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Dronude Utrecht project: museum garden (EN)

<Nederlandstalige blog: klik hier> Cold. It was literally freezing cold, when I arrived at 08.00 at the meeting point at the parking lot near the Centraal Museum. The organisers and models would gather here, in anticipation of the shoot. 08.25: still only a few organisers were present. I would need 30 models for a perfect shoot, but I decided that I would be grateful and proceed with the shoot when at least 10 models would show up. But it was freezing, and the night before and the early morning I received cancelation after cancelation. More than 40 models confirmed for the shoot, but Omicron was eating away the models for my shoot one by one. From the 32 models that didn't cancel yet, how many would eventually show up?

This shoot was the opening shoot of the Dronude Utrecht project. After having many many dronude shoots in nature areas and even some group shoots with about 20 models, I made a plan to shoot in Utrecht, with 100 models. This plan got some traction when I joined a contest made by Awesome Utrecht, and I was offered coaching by Joris. He encouraged me to scale up, and Lieke and Joni also offered their help. And although we lost the contest, I pushed forward to pursue the required budget via crowdfunding. Then, philosopher Floris (which used one of my dronephotos for a bookcover) proposed to connect with cultural festival SPRING. He managed to let our project be part of the festival, and get funding from SPRING. The initial plan for a single shoot was expanded into a plan for five shoots.

At 08.45 I was relieved: Michel and Casper had brought hot coffee, tea and chocolate, and model after model had showed up and quietly drank their hot drinks. Almost all models were inexperienced, and I was impressed by how brave they were to volunteer for our project. At 08.45 I gave a welcome speech, introduced some organisers and told all models and organisers that the next two hours might be the most hectic and awkward hours of their life. At 08.55 we walked to the location the Centraal Museum had kindly offered us to use, a conference room next to the garden, called “Tuinkamer”: garden room.

To prepare for such a large shoot, I knew that I would need all the help I could get. Moreover, I knew that for the even larger shoots with 100 models, I would need even more help, and a trained crew. I decided to create a virtual organization, where all organisers would not meet beforehand, would not even meet me in person, but would work according to written instructions. I prepared a document in which models and organisers would find all information they needed to make this one-off and never done before shoot a success.

According to the detailed time table I created, from the moment the models entered the Tuinzaal, I had ten minutes to get the models first comfortable and then fully undressed, and I had the same ten minutes to get all organisers do what they had to do to prepare for the shoot, and I had the same ten minutes to support the fellow drone pilots to get three drones operational. To get all this happening in the same time, I had to rely on the written instructions for the models and all six groups of organisers. These crucial ten minutes was the ultimate test if my instructions were clear and I had not forgotten anything important. Then the assistant drone pilots came to me and I saw by the expression on their faces that something was terribly wrong. Indeed, the displays of the drone remote controls showed a pop-up: “unlock No Fly Zone” and the option ‘cancel” didn’t work... DJI drones use GPS to know their location, and when this location is near a dangerous point like an airport, they simply won’t take off. Without a flying drone, all effort by all people would be in vain. I turned back to the already undressed models, and told them calmly that a technical issue happened, and that we needed three minutes to solve it. Three minutes to solve a blocking problem with an unknown solution may seem to be unrealistic positive, but I guessed that would be my best change not to demotivate the models (3). Incredibly the problem was solved by my first guess, by linking the iPads that controlled the drones with my iPhone hotspot and cancelling the proposed unlocking of nearby NoFly zones. And indeed, directly after this fix the drones started. Of course the models were not surprised at all that this crucial problem was solved so fast, and calmly walked into the garden. For this location, the models could use a heatpack, which would keep them warm for 15-30 minutes. The models loved them and clinged to them. The bad news was, there were only enough heatpacks for one location. Now, the models needed to lie down on the frozen ground, and they did one by one starting at the middle of the path. I directed them and encouraged them to lie down as fast as they could, to form a line next to the winding path. The first drone already filmed from high above, right above the line of models. Unfortunately the second drone now showed a second error: compass error. The assistant drone pilots had already tried to solve this by doing the DJI dance three times, but that didn’t work. Although it seemed that was a second blocking issue, I again was able to keep calm and solved this problem by my favorite problem solving method: ignoring (1). That worked. I steered the second drone up, checked if it felt stable, and made photo’s from up and a bit from the side to avoid the first drone. I was standing next to a tree, trying to look like a part of the tree. I encouraged the models and let them take several poses by shouting directions, and looking on the iPad how the models responded. It all seemed to go well, and the models were not complaining about the cold yet. After the third pose, I ran to the location with the assistant pilots. Third blocking problem: the iPad controlling the first drone had stopped working. Battery problem due to low temperature I guessed, and I instructed the pilots to simply keep the drone flying, hoping the drone would keep filming and the resulting film would be good (3b). Later it would turn out that the film would be slightly overexposed.

I had prepared printed pictures of a model lying down in a dancing pose. All models had to receive a picture, and to pose according to the example. What I did not realise is that the printed pictures were square, and a square paper can be held 90 degrees rotated. So as a result, models were confused what pose they should use and the composition of models was a chaotic line of models which all had their own interpretation of the dancing pose. Well, actually I had anticipated that this composition of models would be chaotic due to my lack of directing. I just hoped that this chaos would looking interesting from the sky (3). It did.

After finishing all planned poses at the first location, I gave a signal and the models walked back to the Tuinzaal, where assistants and personnel already had prepared hot drinks. The shoot on the first location was a success. Second location was the trapezium garden, which was sunny. Some models clinged to their heatpacks which still gave a little warmth. I assumed that this second shoot would be hard due to models freezing without proper working heatpacks. But although the temperature now was just a few degrees above freezing, the models were actually comfortable lying down together. It was the bright sun and company of other models that kept them warm.

Again, one drone was high up in the sky, the other was controlled by me and made photos and panos. The controller showed a pop-up asking me to keep or delete the original photos on which the pano photos were based on. In a split second, I selected the wrong option, not to save the original photos (3b). Damn.

After posing in several compositions, I brought the drones down, this time the drone I controlled beeped because of a low battery. But it kept working for as long as I needed it. I felt grateful for the assistent drone pilots that kept their calm and kept on switching batteries as if their never did anything else. I liked the composition of the models: to pose in a trapeziumform, outlined by a woolen line, put there by Lieke and me the day before the shoot. Perhaps it would be even better if the models would lie down in angles, with arms and legs twisted.

After a short pause in the Tuinhuis, I asked one of the assistents, Erik, to coordinate the next composition. Erik is an engineer, just like me, and we discussed how to tackle this problem. The number of models was unknow, but Eric did a fast headcount in the Tuinzaal: 31. How to position 31 models in 360 degrees, without measuring tape or other help? Actually, I still don’t know, but standing in the Tuinzaal I sent models to Eric in small groups, and hoped he had a plan. Miraculously, it worked out. Delegating difficult problems and hoping for the best may be my second favorite solution to problems (2). During the circle shoot, we made a great personal portrait of Floris in the middle of the group, a cleaner of the museum passed by with surprised and happy look on his face, and in one composition the models posed with arms on each others shoulders. I could see the models laughing and connecting during this shoot, the connection was physically but also mentally. This was something I aimed for. A photoshoot is not just something to create artistic images, it is also ment as an experience.

The highly detailed time table and instructions worked out, the shoot ended as scheduled before 11.00 which was the opening time of the museum.I felt great deep gratitude towards all models, organisers and personnel of the museum. The shoot resulted in about 170GB of data which we will use for selecting great photos (the photos shown here are just some picks) and for a promotion film and the "making of" film.

Concluding, my favorite methods of problem solving are: (1) Ignore the problem. It is probably not as bad as it seems. (2) Delegate the problem. If you can’t solve the problem, just hope that someone else can.

(3) Just hope for the best. It often works out. (3b) not always. (4) Unrealistic positivism. No-one dies from being positive. Perhaps that is not true, but let’s pretend anyway. :)

The Proof The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so let's see what the models wrote about their experience (translated from Dutch): Maja: "I felt very welcome, connected, celebration of beauty, and it was a boost for my self-image. While we lay there in the cold with our noses in the grass, I felt wonderful back to nature, afterwards I felt it's like I meditated all morning. At least I guess that's how it feels. ;)

Also compliments to your team, I can imagine that in times of me2 and abuse of power it can be quite challenging, but I never felt uncomfortable for a moment. You were always approachable."

Gabriela; "Thank you for the nice day on Saturday, I felt really happy to take part in this shoot."

Ricardo: "Very nice to be able to contribute in this way to the message that everyone can be naked. My wife is also going to sign up and would like to be there if that is possible."

Laura: "I had a really nice day during this shoot! I got to know a lot of nice people and felt at ease all day. It was really nice to be able to go into a warm place between the shoots, I hope that with the big shoot we also have a room inside somewhere to warm up again. If I had to describe this experience in one sentence it would be this: "I had a great day and felt connected to all the models and nature" For the next shoot I will be available on all dates, looking forward to it!"

Bianca; "It was great and liberating to do this shoot with an unknown group of nice people on a cold, sunny Saturday morning."

Lieke; "I liked Saturday."

Sarah; "Hi dear people, I really enjoyed participating, wonderful to experience such a pure form of togetherness :) There was such a nice light-hearted atmosphere in which being naked is so normal and I had a lot of laughs with everyone So I'm really excited to join the next shoots!"

Frank: "Same experience as on a naturist campsite. Naked people give more warmth than people in suits. It was nice working with you, I had a super nice day."

Maaike: "I thought it was very nice and well organized on Saturday! I would like to register for the next dates <3"

Ronald; "The day was great, neatly organized and all spontaneous people with the aim of making beautiful works of art"

Sander: It was a very nice experience to be with people who have also chosen for the first time to experience this, and to be themselves in it and ultimately be part of an artistic image!"

Vincent: "I thought the drone shoot was a great experience with only nice people (models and organization). As stated before, I definitely want to participate in the next shoots."

Linda: "With 1 degree above zero, shivering side by side with thirty beautiful naked strangers: never imagine how heartwarming that can be :) Let's go for the next shoot!"

Piet: "Connecting, because you get together with about 30 (and soon 100) people you don't know, get naked and start making a work of art naked. And that feels completely normal!"

Jaap: "Thanks for the special morning! Obviously I am very curious about the large photos. Perhaps partly due to the cold and radiant weather, the photo shoot felt particularly liberating and connecting with the group, nature and myself. I like to be there on April 3 and 10 (contrary to my previous post where I only wanted to be there with one of the two. Apparently it's going well (: )"


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