Canada – The True North (Making Of)
Important : Canada’s ‘National Parks’ are a Drone free Zone. All Drones are banned with exemptions. For special permission contact ‘Parks Canada‘. Read the new Canadian Drone Laws here : Canada Drone Laws June 2019
Drone Testing USA
Go on insane hikes in Canada and Drone the heck out of the places, with the aim to create one insane cinematic drone montage. I really didn’t know too much about Canada having never been there before..but always had a strong calling from there almost magnetic like! My brother tipped me about the Rockies as he had been there around 2006. I kind’ve knew I would end up there though already. I knew of a place called BC. But was stoked to find out it was called ‘British Columbia’ sounded like a home from home! Also I knew of a few people I met travelling in 2012 that were from there and Vancouver area. I reckoned seeing as I was going to L.A it would be a good thing to drive the HWY1 all the way to Seattle at least, then train it to VanCity (Vancouver). At this point all I knew about Canada was Toronto, Vancouver, a place called Whistler where half of Australia migrates to and the Rocky Mountains. That French part out East.. Oh and the Yukon because of the Gold programme on Discovery.
The Phantom 3 Drone Purchase.
Pretty hard to create an epic drone short film if there’s no drone right? I already knew I wanted one for New Zealand which is where I had been living for a year, but was leaving the country when the DJI Phantom 3 was announced, this drone was ideal for my hiking shots as it’s light and wouldn’t hinder me as much on the mountain ascents. I put an order through Dronefly in L.A. as I knew I would be there in a couple of weeks after the Cook Islands so could drive there and pick it up. Not only that, it’s way cheaper to buy in the States even after currency conversion fees.
So I got into L.A – My 3rd time there, I was staying in Santa Monica and met up with my good friend David who I met in a hostel in Bogota – Colombia (South America) the previous year. David kindly offered to drive to DroneFly where I picked up the Drone but had to wait for the extra battery. They also had no drone backpacks left..snag! So I had to think about where else to purchase one. In the meantime I got to grips with the drone by flying it around the LA Beaches in Santa Monica, Malibu and down at Newport and Laguna Beach. Big thanks to David for all the mad LA Driving it was such a great week just cruising around and flying the drone.
After the 4th of July Yosemite trip (No drone filming as it’s a National Park). Myself and good travel buddies Matt and David went back to San Fran for a week. David was looking for a job, I was looking for a new Macbook Pro for editing and Matt had work! Matt kindly let me stay at his abode in West Oakland for the week so my drone backpack from GPC could be sent to his address. David also had to return to LA but managed to bring my missing drone battery to San Fran with him, again a huge thanks! I flew the drone a couple of times in and around the legal fly zones of San Francisco, it was important to get as many flights as possible so I had a vague idea of how to fly in Canada.
I decided to do a solo drive from San Fran up-to Seattle using The Pacific coast Highway, this is a great scenic road that runs through the states of California, Oregon and Washington. Oregon and Washington are above California, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that have never heard of or don’t realise their actual location. I swear most people outside of the USA think California just stretches the whole way up-to Canada. Anyway those picturesque states provided a perfect setting for me to play with the drone and learn the controls. I just slept in the hire car the whole time, if I needed a wash I could easily find public wash rooms or failing that the sea! It was only for 6 days anyway. You can find hidden lay-bys on roads if your clever or use google street view. The best one I found was in Oregon, it was a cut into a hillside covered in Pines with a view right over the Ocean, you could see the milky way bright in all it’s glory, a memorable night for sure!
Arriving in Seattle I caught up with old travel friends I met in the Philippines and also managed to get in a few last flights before catching the train for Vancouver, Canada. Thanks to Allie and her Gran for chauffeuring me around a bit! I had luckily met them in Canon beach Oregon, great people!
From Seattle I took the train to Vancouver which only took around 2 hours, even had plenty of leg-room in the cattle class – a most welcome sight for the lanky amongst us!
I had a vague plan for Vancouver and ended up staying a week so I could get stuff delivered to the hostel. Most importantly the ND filters for the drone which at this stage were much needed! They arrived quickly within a day from California. I managed to get in a few flights around Vancouver and Victoria Island, ok footage but not suitable for the main short. I visioned using only landscapes, cities are cool but that’s not what Canada is about, you can find a city anywhere in the world, insane landscapes, well those are harder to come by.
Hiring a car was paramount for this trip, I could stop and drive anywhere I wanted to. I found a good deal with unlimited miles, I would drop the car off in Edmonton which is all the way over in Alberta. From there I would fly to Toronto before leaving the country. I decided to double the car up as a place to sleep too. I think during the 9 weeks hire I only had 2 nights at 2 different campsites and a week at a mate’s house in Calgary. No motels, hostels or hotels, all way too expensive what is the point. If you need a shower or wash you are never too far from a lake or laundromat which many are equipped with showers. A lot of motels out in the sticks cost upwards of $70 per night so you do the math. Besides the car was actually quite comfy as it allowed you to lie the passenger seat down flat. As for where to sleep, there are rest stops on highways that you can use. In the more remote parts there are always hidden lay-bys. Even in National parks I would sleep at the places of interest as an avid Night Sky photographer it’s a perfect excuse should any ranger had questioned my authenticity, don’t believe me? Check the boot of the car. Lord Nikon’s hidden stash!
I Hit the road beginning of August, it would’ve been nice to start in July but the States was too much fun. Plus it meant i could get some coverage of season changing into Autumn. I wanted to get some nice sunset shots from Mt.Cheam but found out the you needed a 4×4 to meet the trailhead otherwise it’s another 20km hike in. I was basically using Instagram and Google to find all these locations, the relevant tourist boards loved regramming top photos, so I saved the must do ones and also had a vague idea of what I wanted to shoot in the Yukon from heavy Google research. I won’t go into every day by day detail as that would take forever so I will just talk about the shots in the film. What I will say is though during August there was a huge forest fire in Washington State USA and the winds sent the smog up as far as Jasper in Alberta. Basically there was a blackout for over a week so I went to a mate’s house in Calgary until it blowed over. Massive thanks to Mark who I had met in Oz 2 years prior, always good to keep in contact with fellow travellers.
Electricity on the road.
How did I charge my camera and drone equipment on the move if I didn’t use any hotels etc? I was an avid Starbucks user just for this trip as their internet was generally good and free, it was also convenient for me to charge my devices. I would update my travels via instagram @mananddrone. However Starbucks and Tim Hortons (The Canadian Version) are extremely rare the further into the wild you go so I managed to buy a power inverter in Banff. It only allowed for 1 device charging at a time, but it was full sine wave, which is very important for expensive devices. Review and more info on that coming to Youtube! As for the drone batteries.. I had two but picked up another one in Canada, 3 would give me enough time usually for one location any more would be just too much weight to carrying hiking especially with water and food.
I usually prefer to shoot a load of footage and then cut it to a fine piece of music. I knew I was going to use the Musicbed to license a track, but the question was which artist? So many good artists it was a hard task to choose from. I had a few on shortlist from previous months. I spent a whole day listening to all their tracks and managed to wittle it down to “Pioneer – by Ryan Taubert” all of Ryan’s music was excellent and ‘Pioneer’ had the right length and feel for what I wanted. I liked the way it slowly built up then dropped, i had a good vision for what to put there.
The Film Scene by Scene
The Film Title.
“Canada – The True North”. For me it was about the lyrics of the Canadian national anthem and the sense of freedom I got when out in the wild, it sounded so fitting. I especially like the “Strong & Free” line too.
Cinema Style Logo Intro.
Logo designed in Adobe Illustrator and brought to life with animation in After-Effects. I thought the snow / blizzard dissolve look would be fairly apt seeing as Canada gets cold for the majority of the year and the opening scene was Lake Moraine which had just snowed the day before and was freezing! I would’ve liked more time to add smoke effects to give it that polished look but it’s passible enough in my opinion. After-Effects really isn’t my forte and for a first attempt not bad I thought.
Lake Moraine, Banff National Park, Alberta.
Easy to get to from Banff. I also slept there one night and had a bear sniffing around my car at night! Scary, but they are also scared of us so it eventually left when it heard me. No idea if it was black or grizzly, too dark to tell. So Lake Moraine, it’s probably one of the most famous Canadian sights so was kind’ve a no brainer to open with it. Nice low light conditions in the morning the footage was a little dark but brightened up enough in Premiere using ProcAMP and Curves.
Lake Chilliwack Provincial Park, British Columbia.
I saw this place on Google maps so decided to drive there on a whim, I arrived for BC Day which was a national holiday, the weather was glorious. The following morning was foggy which made for ideal filming conditions. I loved the natural tones of this rising tree canopy shot, very atmospheric. So it had to be used barring in mind I had to find suitable clips in transition with the music length.
Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta.
This was a glorious morning after a night of shooting Star Time-lapses. I was driving by this spot and only at the last minute I decided to drone this lake. I find it’s always the stuff I stumble upon turns out better for me without any planning, most bizarre! Anyway I used this shot in the YouTube version, the Vimeo version has a different scene from Jasper area. This is because after watching the Youtube version many times I can see the movement is slow and not the same speed from points A-B this is because it was cold and my fingers were almost numb. Also the software hadn’t allowed for programmed flight paths yet. Regardless it’s still a nice clip.
Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta.
The Kayakers: Still on Patricia Lake if you have watched the YouTube version. A lovely shot of 2 Kayakers who were also up early for the morning adventures. I had to include this as the mountain backdrops looked great! Here it jumps a little in transition but I feel enough is going on for it not too be too much of an issue. As stated the Vimeo version has a different previous scene which kind’ve fixes the jumpy transition issue.
Whistler Mountain, Jasper National Park, Alberta.
Yes Whistler Mountain, not to be confused with the famous ski resort “Whistler” in BC. This mountain is a reasonable slog up especially when it’s been snowing. Thankfully there is a cable car which you can take back down or vice versa, (At high cost $$). Apparently it hadn’t snowed for over two months during the Summer, the mountains were the barest they’ve been for a while, so you could imagine my excitement when snow arrived during the week I was there. No snow shots in Canada would just be weird. Go Rockies!
Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta.
Patricia Lake again! I must like this place? Truth be told this footage just turned out great and would be perfect for the intro before the music dropped and went up a notch. I love the green colour of this, and the way it spins kind’ve in time with the music. I can’t remember if my hands were so cold that it was an accident the drone spun or that it was deliberate but I had no real control of the controls as my hands were numb. Either way I was happy with the results.
Lions Binkert Trail, British Columbia.
15km 1500m Ascent 1500m descent. Boom! Did you like that reveal? I’m all about the reveals and surprising people what better way to do this than near the summit of one of the highest west coast trails. I’ve become somewhat of a fly-away master since doing these shots. It’s a fine craft between weather, lighting and locations. This day was a glorious 30 degrees C, thankfully I left early to avoid most of the heat on the ascent, but when I broke the treeline it became very hot and there was some good scrambles in places. I only had 3 litres of water which I ran out of on the descent. I had a water filter but there were warning signs of Gardia so I didn’t want to risk that.
The Fly-Away was ramped up to get more of the scene in in the small time window. ProcAMP and RGB Curves added. The horizon was blown out even though ND 8 and 16 filters were used, it was an exceptionally bright day.
Lions Binkert Trail, British Columbia.
The climbers, this kid was insane, he flew up this “Lion”. Bare in mind you make a false move and you are probably falling to your death, it is a good scramble. I had a bad ankle and knees so knew I wasn’t going to attempt it without ropes. So I decided to film these kids instead. No pressure guys! They didn’t even realise I was filming and thought a swarm of bees was after them at one point before Arik spotted the drone! They were hundreds of metres away and I could hear their voices from the ridge was pretty funny. Also most importantly all the drone flying here had huge interference with something so my video feed kept cutting or freezing. So nearly all of the shooting was done blind with just eyes on the drone. The outcome was pretty good as you can see, some of the hardest flying yet. I didn’t know if I was going to crash into the Lions head or not. Sometimes I had to hit the return to home button as I lost sight of the drone. If you look carefully you can spot a chopper in the distance, I was always extra vigilant about not flying anywhere near them.
Lions Binkert Trail, British Columbia.
The Summit. An amazing effort from the boys. This shot was completely blind and I just got enough time on it before turning away. If you look far enough you can see all the way to BlackComb, Whistler. As the music gets more lively I felt it important to start using the insanity shots. The scene was stabilised in Premiere using a 105% crop. Basic colour correction in RGB Curves.
Golden Ears Provincial Park, British Columbia.
20Km 1 day Hike. This was a long hike with some scrambles as it was raining a fair bit. The scene you see is about 100m from the Panoramic Ridge, this was the last opportunity to film before the heavens opened. You can see how stormy it looks. I like this shot as from an outside perspective it’s kind’ve how you would imagine Canada, vast amounts of trees with mountains. I headed back just after this flight as I wanted to make the car park before dark. Luckily I had my headlamp as I didn’t get back until 8pm. A hard, wet hike.
Squamish. The Chief 1. British Columbia.
The weather was being good to me I had heard of this place via Google and realised it was just before Whistler BC. I arrived just 1 day after the world record free slack-line. Anyway the hike up Chief 1 is a nice hike depending on how you pace yourself. The views of course fantastic so I had to include a fly-away here. I felt a montage of around 5 or so fly-aways, would suit the music track best. There was a paraglider on the chief who I was going to film but the conditions weren’t right so she couldn’t jump otherwise I would’ve probably used that footage, shame, maybe next time.
Horseshoe Lake, Jasper, Alberta.
Another one of those unplanned places. I just caught a glimpse of the lake from the road on the way to Athabasca falls. The lake turned out to be one of the most dramatic and best colours I shot with the drone. At this point DJI had updated the software and POI modes were now available. The Vimeo version shows this in Scene 3. None on the YouTube version.
Whistler Mountain, Jasper, Alberta.
As stated before the mountains had been bare for 2 months over peak Summer until it snowed this day. The snow only lasted 3 days and much had melted during the first day. The temperature was around 1 degree C maybe lower for the drone as it flew up-to 300m above the summit. The snow you see in this film is not real. I added the effect in post with After-Effects. I wanted to add it as it provides that extra bit of raw environment. Please don’t try and fly your drones in real snow showers, they will inevitably break! I was a little worried about doing a fly away here as I guess it would be around -5c for the drone at altitude but thankfully no problems. The was a fair amount of wind so I had to stabilise in post, it took ages to find the right balance, the end result is not too shabby, even if I do say so myself.
The Non-Drone Shots – Timelapses.
I do all my stills through a Nikon D5300 it’s really one of the best crop sensor SLRs out for the price especially as it has a built in intervalometer. Anyway I knew weeks before my trip I wanted to try and get great timelapses of milky-ways or northern lights. The lenses I had weren’t the best. a 3.5 at 18mm or a 1.8 at 50mm fixed. The 18-200 was the obvious choice as it was the wider of the two. At 3.5 it’s still open enough at 30 seconds to capture good enough light and the post editing would pop-out any highlights easily. Ideally I would have either a D810 or d750 with the 14-24mm 2.8, something for the future. What I used here is the best I managed to capture, I could’ve got way better but some nights I literally just preferred to sit back in the car and watch the light shows without a care. A great clear night at Pyramid lake also proved to be out of focus, so that was a shame. All time-lapses were shot in RAW and rendered out in After-Effects. I also used After-effects to mimic dolly movement, simple keyframes and scaling.
The first time-lapse is at Peyto Lake car park early in the morning, the 2nd is at Old Fort Point in Jasper which is a nightmare because cars are always coming and going! So much for the dark reserve! Anyway the 3rd is back at Peyto a very cold 2 hours at 2000 something metres at 2am, this really pushed the camera to it’s limits. I really needed that full framer and 2.8 lens here. The last one is in Carcross Yukon, that was a good hike and the tripod actually blew over! Luckily no damage to the camera but the lens hood a little cracked. Loved the colours there!
Edith Cavil Glacier, Jasper National Park, Alberta.
The next two scenes are at Edith Cavil Glacier. So The top of the glacier is actually 500m above the viewing point. I sent the drone 500m up at it’s limit and flew around. I wanted to fly over the top of the glacier but on the feed it looked like the drone would hit the ice, so I didn’t risk it. The lighting wasn’t the best but I had to include this place as it was definitely epic scale. I liked how the sun just peeps through over the mountain in the 2nd shot.
Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park, Alberta.
The next two scenes are at Takakkaw Falls, Canada’s 3rd highest at 380m. The highest is around 700m! Wish I had more time to visit that one. Lighting wasn’t the best here it was overcast but I had to include the closeup as it looked fairly good regardless. Plus it’s something different.. Canada has many glaciers and most of the world’s water reserve so would be rude not to include something like this.
Alaska HWY, Northern BC.
This is a great road from Dawson Creek BC to Alkan Border Alaska. I drove nearly it’s entirety. When you get to northern BC it’s just endless hills and trees, as it was fall the colours were great! This was also a nice sunrise. At this point I didn’t really have many sunrise or sunset shots, the best sunsets are on the west coast trail.
Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park, Yukon.
I always wanted to visit the Yukon and glad I made it, the fall colours come earlier in Yukon than your lower BC or Alberta. Unfortunately all I could film in the Yukon was this day before the Drone decided to die on me. It fell from the sky, the compass had been playing up. DJI fixed it for me FOC. It’s a shame as I had an insane vision I wanted to capture. Next time for sure in Combination with an Alaska trip no doubt!
Harrison Lake “the Grind” Lookout.
I found this place by luck as I was using google maps. It was a good hike hampered by the Summer heat, if you look carefully in the distance you can see the smoke of a forest-fire. I really like the blue of this lake. People often get in trouble attempting to swim here because of the coldness of the water so if you ever visit take care.
End Credits, Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park, Yukon.
Again the last good shot before the drone died. I actually hiked the 2nd mountain in the following day, I’m glad it was too windy to have flown which was the original plan also it was too icy to summit without crampons. Stabilisation was added to the clip as it was fairly windy.
Outro – Mount Robson Rafting, BC.
Mt Robson is the highest peak in the Rockies at nearly 4000m. I was here camping for 2 nights with Kirstin (who I met in Thailand 3 years prior) and her friends. We did the rafting the day before this shot. Fun times! We had the best tour guide too that makes the experience even better. I wanted to include it and leave a slight cliff-hanger as Canada really is about the adventure. It’s all out there you’ve just gotta get it! Big thanks to Kirstin it was a great weekend!
A week Coffee Shop hoping in Montreal. Literally head down and do nothing else. The Rendering was painful, for the YouTube version at 65-Mbit H.264 VBR Pass 2 (even though YouTube compress it more). To render out less than 4 minutes on the most powerful MBP 15” Took over 6 hours. A long wait! Furthermore I had to do it 3 times because of some errors. The 4k Time-lapses took between 30-60minutes each for a couple of seconds worth, again a long wait for a couple of seconds of footage! My Macbook Air 2012 was nearly as quick for stitching time-lapses, Apple and Adobe really need to get their acts together. I have to make do with a laptop as I travel so much, otherwise I would use a Custom PC. It’s an unfortunate situation. US$2700 on a laptop and $50 per month for the software and it barely renders 4k 2 pass at 65-Mbit.. Please bare this in mind if your looking to do something similar. My best advice if editing on a MAC use Final Cut Pro as the render times are way quicker. For PC definitely use Adobe Premiere Pro and make sure you have a good Multi-Core CPU and a decent nVidia GFX card and at least 16GB of Ram.
Canada Trip Costs in $US Dollars (Rough figures)
Drone, extra batteries, ND filters, Backpack, Power Inverter. $1900
Macbook Pro 15” Mid 2015 for editing. (Necessary for 4k editing). $2750
Hire Car 6 Weeks. Even though I had it for 9, the drone died on me at week 6. $1500
Fuel Bills 15,000KM. $650 USD
General Food & Water, Starbucks. 6 Weeks average. $900 USD
Outdoor Gear: Hammock, Bear Spray, Bear Bag, Energy Bars, Water Filter, Freeze Dry food, Assorted Merino and other clothes, Sleeping Bag, Cooking Stove, Gas bottles, Headlamp, thermals, Under-Armour, gloves, fleece. $1000 USD
Canada National Park Pass. $50 USD
Total 6 week trip no filming equipment: $4100 USD
Total with necessary Macbook for editing 4k and Drone equipment $8750 USD. Note that the Macbook and Drone will pay for themselves over time.
Costs not included (owned before trip):
Adobe CC Software Subscription, Adobe After-effects & Premiere plugins, Nikon DSLR & Lenses, Tripod, Mobile Internet for Canada, Gortex jacket, Climbing Equipment & Hiking Shoes. Other various outdoor gear. Estimate $3000 USD
Kit I fully endorse : https://kit.com/mananddrone