downlink video to frame the scenes properly during flight.
How high can your drone go? How fast?
I programmed the quadcopter to never exceed 400 feet of altitude. I actually never tested the maximum height or speed that the quadcopter could reach since I was more interested in the artistic potential of my setup rather than its technical limits. I tend to fly at low speed so the film itself had to be sped up during post-production, which is sometimes evident by looking at the speed of some moving objects in the film.
Any crashes, midair collisions or near-misses?
I did crash once against a building in Balboa Park while flying backwards. There were no bystanders around and no damage to the building, but the camera gimbal was permanently damaged upon ground impact. By the time I got replacement parts, sunrise times had already exceeded 6:20 a.m., so this pushed my filming schedule until November when sunrise times shifted again closer to 6 a.m. (I typically filmed when sunrise times were between 6 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. to avoid bystanders.)
Any bad weather conditions to deal with?
I wanted my video production to look consistent from a weather point of view, so I tried as much as possible to film only on days that had “clear” sunrises, i.e. not on cloudy mornings. For that reason, I would typically wake up early and peer through my window half-asleep.
If I noticed clouds, I would go back to sleep. Otherwise, I would wake up to go fly. It took a total of 22 mornings with clear sunrises to capture all the aerial footage that I wanted.
Your favorite scene — or the one you’re most proud of?
I have two favorite scenes. The first is the pelican fly-by, which I consider to be a gift from nature since I was just trying to get a close-up shot of the surf break when all of sudden a group of five pelicans decided to photobomb the scene!
The second is the closing scene at Potato Chip Rock in Mount Woodson since it took a lot of physical effort to hike up there with 45F air temperature in time for a 6:22 a.m. sunrise. I thought the effort was well worth it for an epic ending scene, though!
Your next project?
Videography is just a hobby for me, so I typically have enough free time to make only one short film per year. Not sure what the next project will be, but it will likely be shared on my Vimeo page whenever it is released.
Your advice to other drone-based shooters?
Aerial videography offers an amazing potential for artistic expression but safety should remain paramount. Do read and follow the latest FAA safety guidelines at www.faa.gov/uas before flying and obey any other regulations that may be applicable at the state and local level.
Anything else your fans should know about you?
I would like to extend my gratitude to all the people that have taken the time to share their overwhelmingly positive feedback on the video. It’s been quite touching to read how the video has brought back memories and personal stories to so many people that have lived in or visited San Diego. I’m truly grateful to call San Diego home!
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