We sat down with Skytango‘ users Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi, aerial filmmakers and drone operators who directed and produced the award-winning video Digitized.
Digital design and interactive media have been constantly changing since the ‘digital age’ began in the 1970s, with each decade giving birth to new technology aiding visual storytelling.
It’s no surprise then, that Digitized, an annual meeting for digital design professionals and enthusiasts alike has grown steadily every year since its first meeting in 2011.
The conference itself has been taking place in Athens, Greece every year since it began.
The 2016 edition included workshops, a conference with speakers such as Daniël Sytsma (Achtung!) Vasilis Dimos (Skroutz) and Spiros Alvertis (Allcancode) among other industry influencers….and of course free pizza!
— Chris Chamberlain (@CanadaCodeGuy) April 28, 2016
More information on the event can be found here
For us drone enthusiasts, however, the event’s 2016 opening title sequence is an excellent example of aerial content and graphic integration.
The creators are Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi (aka Inva + Sla), who joined Skytango as drone operators in 2016.
The duo won the Promotional Category for their title sequence video in the 2016 Flying Robot International Film Festival in San Francisco.
See the Digitized opening titles sequence for yourself:
We wanted to learn more about how the video was constructed and why this project won such a strategic award, Nestoras and Athanasia kindly answered some of our questions:
- Hi Nestoras and Athanasia, thanks for the interview. Could you please tell us about what you do, your background and when did you first start using drones?
- The Digitized video was awesome in so many ways. When and how did you first get involved with Digitized and how did the idea come to fruition?
- What were the roles of you and Athanasia in this project?
- How long did it take from inception to completion?
- Where was the video shot? Was it all in the same place?
- Did you film it in 4k? What equipment did you use for this video (drones, cameras, apps etc)? How many drones did you use for this video?
- What were your biggest challenges/obstacles in filming this video?
- How do you find dealing with high contrast scenes and getting the exposure right?
- How did this project compare with other projects you have completed with drones?
- You used mixed filming, editing and special effects techniques to get the final version. Can you tell us more about these?
- How do you see the role of aerials in visual storytelling, and how do aerials integrate with underwater and ground footage in Digitized?
- What was the most fun, and the most problematic: filming, editing, or grading Digitized?
Interview With Nestoras Kechagias And Athanasia Lykoudi
Hello, thank you for having us. We are both designers working in advertising for several years. Design for digital media is our main occupation, but our individual strengths reside in different areas of expertise.
Nestoras, having a street artist background, is an experienced illustrator and is more accustomed to photography. Athanasia has had a hands-on experience in all the stages of the digital production process and is passionate about motion design and special effects in film.
We first started flying a drone almost 2 years ago. Nestoras knew how much Athanasia loves gadgets and bought her a toy drone as a present. We became increasingly interested in filming and photography. It was not long before we started investing in gear and creating our own videos.
Digitized has been something of a tradition among greek designers for the last 6 years. It is one of the best-organised conferences in Greece. We both used to attend it each year and were always mesmerised by the creativity of the opening videos. Our favourite was 2012’s opening sequence by Tony Zagoraios and Stavros Kypraios.
Athanasia had a dream of doing something similar one day and discussed it with me. I was very skeptical at first. We both thought that we weren’t there yet and we could not do it. But the idea continued tingling in our minds.
Then we won our first award for Marinière, one of our drone videos, and our whole psychology changed. We were confident to pitch our idea to the conference organisers. We planned to interpret the word “digitized” as the invasion of the digital into the physical world. And we got the job!
It is very difficult to tell apart our roles since we both do a bit of everything. We are both pilots, video editors, and animators.
For the Digitized video, Nestoras created the storyboard of the images that would appear based on our footage. He took care of the largest part of the montage and graphics, while I worked on stabilisation, motion tracking, animation and refinement of each scene.
But we both did a little bit of each other’s work, provided that we had more time available. And we both learned techniques we weren’t aware of before. This is our favorite way of working. Doing things we don’t know and learning from experience.
We both worked hard to create something original and thought about it for a long time before we got to the editing part. We brainstormed during our vacation days and finally agreed on a rough storyboard. That involved a few extra scenes that weren’t included in the final piece.
We used previously shot, but unused, footage as well as new scenes which we shot specifically for the part. We started the montage before we had all our footage available since our schedule was tight.
The planning and editing work was complete in a month, keeping in mind that we worked at night and on weekends. We weren’t alone though. We had great help from Ted Regklis, who composed the music and did the sound design.
There was footage from a lot of different parts of Greece. Most of it was shot in the north shorelines of Attiki, but there were some parts of southern Peloponnese and Chalkidiki as well. They are amazing regions. There is beauty in Greece in more places than just its islands!
We love this question because we get to say that we did not shoot in 4K!
We owned the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced at the time which shot video up to 2.7K. We just used this one drone and we were very positively surprised at how durable and reliable it was!
Apart from our drone, we used a GoPro Hero 4 Black and a Panasonic Lumix G3. The GoPro shots were 1080p and 720p because we wanted more frames/second and our mirrorless camera could only shoot 1080p anyway.
So with just an enthusiast’s drone, an action camera, and an old micro four thirds, we managed to get this outcome. We have upgraded all our gear since then so that we have the best image quality for our future videos.
What largely contributed to the quality of the video was the work that was done in post production. We used Adobe Premiere for the edit, grading and some effects, Adobe After Effects for animations, tracking and main effects and Mocha for advanced stabilisation and motion tracking.
The diversity of the footage was one of the most difficult aspects to deal with. We had to take into consideration the similarity of location, time of the day, the weather and see if we could merge the sequences and make it work.
Serious colour manipulation took place to have a seamless image and even transition between the scenes. The merging of different footage into one surreal image could become easier only after we had matching colours.
Motion tracking was also one of the most challenging tasks. Specifically in the zooming out part before the main title, where everything moves to significantly different places.
Adding special effects without using 3D modeling or 3D animation was a great challenge as well.
Last but not least, we had to invent an enabler in our storyline, one that would introduce the digital elements into the physical landscape. There was a serious debate over what that element would be and in the video is our final decision, in the form of a light beam.
One of the first things we do in our cameras is set up the D-LOG colour profile and contrast level, in order to achieve the highest dynamic range possible.
This means that we start with a desaturated and low contrast image and refine the colour later in post production.
Having ND filters is a must as well. It is usually very sunny in Greece and we don’t want our shutter speed too high when shooting video in the middle of the day.
This ensures that we get a smooth cinematic image and our exposure right. We sometimes fail though, if we are in a rush. This happened in a specific scene we shot for Digitized. The sky in our footage was not exposed correctly and appeared very white. We had to shoot a second time with lower exposure and superimpose the correct sky over the original one. It was a grueling task, but sometimes that is what it takes to have the right image.
We try to outdo ourselves each time and in Digitized we did it in many aspects. It was definitely the most time consuming and difficult of our videos, but the most rewarding. Not just because it won awards, but because we developed our shooting/editing skills and found a way to collaborate on a tight schedule.
We saw the footage and we pitched each other ideas on what would happen there. It didn’t matter if we knew how to do it, we just learned how on the spot.
We stabilised the scenes we wanted to use, mixed them together and colour corrected them so that they seemed to have originated from the same place and shot under the same conditions.
We synced the base of the surreal images to the beat and graded them for an even look throughout the film. Lastly, we added the extra animations. There are a few highlights from our process that are worth mentioning.
The scene where the lake elevates from the ground on several levels is created in Adobe Premiere.
The animated graphics are from After Effects, but the masking, tracking, and perspective were entirely done in Premiere.
The floating rocks were created without 3D modeling or green screen shooting. They were masked and tracked frame by frame.
The animations on the umbrellas were redesigned several times. Motion tracking was difficult in low bit rates. We also had a rough time following the location’s perspective without 3D software. This applies especially to the zoom-out scene before the main title.
The underwater scenes that had to be stabilised, were nearly unmanageable.
Lastly, we had to find tangent coastlines to create the splitting earth scene. Since we have little special effects experience, we had to improvise a lot and come out with some very unorthodox methods to achieve the final outcome.
Aerial filming ought to be more prominent and can definitely be a category of its own in storytelling. There’s a lot to be explored and this is the exciting part.
In regular filmography, every trick in the book has been repeated uncountable times. Aerial videography alters the perspective and the point of view in a drastic way. This is relatively new and different from what spectators are accustomed to seeing, which makes it interesting.
We can mix underwater and ground footage, move the camera in every direction and navigate as if we were in a 3D game. There is no limitation to the camera’s movement and this unlocks new potential.
And it is so inexpensive that we will definitely have a new era of creative direction emerging.
Editing was definitely the most difficult because everything was a challenge. We had to create something new out of what we had shot.
Grading was the most problematic to say the least. Combining such different footage and keeping consistency was a nightmare.
The most fun part was evidently the shooting. It was our excuse to go on an adventure, find new places and discover new images. We’d gladly do it again!
Nestoras, Athanasia, it has been a pleasure speaking with you! The Digitized opening titles sequence is an amazing project and we are certainly looking forward to seeing more great productions from you both in the future.
Follow Nestoras & Athanasia (aka Inva + Sla):
(Image credits: © Inva + Sla)