Pilot Spotlight: Dennis Schmelz

It’s time for another Pilot Spotlight, this time I’m catching up with Dennis Schmelz from Germany. Dennis has worked for a lot of high profile clients including Emirates and Boeing. I’m particularly interested in his video for their campaign “a view from above”. Enjoy the interview!

Name: Dennis Schmelz
Age: 27
Home Town: Erfurt, Germany
Years flying UAVs: 12/2013
Current UAV’s/setup: DJI Inspire X3
Ultimate dream UAV: X5R with different lenses

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Dennis, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for this month’s pilot spotlight. Please tell the readers who you are, how you got into filmmaking and eventually drones/UAVs.

I am a professional filmmaker from Erfurt, Germany. Within the scope of my work I discover new and exciting places, meet interesting people and get in contact with unique stories. I put all my effort and dedication into my work to absorb these valuable impressions and create authentic, inspiring and visually stunning films. Since my work is not only an occupation but primarily a passion. I enjoy every aspect of the process of a new project. There is always a story to tell and fresh perspective to be discovered.

This fresh perspective is what drove me two and a half years ago to get into drones. I love the opportunity to see the world from an absolute new perspective. It opens a lot of new possibilities to create stunning images. For me it is especially the moments that full-sized helicopters and aircraft can not capture, I want to create those iconic “how-did-they-do that” video moments. I also shoot traditional stabilised video on the ground on a gimbal to provide the full perspective up to 4K resolution.

Recently Emirates (together with Boeing released one of their projects ‘view from above’. You were commissioned to do the Germany video. How did you get involved with this project and tell us something about what kind of project it was?

The agency who managed this big advertisment project (“View from Above”) found my “Seychelles 2014 filmed from above” video on Vimeo. I filmed this video for a German travel agency (Seyvillas) two years ago.

That was one of my first aerial videos filmed with a DJI Phantom 2 and a GoPro Hero 3. Emirates & Boeing were looking for a similiar video for their campaign for Germany and Croatia. Of course after initial conversations I said yes to this incredible project and two weeks later I was already on my way to Croatia.

I was there for one week and procuced this video. It has been published online, but not as a part of the Emirates / Boeing campaign, because the airline does not maintain flights to Croatia at the moment. As I came back from Croatia I straight away started filming the Germany video for the project. I had a time period of two weeks with 3-4 effective filming days. I’m from Germany so I was able to react very quickly and spontanious to weather situations.

That’s amazing, those are some incredibily tight deadlines you had to work with. What drone/UAV did you use for this shoot and why? Did it perform well for this project?

I used a DJI Inspire 1 with the X3 camera. I bought this platform just a few weeks before the project. I started with a DJI Phantom 2, but for the Emirates project I needed the long range (Lightbridge) and stability of the Inspire. I love the ready-to-flight-system, lightweight, speed and quality of this beast. I’m a little bit unhappy with the X3 camera (sharpness and pixel artifacts) and will upgrade to the X5R as soon as possible! 😉

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You clearly have been flying for a while, the movements in this video are spot on, how much experience do you have with UAVs?

I started flying with a Phantom 2,5 years ago. It was one of the first generation without FPV and a GoPro Hero 3 in a Zenmuse Gimbal. Later I upgraded to a GoPro Hero 4 and was totally excited with the quality that came of the GoPro in 4K, but didn’t like the Jello effects, unreliability and the constant tinkering of the drone. So I decided to the DJI Inspire 1. Some months later DJI released the Phantom 3 with Lightbridge, etc., but I was already fixed by the Inspire! 😉

You have captured some stunning imagery of Germany at it’s best. How did you find these beautiful places and landscapes?

I live in Germany, love travelling and already visited some of these places. I also work for some big travel agencies like Eurail.com & Interrail.eu and was already able to capture a lot of these places while filming throughout Europe. I did some research in the internet before shooting as well. Flickr, Instagram and Google picture search are great tools for this! 😉 And of course I worked with the sun light – especially in the early morning and late evening when you have the best light conditions.

Great tips on location scouting using services on the internet, I’m a big fan of that myself as well. Can you name some of the places and what makes them so unique?

Definitely Castle Neuschwarnstein is one of the most famous tourism attractions in Germany. It’s such a beautiful and unique place – You’ve got the fairytale castle with the surrounding mountains and lakes. It’s incredible, but it’s very busy, especially in high season. My personal highlight was Saxon Switzerland in Eastern Germany. The old bastion bridge with the view of the Elbe and the surrounding mountains is absolutly unique. I was there at 5 ô clock in the morning for sunrise: The fog from the river was drawing the bridge and the rocks, an amazing moment! I also was very suprised of the places around my home town Erfurt in early summer, e.g. the fields, “Drei Gleichen”, etc.

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There must be a lot of planning going into organising such a big task, how long have you been planning the shoot and what sort of things do you need to think about when planning a project like this?

The planning for the Germany video was not so difficult. Like I said, I already knew most places as I’m a German local. The planning part for the Croatia video was much more difficult. I needed about one week to get all the permissions, plan my route, organize flights and a car, etc. But luckily managed to do it!

You already said it, but how long did the project take, start to end? It seems a project like this takes several weeks to get to every location and shoot?

The deadline for the video was very tight. I had only two weeks to plan, shoot and edit this video! 😀 I was ready every day and if the weather prognose was good, I would take my Inspire and drive to my chosen destination.

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Your crew, who was involved? Were you alone, with others? Any support from Emirates/Boeing?

Generally I was alone. That is the amazing thing with the DJI Inspire 1. It’s so light and versitile that most of the work can be done by one operator!  Only in Füssen I had a colleague with me to shoot some BTS shots with me. During the project there was constant contact with the project manager.

Amazing that you did everything by yourself. How did you approach every location? Were permissions taken care of for you? Did you need to location scout any places?

Everything was reachable by car. I live in the middle of Germany with a good infrastructure, so no journey took longer than 4-5 hours by car. I had to manage all permissions myself. In Croatia I met some nice people who helped me with tours / trips (e.g. a boat tour to Kornati island or a Jeep safari in the Velebit mountains). In Germany I did everything on my own.

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Nice! Over to the edit, any particular way you set up your settings for the edit? Did you shoot in D-log or any other settings? Why? What are the benefits?

I shot in LOG because of the flat profile picture. It offers me much more possibilities in the color grading process. I also shot in 4K because of the quality and more scope in post production.

What edit software did you use for the edit? Why this particular one?

I edited and color graded this video in Final Cut X. I really like the workflow (fast preview and nice live performance with 4k footage). Also the color grading opportunties are great, you can work with LUTS and diffent color correction layers.

The images look beautiful, and so vibrant, did you grade the images in post production? Any luts you used?

Yes, I did. I used some LUTS from Neumann Films and graded with the color correction tool in Final Cut X. For some settings I used different layers for the sky / horizont or dark / bright parts in the video.

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For people that would like to make the same type of video in their country or spot, what three tips would you give them?

1. Be flexible: Weather is a very important part – it gives your video a style / tone and create a dramatic or happy feeling. So be flexibile to react to short weather prognoses. Work with the sun / light to create more cinematic pictures.

2. Think about your locations before your shooting. That gives you more routine and safety while you are shooting. There is nothing worse if you have incredible light for a few minutes, but feeling unhappy with your location. A great way to scout your location before actually being there is to use online services like flickr, google maps, google images, etc to get a feel of the location and to find certain spots.

3. Take your time and keep your eyes open: Wait for the right moment. Sometimes a picture becomes better with some movement (guy walking / climbing on a rock) or even without people. Talk to people around you, maybe they can help you.

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Anything else you would like to say about the project or otherwise?

I think that’s all. Thanks for your questions! 😉 People can find me online in the following places:

www.facebook.com/dennisschmelzfilm
www.instagram.com/dennisschmelz
www.dennisschmelz.de
www.dennisschmelz.de/blog
www.vimeo.com/dschmelz
www.youtube.com/dennisschmelz

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Written by Rik Roukens
Rik created his personal blog to help people prevent the mistakes he made in the 5+ years he has been flying. His other passions are Photography & videography. Email him anytime @ rik[at]sesh[.]tv or tweet him at @rroukens