January 4, 2022

Introducing KeyFrame - Making Skydio the best camera drone for dynamic aerial cinematography

Kendall Martin

Skydio KeyFrame

At Skydio, we believe that autonomy software will allow us to redefine the use of drones and to create a new class of smart connected devices that will make the world more productive, creative, and safe. Useful and reliable software skills built on top of the Skydio Autonomy Engine have been the goal since the beginning, and our goal of making the world more creative has never faded from our minds. Today, that dream becomes a reality with the next revolutionary step-change in aerial cinematography: Skydio KeyFrame.

Best autonomous camera drone for follow-me videos

One of the most popular AI skills we are well-known for is Motion Track. Released with Skydio 2, Motion Track allows Skydio drones to lock onto an individual or vehicle and follow them recording smooth cinematic video while autonomously avoiding obstacles along the way. Launching the skill is as simple as a couple of taps on the Skydio App. With Motion Track, athletes, motor sport enthusiasts, solo creators, have been able to create amazing videos once previously possible to professionals with a camera crew. 

Best camera drone for dynamic aerial cinematography

Until today, producing highly dynamic, smooth, single shot videos like this one from a James Bond movie was only possible in Hollywood productions using high-end equipment and large teams of trained professionals. A handful of world class FPV drone pilots with thousands of hours of stick time under their belt are able to use drones to create similarly dynamic shots.

James Bond Spectre BTS

Spectre Behind The Scenes

Thanks to Skydio KeyFrame, our latest autonomous cinematography skill, creating dynamic choreographed shots for your film, vlog or  Instagram posts is now possible. KeyFrame ushers in the next-generation of aerial cinematography, giving pilots of any skill level the tools and confidence to capture mind-bending shots of their own. The democratization of cinematography started with the iPhone, but the democratization of aerial cinematography starts with KeyFrame. For years, Hollywood has paid millions to experts operating jibs, cranes, and helicopters, resulting in shots that are now simple to achieve with a little blue drone starting at $1,099.

Introducing Skydio KeyFrame

KeyFrame makes it possible for anyone to capture continuous choreographed shots with complex, cinematic, and smooth camera motion. The user defines a flight path by setting “key-frames” and our software creates a smooth spline between the points that can be flown repeatedly, with varying degrees of control, speed, and complexity.

Skydio KeyFrame flight path

Our goal when developing KeyFrame was to enable any pilot—no matter their skill level—to capture complex Hollywood-style camera moves that would be impossible any other way. KeyFrame does not replace human creativity or composition, but allows a pilot to unlock incredible shots with just a few taps. KeyFrame is without a doubt the most powerful aerial tool a person can use to bring their creative vision to life.

Skydio Keyframe autonomous cinematography

Drone pilots know how difficult it is to fly long, continuous, smooth, shots with the subject framed perfectly. These shots are challenging because they require minuscule adjustments to flight-speed and camera angle. At first glance, these shots may seem simple, but anxiety sets in once you're in the air and the slightest finger twitch or cramp ruins the shot and requires a full reset.

With KeyFrame, these subtle camera moves, speed adjustments, and obstacle navigation are all fully autonomous. It’s as easy as selecting where you want the shot to start and end—along with any interesting points in between—choosing your flight-speed, then letting Skydio handle the rest. Flying shots like this manually, even with a Skydio drone is nearly impossible, because of the complexity of the movement.

How to KeyFrame

We’ve designed KeyFrame to be intuitive and easy-to-use, even if you’ve never flown a Skydio drone before. If you have flown a Skydio before, KeyFrame will feel familiar to the Cable skill with much more capability.

Skydio KeyFrame UI

Once you’ve selected KeyFrame from the skills menu, tap “ADD” to select your starting (or ending) KeyFrame point. From there, fly to the next KeyFrame you’d like your shot to transition to.

Continue adding as many points as you need to achieve your shot. Skydio will smoothly interpolate the camera position between each point. You likely won’t need a ton of KeyFrames to create an interesting and cinematic shot. We have found our average to be between 5-10 KeyFrames.Once you have defined the path you want Skydio to fly, tap “Done”, then tap “Play” to preview your KeyFrame. Speed can be adjusted using the speed slider, even mid-way through the flight path.

Skydio KeyFrame Flight Path

Tapping the “Pause” button pauses the Sequence playback, allowing you to add additional KeyFrames and/or reverse direction by tapping the reverse playback button (U-turn arrow next to pause button).If you need to make adjustments, you can edit, delete, or add a KeyFrame to your sequence by tapping a KeyFrame point on the sequence at the bottom of the Flight Screen. Your Skydio drone will quickly fly in a straight line to the selected KeyFrame point, once there, you can tap “Edit” or “Add” to make changes.

Skydio 2+ POV KeyFrame Real Estate

“Edit” gives you the option of either re-framing or deleting the selected KeyFrame point. “Add” will allow you to add a new KeyFrame before or after the currently selected point. Tapping the red X at the top right of the Flight Screen will stop your autonomous flight, allowing you to take manual control.

Filming with KeyFrame

The most important thing to keep in mind when crafting a killer KeyFrame shot is the story. Even if the story is as simple as, “The photographer walked to the edge of the river to take a photo.” Having a subject, whether human, vehicle or landscape makes story-telling much easier.

Skydio KeyFrame

If your subject is moving, make sure to carefully plan/time your KeyFrames, or use the “Free Camera” mode to manually control the camera as Skydio flies the flight path. If you’re using the landscape as your subject, start with a foreground, then smoothly transition to the wide reveal. Keep in mind that you don’t need a complex flight path or lots of KeyFrame points. Most Hollywood shots only last a few moments but speak volumes with movement and subject matter.

Skydio KeyFrame James Hustler paddle boarding

Flying complex flight paths and camera movements with precision is what KeyFrame does best. Contrary to GPS-based manual drones flying imprecise waypoint missions, Skydio drones use vision to understand exactly where they are in the world. This foundational technology difference is what sets Skydio apart and puts KeyFrame in a class of its own.

Setting KeyFrames close to/around/through obstacles can create mind-bending shots that would be impossible any other way. Skydio’s six 4k navigation cameras allow it to fly at full speed, backwards, through obstacles, on the custom flight path of your choosing. However, be aware that flying at max speed may throw off the accuracy of the flight path. Also, when creating custom flight paths near obstacles, it’s best to use more KeyFrames to make sure Skydio takes your desired path around obstacles.

Now that you know a bit more about KeyFrame, how it works, and how to get the best shots, it’s time to get out there and start creating! KeyFrame is available now for all Skydio 2 and Skydio 2+ customers, hardware and software updates are available in the app store for Android and iOS. Don’t forget to share your mind-bending KeyFrame shots with us by tagging #Skydio and #SkydioKeyFrame for a chance to be featured by @SkydioHQ.