PEDC considers using drone-mounted camera to video Paris’ attractions for 3-minute video

Shown is a camera-mounted drone similar to the one that local video producer Jon McFadden has ordered. It has a footprint of approximately two feet by two feet.

Shown is a camera-mounted drone similar to the one that local video producer Jon McFadden has ordered. It has a footprint of approximately two feet by two feet.

The Paris Economic Development Corporation is looking into a cutting-edge technology — the use of a drone-mounted camera to fly over the attractions that make Paris attractive for doing business.

“I’m taking a page from the playbook of Longview and other cities,” PEDC Executive Director Steve Gilbert told the PEDC board on Tuesday at its December meeting.

Going to the website of the Longview EDC, Gilbert showed a recently-produced two-minute video produced with pictures taken throughout Longview with a drone-mounted camera.

“This just went up on their website, and when I first saw that, I thought, you know, we’ve got a lot more to show than that! Nevertheless, Longview has never looked so good,” Gilbert said.

View the Longview video (2:47) by clicking here.

Gilbert called the video “really very compelling, a new technology — new to me — sending a little camera up on a drone.”

He had been talking with Jon McFadden, who has a freelance video production company in Paris, about possible video that he might put onto the PEDC website, “and so when I saw the Longview video, I forwarded it to him.”

“He did his own research, and he liked it so much he decided to invest in the technology, and maybe we can be one of his first customers to use the technology,” Gilbert said.

At Gilbert’s request, McFadden then described to the PEDC board the new technology.

The board nodded in approval, although it deferred a vote until January, when two absent directors can be present.

“It is a remote-controlled drone that has a high-quality, high-definition camera that attaches to it. It’s roughly two feet by two feet in overall footprint, so obviously it can be flown into tighter spaces than you could do with a full-size manned aircraft,” McFadden said.

How tight a space?

“The one on the Longview video that told me it was shot with a drone is one that actually comes through the entry way tunnel at a football stadium,” McFadden said.

“This really is a pretty slick piece of equipment. It’s got a whole lot of electronics to it that allows it to utilize GPS signals. It has a live feed back down to whoever’s running it, so you can see what you’re actually shooting,” McFadden said.

“It’s got a typical remote-controlled, toy-type of control — a couple of sticks on it that control elevation, left-right, or you can turn it. It doesn’t just fly one direction. Obviously, you can fly side to side. You can fly forward, back, or any combination. You can spin it, like if it was spinning on top of a tripod. You can have it pivot around.”

“I have a hard time not calling it a toy,” he said. “It’s a tool, but not a toy. It’s more than your typical remote-controlled airplane.”

The camera is attached to the bottom of the drone, and it has a special device that isolates the camera from any vibrations that the drone itself generates, and also keeps the camera fairly level, he said.

“If the drone were to jerk one direction or the other, it compensates for those movements of the drone,” McFadden said.

“I’ve seen videos where people are actually on a boat, chasing their own boat with the drone. The top speed of the drone maxes out at about 12 mph,” he added.

During the annual Tour de Paris, “you could have someone drive you in a golf cart, and follow along behind it, that kind of thing” as the drone flew along overhead above the bicyclists, he said. The same thing could be done along Trails de Paris, McFadden said.

Gilbert said the technology reminds him of the cameras the networks now use on college and football games, employing a camera mounted on wires strung above the field of play. Instead of photographing a game from the press box, 50 yards away, a camera is looking directly into the huddle from 25 feet away, providing angles never before possible.

What’s to keep a drone from collapsing onto players on a softball field during a filming?

“It’s got several fail-safes that are in the circuitry that are programmed into its onboard computer. It constantly monitors its own battery so that it knows how much power it has left, and it calculates how much power it needs to land itself,” McFadden told eParisExtra.

“It has a fail-safe so that if I send it out of range from the controller, or say the batteries go dead in the controller, or if a gorilla comes over and knocks it out of my hand and breaks it, the drone will automatically return in stealth mode to where it took off from, and land itself.”

The drone is equipped with a proprietary rechargeable battery pack.

“Typically, with all the electronics aboard the drone, the batteries don’t last a real long time. I’m expecting flight time to be 12 minutes,” he said.

He anticipates no less than an hour of video that he will then crop down into a 3-minute video.

Gilbert told the board:

“The conversation that I had with Jon was that he would produce a 3-minute video for us using this technology, very similar to what we just saw, and he would take care of all the photography, all the shooting of the images, and the editing, and deliver the disk to us,” Gilbert said.

“I will probably have no less than an hour of video that I’ll crop down into a 3-minute video,” McFadden said.

McFadden said he is excited about getting into this new technology and anxious for his drone to arrive.

“It’s ordered and sitting in a UPS warehouse right now, held up by the weather. “I expected it to be here Monday, and it didn’t make it. So it’s been held up that long already, and the best I can tell, it won’t be here before next Monday.”

But there’s no real rush, because the PEDC is looking upon it as a long-range project — “because we want to use this technology and the aerial images in the prettiest time of year,” Gilbert said.

Jon McFadden, who talked to the PEDC about drone-mounted cameras, is shown in the background of this shot of PEDC board member at Tuesday's meeting. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

Jon McFadden, who talked to the PEDC about drone-mounted cameras, is shown in the background during Tuesday’s behind board member Bruce Carr. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

Certainly not now, PEDC director Bruce Carr said, noting that the ice storm from a week ago left Paris looking like “a war zone.”

“I think we’d have quite a lot to show off, but as far as a time frame, it would have to be spring before we would even start,” board chairman Rebecca Clifford said.

“It’s a neat project that during 2014 the board is going to look at,” Gilbert said.

In the meantime, McFadden will spend time learning how to operate the drone.

“I’ve ordered a different brand than the one shown in the Longview video. I’ve done a lot of research, and No. 1, there’s going to be a learning curve, and I didn’t want to get too big of a learning curve. No. 2, I wanted something I’ll be able to upgrade eventually,” McFadden said.

“It’s a small enough piece of equipment that hopefully after I get really comfortable with flying it, one thought I had the other day was to potentially fly it inside of something like, say, First Methodist Church,” McFadden said. “Fly it up into the dome and be able to get some view from up there, looking back down on the sanctuary.”

The PEDC would give him a list of attractions it wants included on such a video — such as the airport, country club, lake, hospital, civic center, Paris Junior College, Eiffel Tower, Plaza, Farmers Market, churches, shopping centers, historic depots, crape myrtle trees along the loop, parks and athletic fields, and industries such as Campbell Soup, Kimberly Clark, Turner Pipe and Skinner Baking.

“We have a pretty good library of aerial photos that show our lake, our industrial buildings, Paris Junior College and different aspects of our community,” Gilbert said.

But a camera attached to a drone would do a much better job, flying over the city’s attractions at a lower level, Gilbert said.

The PEDC occasionally does what Gilbert calls “an e-mail blast” — a targeted e-mail to lists of site consultants, corporate real estate executives, key decision makers in targeted industries.

“We would put that video on our website and do a targeted email to our list of prospects or people we wanted to tell about Paris, and ask them to click on the link and watch the video.”

Additionally, Gilbert said, if the need arose, the PEDC could make strategic use of a 2-minute flyover by drone of an industrial property “that would show the features well,” he said.

“To me, that’s a unique approach to a marketing video. The images speak for themselves,” he said.

The man who produced the Longview video also produced a short video recently on the State Fair of Texas, featuring the new Big Tex, and also did a 3-minute video of Dallas.

Because of rave reviews on those videos, the man who produced them is headed to Denver and other cities to produce similar videos there.

To view the “Welcome Back Big Tex” (1:38) and “Dallas From Above” (3:42) videos using the same technology, click here.

McFadden videotapes each meeting of the Paris City Council, and those can either be viewed by residents at the city library, or on SuddenLink cable on a schedule of dates throughout the week following the meetings. He also does video production for broadcast or corporate video.

Asked if producing a video for Paris would open the way for business with other economic development corporations in Northeast Texas, McFadden said that’s a possibility.

“Also, on the legal side of the video world — for documentation of a construction site, things like that — where they need an aerial view but can’t justify the expense of an airplane to fly over and document,” he said.

He’s been to several trade shows, he said, and has seen other interest from real estate agents.

“You can take still photos with the same camera, and so I’m seeing an interest in this by real estate agents who would like aerial views of the larger properties they have for sale,” he said.

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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About the Author

Charles Richards Charles Richards moved to Paris in 2004 after retiring from a 40-year career in journalism – the last 26 years as a news writer and sports writer with The Associated Press in Dallas and Washington, D.C. In mid-2004, The Paris News coaxed him out of retirement, and he began covering the police, court and regional beat for The Paris News. Then in early 2005, he was switched to coverage of a sharply divided Paris City Council. He was appointed by the City Council in 2006 to the 12-member City Charter Review Commission, which extensively rewrote the outmoded document. His writing awards include two first-place awards in statewide competition for feature writing. The most recent was his 2005 story on a Paris doctor’s startling use of leeches in a successful attempt to re-attach a man’s severed ear. Over his career, Richards’ interview subjects include Alabama Gov. George Wallace, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, David Koresh, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and numerous other political and sports figures. He is an alumnus of Texas Tech, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He lives in Paris with his wife, Barbara, who is retired after 30 years as a teacher and high school counselor.