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Drones/UAVs, Cameras, and Beyond: Douglas Spotted Eagle

COW Library : Drones/UAV : Douglas Spotted Eagle : Drones/UAVs, Cameras, and Beyond: Douglas Spotted Eagle
CreativeCOW presents Drones/UAVs, Cameras, and Beyond: Douglas Spotted Eagle -- Drones/UAV Feature

Drones Plus
Las Vegas, NV All rights reserved.

When longtime Creative COW leader Douglas Spotted Eagle recently approached us with a suggestion to add a Drones/UAV forum to our extensive cinematography and videography communities, it immediately made perfect sense. So allow me to introduce it here: Creative COW's Drones/UAV Forum. It’s currently quite quiet, mostly containing pertinent press releases, but that's a good, and very timely, place to start. As we come into NAB 2016, there’s already a huge number of announcements, with more sure to follow quickly.

Douglas and I hadn’t had a chance to catch up lately, and it was a pleasure to do so. He and I go back to the turn of the century, when our mutual friend and Creative COW co-founder Ronald Lindeboom introduced us. I was the product manager for Boris FX/RED, and Douglas was an award-winning musician -- soon to add a Grammy Award to his list of accolades – taking a unique approach to using a video application to work with his music.

From there, Douglas moved into video editing, and from there, became an early adopter, and advocate, for DV, especially for action videography. There was a lot of training to do as new videographers wanted to raise their production values and master post production, and Douglas became one of the industry’s leaders in that.

His focus increasingly shifted toward camera development and consulting, integrated with increasing engagement as a skydiver, and a trainer not just of skydivers, but of other skydiving instructors. It was only natural to combine his passions as a videographer and a pilot to once again become an early adopter and advocate of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

That’s a lot of ground to cover, but I also realized that there were parts of Douglas’s career I didn’t know much about, including his musical life and his consulting. It made sense to me, then, to combine an introduction to the issues around a new frontier in cinematography in drones and UAVs with helping put in context the career of one the handful of people who can be truly called an industry leader.

~Tim Wilson
Creative COW


Creative COW: What was happening in your music career through the 90s? How were you combining traditional musical roots with emerging technologies?
Douglas Spotted Eagle: Through the 90s, my music was experiencing an exponential rise in popularity. I was the first artist to combine Native American flute with synthesizers and jazz. In 1996, I was named "Debut Jazz Artist of the Year," and was enjoying some major airplay.

The cover for Pray, Douglas Spotted Eagle's first album for Higher Octave Music, 1998. calls it "an enthralling, provocative song cycle that in an aural spiritual journey. Spotted Eagle's music is grounded in Native American music, but he brings togehter a variety of other styles – including new age, folk and jazz – to create an utterly original sound he terms 'modern ethnic.' Pray is one of the very best examples of this style."

I'd also been given the opportunity to record with, produce, and compose with artists like Michael Manring, Jim Brickman, Steven Seagal, Robbie Robertson, Johnny Depp, and Val Kilmer to name but a few.

This led to composing and recording film scores for some high-profile projects. Eventually, I started speaking at conferences on how my career path had blossomed. This led me to Ron & Kathlyn Lindeboom and Creative COW COW.

When I first started working with the COW, I was deeply involved with Ric Burns projects – including The Vernon Johns Story  (1994), The Way West (1995) and Hawaii’s Last Queen (1997) – and had just begun experiencing the shift from Steenbecks to Avid.

At the time, we were using ProTools for audio recording, and I was mastering on the PC with Turtle Beach 56K. I also started working with Sonic Foundry's "Sound Forge" and was invited to be part of the consulting team for an application called "Stream Anywhere."  Eventually, "Stream Anywhere" became "Vegas."

About that same time, I won a Grammy after some previous nominations. The Grammy-winning recording was recorded with Sonic Foundry Vegas, and mastered in Sonic Foundry Sound Forge. This created some major buzz in the industry, as a video-editing application had been used to record a Grammy winning recording.

In that same year, I'd also recorded the Three Tenors directly to a laptop using an Echo Layla.

Bear in mind, this was in the early 2000s, so recording to a laptop was still unheard of. Both were fairly high-profile in the industry.


What made you start using video? And what made you gravitate toward Sonic Foundry (Sony) Vegas?
Working with the Burns’s, ProTools, and Avid, I realized that video is a natural extension of the audio creative process. Because I was already using Sonic Foundry tools and SF was heading towards video, it was a natural, organic relationship.

Soon, I was speaking at small conferences such as DV Expo, WEVA, etc, which grew into NAB. I'd met several camera operators and found myself immersed in the industry. Cameras became my new "microphone." This led me to diving deeper and deeper into video, and eventually developing relationships with camera manufacturers like Sony, Canon, and JVC.

Not too long after Sony acquired Sonic Foundry in 2005, I began an even deeper relationship with the Sony Professional group. Because I'd already been training for Sonic Foundry on their Vegas platform, and I'd been a selected spokesperson for the HDV groups (Sony, JVC), it was a simple thing to begin teaching people about the new formats, compressions, etc. that needed to be understood for best editing experiences in various applications.

Out of this process grew my relationship with even more user groups, and my adoption of Adobe Premiere alongside Vegas as my editing platform of choice. This relationship generated more than 600 training DVDs and 1000 online tutorials for various NLEs, cameras, and technology explainers such as AVC, HDV, etc.

I've also now written more than 25 books ranging from Sony Vegas to Adobe Encore, to HD and 4K technologies. "The Full HD" has been a best-seller in the broadcast world.

My education and background in Marketing and media arts have contributed heavily to these relationships, as not only am I a user, but also have had a knack for developing marketing campaigns, strategy, and in today’s world, content development that contains metadata useful for re-marketing, targeting, and optimized campaign direction.

Automated marketing is a big component in the next few years, with video being an even larger component. Automated marketing with meta-tagged video is going to be massive on mobile and desktop. Years ago VASST and I preached the message of "convergence" and it happened, right about when we thought it would. My next prediction relates to targeted marketing, meta-video, and mobile owning the world by the end of 2017, and I'm excited to be part of making that happen.


When did you get into skydiving?
After NAB 2005, work took me to Wailua, Hawaii. The work was on the beach, directly under the point where local skydivers were opening their parachutes. You could hear the crack as the parachutes deployed. Having been a paraglider pilot in the early days (broken ankles to prove it) and a sport pilot, of course I'd always wanted to try skydiving.

With Skydive Hawaii just a few hundred yards away, I decided to take my first jump then and there, and did four more that same day.

This is my standard camera rig for most things – shooting a Canon 7D and sometimes a Sony 110 or Sony FDR AX33

On my first jump, I happened to have had one of the prototype Sony A1 cameras, and I offered it up to the cameraman who was jumping with me, so he could shoot my first skydive. He was pretty excited to be the first in the world to jump an HDV camera. That first jump was one of now more than 6000 jumps, on most of which I've worn a camera. Cameras in those days were fairly large; the A1 was the first "jumpable" camera that offered HD. GoPro and the like were still a few years away.

Eventually, my skydiving-with-camera career caught the attentions of a few POV companies just coming out with their first small cameras, and I was asked to consult, review, or generally comment upon the various offerings.

Shooting 3D with the Panasonic 3D system, used for an entertainment park projection. I'm not certain, but I believe this is the first (and perhaps only) true 3D shoot done in the skydiving world.

In 2011, a few similar requests turned into a shootout article for the skydiving community. By 2012, it was clear that more than just skydivers were interested in these small POV cameras.

Thus was born the NAB POV Shootout sessions, where I found myself on roundtables speaking on behalf of Sony, Replay, Drift Innovation, and other POV cameras.

This is from the 2014 shoot as featured in the CreativeCOW library, The Ultimate POV Shootout. It's now been meme'd over 100 times and counting!​

Of course, the organic flow of flying cameras on a helmet during a skydive nicely led me to UAV/drones, where flying, small cameras, and cinematography converged. At NAB 2013, VASST produced an aerial camera workshop, the first of its kind, which was hugely successful.

This was one of the most fun events ever, testing and setting up a marketing theme for Audio Technica. I recorded the woman's screams during a skydive. The deadcat was superflous, but was fun, and looked great in the photos. Yes momma, sound really can be recorded at 120mph!


My background in training, aviation, skydiving, and wingsuiting have led me to a point where I find myself frequently lecturing on UAV flight instruction, aerial cinematography, and safety in general. Holding ratings from FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the World Airsports Federation) is unique, and I would be surprised if any of the other drone operators have this sort of a background.

I also hold an Instructor/Examiner rating from USPA, a PRO rating from USPA/FAA, and a wingsuit instructor. All of these ratings require testing and knowledge/application of the FAA Federal Aviation Regulations  (FARs), and the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), something few drone owners/operators know much about. My own experience and knowledge of them is why I've been invited to lecture and train on UAV.

I'm nearly finished with a book on UAV, and enjoy working with these aerial wonders that will define our future.

Here are a few of my UAVs. I have more, but this one nicely shows my range, from nanos to standards to heavy lifters.


What advice do you have for people just getting started with drone photography and videography?
Frequently, new users of drones/UAV will simply purchase an airframe, open the box, charge the battery, and instantly be out flying. We call these units "RTF" or "Ready to Fly."

The upside is that with GPS and a modicum of intelligence, most anyone can fly. The downside is the with GPS and lacking thought, most any idiot can crash the frame into a building, car, or worse, another person.

Early devices were known for flyaways, too, and this has led the FAA to panicking and passing regulations before they'd adequately discussed and discovered the potential problems and related solutions. Fortunately, we’re seeing the potential for the FAA easing up on a few of the panick-inspired regulations that were too-quickly and thoughtlessly imposed on drone operators.

New pilots should learn to crawl before they walk, and walk for a while before running. In other words, seek training from a qualified trainer, not just the schmuck who lives down the street that flies a lot.

Knowing how to avoid situations, understanding all aspects of flight, learning regulations, understanding logging flights/logbooks, these are all important, if not critical aspects of flying a UAV/drone.

In the courses I teach both in Canada and in the USA, we start with several launches and landings. We examine potential issues at both points before moving on to flight. Most accidents happen during high-adrenaline moments, and launching and landings can be quite exciting in some circumstances. Other issues include learning how/where the camera POV might be in relationship to obstacles.

From there, we move to flight controls both in relative and non-relative positions, and I have developed some specific training methods that are quite similar to IFR (instrument flight) training in aircraft.

Additionally, I suggest that UAV/drone operators familiarize themselves with the FARs, specifically Part 91.  Soon, UAV will have their own set of regulations under Part 107.

(The FAA has posted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here.)


Where do you see the drone/UAV industry evolving from here?
Currently the industry is topsy-turvy with manufacturers, users, and government scrambling to find solutions whether they're the correct solutions or not. Moreover, we're seeing states and communities pass laws regulating UAV, where in fact, they are breaking federal law in doing so.

It is also in this light that I frequently find myself answering questions and presenting at conferences.

UAV/Drones are a significant part of our future, for security, law enforcement, agriculture, surveying, film, photography, delivery, wildlife management, inspections, etc. This not only supports development of technology in general – it supports an entirely new industry. Needed are drone “mechanics/technicians,” developers, trainers/flight schools, operators, lawyers, controllers, resellers, lobbyists, and so much more.

This is the most exciting advancement since the invention of the microchip, or the motorized vehicle, take your pick.

I'm very excited for the future in our industry. We're seeing a convergence of video, mobile, digital democracy, non-spam/targeted marketing, and intelligent use of big data. Coupled with UAV, skydiving, small cameras, I'm very excited for wherever I next land.


Sidebar: Dreams Die Easy, Hope Dies Hard

Expect failure.

I do.

At least 80% of my endeavors have ended in failure. I’m OK with that, because it gives me information on how to succeed ‘next time.’ Failure is failure, regardless of all the platitudes about how great failure is.

Failure is failure. But it doesn’t have to mean the dream died, it merely means you know what to avoid in the next attempt to live the dream, to beat the dream from your mind so it’s gone. Kinda like how I’m beating this particular dead horse.

We can call be so much more than we are if we want to be. Some folks are happy with themselves as they are. Me, I’m always searching for that ‘better tomorrow’ and usually in the process, not only am I a better person, but I’m more experienced.

For me, it’s all part of chasing the dream. And once in a while…I catch the dream, tie it up, thoroughly beat the hell out of it, and smile for a while. Until the next dream sails past.

Fly in beauty.

Douglas Spotted Eagle

Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy winning productions. Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters.

He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others. Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

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