Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton

The Nature of Flight

The Project

Every now and then I come up with an idea which I just don’t know how to pull off, but it captures my imagination so I have to at least give it ago. Back in the summer, I was out in the Alps training for my upcoming RidingGiants expedition and alongside my efforts to fine tune my flying, I wanted to create a film which concentrated on the nature of flying. This film would emphasise less the dance music and bad GoPro audio, and more the sounds of the birds, the sheer beauty of the landscape, and a more accurate representation of the air rushing past me as I hurdle down the hill under my trusty speedwing.

This is an entirely separate project, which was hard to pull off given I went to the Alps with other filming in mind, with specific maneuvers to practice and only a limited time to complete it all in; not least because the active thermals which plough through the Alps from around 2pm make flying relatively unsafe.


My Idea

In order to pull off this project, I would need to capture some stunning cinematic footage with sunrises, sunsets and motion time-lapses. I also wanted to capture this type of high quality film whilst speed flying to keep a good continuity between scenes. Alongside the visual recording, I also wanted to capture high quality audio to overlay on top of the video scenes to really bring the audience into what was being filmed.

I had a problem though. For most people, not a big issue, but for cinema lovers everywhere, a situation they would never ever hope to be in. The issue I’m faced with? I had to shoot the entire project using a GoPro! I had travelled super light on this trip, so left the DSLR at home, and instead relied upon my GoPro, the fantastic SLICK stabiliser, my trusty drone and a small shotgun mic¬†which I linked to the Voice Record Pro app on my iPhone.


The Strategy

My strategy was simply to use the SLICK to capture amazing B-roll footage, to use some creative GoPro positions to get as close as I could to nature, trying to ignore the obvious flaws in using such a camera for anything but action shots. I would then get close to some action with my mic, and then give a sense of scale with the drone. Putting all these clips together should, in theory at least, yield a relatively high quality film.

Fortunately, the light in the Alps is simply fantastic with clear air from sunrise until sunset, regular blue sky days and a vistas to really take the breath away. I set my GoPro to the narrowest possible field of view to try and give the illusion that I shot some footage with at least a low-grade DSLR, and then made sure I set up my SLICK to capture as many turning time-lapses as possible.


Capturing High Quality Audio

I will leave the discussion about my shooting tactics for you to see in the film below, as many of my better shots are included. Instead, I’d like to touch upon my findings of using external audio which I think is a key step in producing high quality cinematic footage. To capture much of the audio, I could simply use my microphone to record a much higher quality sound than I could hope to capture with my GoPro. There are however some sounds that even with the help of a shotgun mic, would be nearly impossible to capture in a regular fashion, so some more abstract thinking is required. To give an idea of this, there are three particular sounds in the film below which aren’t what they might appear to be. The first is at the start of the very first drone shot where if you use earphones, you will hear quite a dramatic sound. This is actually a bass drum laid on top of the sound of someone breathing into a gas mask – like I said, abstract! The second is when I pull the speed wing lines through my hands; this is actually a zip tie which is slowed down to give a very hyper-sensitive sound to the action. Finally, the sound of the air is very difficult to capture when flying at 60mph under the speedwing, particularly with a GoPro which tends to deliver a very blown out, distorted sound. Instead, I gently blew into my microphone which gave a sound quite similar to an arctic wind when edited. By overlaying this sound on top of my flying scenes, I think I managed to really enhanced what can traditionally be quite a dull moment in home video style action-cam footage; watching yet another flight (in albeit stunning scenery!).

So there you have it. I will be using a lot more high quality audio in the future, perhaps not with films dedicated exclusively to this type of video, but certainly with the intention of upping the quality of my usual content. And so without further ado, here is my Nature of Speed Flying film. If you have a further 5 minutes spare, I hope you enjoy. (And if you do, please comment and consider subscribing to my channel!).