The new DJI Inspire 3 can work like a hovering dolly with repeatable waypoints and 1 cm accuracy.
The cover story of FDTimes April 2023 Issue 120 is the new DJI Inspire 3. Read all about it — pages 4-10 in the free online PDF.
That’s Claudio Miranda, ASC out of focus on the cover. He shot a 2 1/2 minute launch film for the new Inspire 3. It is a spirited sand-and-sandals epic chase through an ancient Roman marketplace.
EXT. Imperium Romanum Market – DAY.
Wide crane shot moves into CU of a pickpocket snatching the purse from a vintage vegetable vendor. Wait, wait—this cannot be a crane shot because the camera keeps moving along a narrow alleyway. Centurions pursue pickpocket, jumping over carts, skirting columns and obstacles, under beams, through a torch-lit interior, culminating in a fun anachronism of an ending as the camera soars from extremely close to very, very wide.
Claudio Miranda, ASC (Top Gun: Maverick, Life of Pi, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) discusses his latest adventure with the new DJI Inspire 3:
Jon: How did this excellent DJI Launch Film begin for you?
Claudio: DJI asked me to do this launch film with the new Inspire 3, so I just hopped on over and did that shoot for a couple days.
It looks like you were at the Cinecittà backlot in Rome.
We were at the Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria. They had very cool Roman sets and streets already built and we just used them. DJI had the art department prop it and dress the sets.
Yehonatan Richter-Levin was the director. We had what seemed like a million cameras running: our Inspire 3 doing the launch film, BTS cameras, DJI Ronin 4Ds, flying sequences, product shots. I was happy to be shooting.
And the Inspire 3 pilot?
The pilot was Ferdinand Wolf. He’s the creative director of DJI Europe and flies lots of their stuff. He was the guy I mainly dealt with. We blocked the shots together. I found some other interesting locations and we made it work. I mean, that drone is really pretty amazing. It’s a massive step up from everything that came before.
In what way?
They really got it together with the Inspire 3. You know how l like to work with wheels? That is the way I normally operate most cranes and dollies. It was great to operate the Inspire 3 with the DJI Master Wheels. Some of those moves that you see on the video wouldn’t have been possible with a joystick. You can be really precise with wheels that a joystick wouldn’t give you. By the way, the DJI Master Wheels work in a similar seamless way with the Ronin 4D.
How did your assistant pull focus?
DJI has a nicely integrated wireless focus system that we used. Our camera assistant was pulling focus as she would with a normal film-like wireless device, not an actual Preston FIZ, but it is a sophisticated system. The hand unit feels like what assistants are normally used to. You have focus and iris controls and now it’s just like a professional film set with the Inspire Control Unit. It looks the same as the one for the Ronin 4D.
How did you navigate over, under, around and through the obstacle course that was your ancient Roman backlot set?
DJI also has a very cool navigation system with an RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) base station that you set up on a tripod on the ground and it gives you centimeter accuracy. For example, we programmed a 13 waypoint move and then flew between all of them in an incredibly precise, continuous shot, wrapping around someone, taking off and then landing in an impossible position, inches away from things. And it was so accurate. The pilot can use the throttle and concentrate on how fast it should go between all those points.
We were flying the Inspire 3 with the RTK through places that were much narrower than we ever thought were possible and around obstacles that were previously impossible. It gives the pilot much more confidence than ever before. We were able to fly paths with precision—past trees that were right next to us, in buildings, through pillars, and into tight spaces with narrow passageways and overhangs. Those precise waypoints let you do shots that you could never have done before, that had been just impossible.
We haven’t had that accuracy before. Another thing that’s great is how the Inspire 3 now stays perfectly level. You’re not fighting it to keep a level pan. It is much more stable.
What about monitoring and video transmission?
Other things are more stable—for example, video transmission. There’s no delay, so now you are able to focus like never before because it’s real-time and much more responsive. What’s different for me from Inspire 2 to 3 is how the image quality is so much better. Now I can just totally look at the image in a more confident way than I ever have before.
The image quality is massively improved on the new transmission system. We can see higher quality images on the screens. And because there’s much less latency, it’s easier to operate the wheels. Everything is much improved. It’s easier for focus. The new HD video transmission system is much clearer, with more definition and a higher bit depth.
It gave us such a good live view, with no delay, that shots aren’t missed anymore. It’s just makes my life so much easier. Oh, and the control system is much better as well.
Your live video feed for viewing and operating was HD. But did your camera record 6K or 8K?
We used the Inspire 3’s new 8K camera. It is pretty amazing. It has dual ISO. You might think it’s the same camera as the Ronin 4D, but this is a different and lighter version. The Ronin 4D has a different task. To save weight, the Inspire 3 camera doesn’t have internal NDs like the Ronin 4D. Also, on the Ronin 4D, you can attach a DJI DL Mount, E-mount or L-Mount.
But the Inspire 3, as far as I could tell, only has a DJI DL lens mount. That was because they made a concerted effort of having it light and nimble. We used the DJI lenses, including the new 18mm Full Frame prime. It is an excellent lens.
There are no gears on the DJI lenses. When your assistant is pulling focus, it’s being done electronically, internally?
Is that in our future?
It’s nice to have it all built in. But I don’t know like how “finessey” it can handle really intricate shots. Sometimes those internal electronics can get finicky. They make the DJI lenses light-weight because the lighter they are, the more air-time you get and the more maneuverable it can be. So, the lenses are F2.8. If they were faster, they would be bigger and heavier. They don’t have gears or external motors and you cannot use different lens mounts as you can with the Ronin 4D.
What did you record to?
It’s the same media as the Ronin 4D, which is so smart because you don’t need an adapter to download the data. It’s an SSD that you just connect with a USB-C cable. I thought that was super clever.
You’ve been heavily involved with aerials. How did that begin?
I remember we were doing Only The Brave about the Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters, and I wanted to fly the drones myself because it was a smaller movie. So Dan Ming, my regular assistant, and I got our pilot’s licenses, which got us our drone licenses. So we were certified and FAA approved. Dan and I were the pilots for all of the aerials in Only The Brave.
We were having problems with some drones and DJI came on their own and really helped us out with their whole team. They donated all their drones and were really amazing. So, I felt like I owed DJI a favor and helped them with suggestions, R&D and discussions about future wish-lists. We talked a lot, about the 4D as well, and they allowed early access to new products and heard my opinions about things.
It sounds like the Inspire 3 opens the arena for new ways of performing interesting camera moves.
We had a massive shooting schedule in a very short amount of time in Bulgaria. We were in winter months and only had 8 hours of daylight shooting. What we accomplished in that time was incredible. We pushed things beyond all limits. We were doing shots where I had to back pan and spin around someone and it was completely in frame for the entire time.
It’s funny, we started a day with just three waypoints. I thought, we were just going to do a simple thing and cover a portion of the scene. And then we just found ourselves adding more and more waypoints until we wound up with 13. We ended up with a push in, then a wrap around, chased the actor, and then did a full 360-degree move. We were doing some crazy stuff.
We flew up over some beams while the talent was down below. As we came back down, an operator with a protective helmet caught the drone and dragged it through a tavern. We were doing iris pulls and focus pulls and they were rock solid. All the while, I was whipping around with the wheels, left and right, up and down, nailing frames and whipping back. It was almost a three minute shot.
I thought with all the craziness we were at least going to break three drones. And we actually didn’t break anything. After seeing what the Inspire 3 could do, I have great confidence that I can show, to any of the directors I’m working with, new possibilities of new shots that we haven’t been able to do before.
Claudio Miranda, ASC and DJI Inspire 3