2019 Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism winner

360° Drone

About the Project

Current television technology advances are usually centered around how we deliver the images, not around changing the fundamental ways in which we capture the images themselves. However CNN’s entry in the Technical in Innovation category gets to the fundamental heart of how images are captured and put on the screen. At CNN, we are tapping into how this can be used for our storytelling.

CNN’s Immersive Photojournalist Lewis Whyld painstakingly created a way of building, stitching, stabilizing and combining multiple 360° cameras to create a unique drone, helicopter and jib system that produces previously impossible camera shots.

Utilizing years of knowledge from building his own drones, Lewis Whyld created the first drone capable of shooting stable 360° footage (without showing any part of the drone) and live TV footage at the same time. At first, it was crude and required 7 cameras dotted around the drone which was painful in post-production to stitch together. Continuing to work on it, he got it down to two 360° cameras attached to the drone and one camera for the live (again, which films without showing any part of the drone – the camera seemingly floating in mid-air). Lewis then created a workflow using a variety of software and data from internal accelerometers inside the cameras to stabilize the footage from the 360° cameras so that it became indistinguishable from gimbal-stabilized footage. This system has the advantage over regular drone cameras in that all camera moves can be performed in post-production, enabling much more accurate tracking shots and more stable footage, while eliminating the need for a second camera operator. It also enables previously impossible shots, since the drone does not appear in the footage, so the camera can rotate to look up, down, forwards or backwards simply by flying through the space in a way that a regular drone cannot. A typical drone would need to turn the camera and the body of the drone to face and “look” at what needed to be shot. Lewis’ drone does not because it “sees” all angles at once.

The innovation is in both the building of the drone and camera systems, and in the creation of an entirely new software workflow that allows these impossible shots to be made. It is truly a profound innovation in the capturing of moving images.