4 Steps for Making an Excellent 3D Model With a Drone

In the recent months it seems that the Drone Industry which is trending through our candidates, is the goal of using drones to make 3D models. Yes, it is simple to make a 3D model using DroneDeploy, and in fact, every map includes a 3D model view - however, to make a high-quality model that looks great from every angle, there's a it more to it. 

So we have used research and examples to put together this article to help you learn how to make better 3D models: 

Many people that have been doing 3D modeling, rendering an animation since the early 90s have moved over to be using software like DroneDeploy as it 'changed everything'. This is the case of modern day technology; software is created, which reduces the steps and processes and increases efficiency. In the same way that machinery replaced factory workers, we live in exciting time of massive development and technological change. 


DroneDeploy is so much faster and cleaner than using desktop software to process the imagery. The models themselves are more advanced and being able to show the outcome to people via an email link - is phenomenally easy. 

Step 1: Pick a Time to Fly

One of the most important steps in using your drone to make a 3D model is to pick a good time to fly. Besides avoiding high winds or rain, it’s also important to pick a time with good lighting.

If it’s an overcast day, that’s best because there aren’t strong shadows. It is often ideal to pick a time around noon where there are the shortest shadows possible, but you this is dependent on the job and the client. We recommend to avoid  working too early or too late in the day, because that’s when the shadows are longest and will have the greatest affect on the outcome of the model.

Step 2: Capture Nadir Imagery

It is often best to begin by capturing nadir imagery, photos captured from directly above looking down, using the free DroneDeploy flight app (iOSor Android). You can simply outlines the area you want to fly, on a base layer map, and the app generates a flight plan. Following a safety check, the drone automatically takes off, flies along the automated flight path capturing images and then lands.

As far as we are concerned, even though there are many mapping software apps out there, DroneDeploy seems to be the most reliable for our Company and for our students. 

Step 3: Circle the Structure to Capture Oblique Imagery

If you’re making a 3D model of relatively flat terrain, an overhead flight might be sufficient to make a good model. However, if you’re modeling a structure or rock formation with steep, vertical or concave sides, overhead images don’t capture a good view of the sides of the structure. For this reason, we recommend flying two additional orbital flights around the structure capturing oblique imagery to improve the quality of your model. Getting the manual oblique images, in addition to the automated ones on top, tends to collect better results than just shooting from the top. 



Subsequently, the Inclusion of oblique imagery in the 3D model on the right dramatically improved model quality compared to the model on the left.


You can  captures manual obliques by tilting the camera 45 degrees and flying around the structure at a fixed radius at the same altitude as the original nadir flight. Then it is advised to come down about half the altitude and angle the camera close to 90 degrees and circle the structure again. 

When capturing oblique images it’s important to avoid capturing the horizon within your images. When you makes these two orbital flights, you can manually trigger the camera shutter to take each picture. However if you’re just starting out, you might experiment with flying very slowly and setting the camera through your drone’s flight app to automatically capture images every 3–5 seconds. In some cases, where the structure is more intricate or includes overhangs (such as the eves on a house), it may be necessary to do a third — possibly handheld — orbit from an even lower angle, pointing the camera up to 90 degrees.



Diagram showing four flights made to model abandoned Navy dorms



Step 4: Process the Imagery to Generate Your 3D Model

Once you have finished flying, you will uploaded your imagery from all flights to DroneDeploy and chose to process the imagery as a “structure.” After a few hours, DroneDeploy’s cloud-based processing stitched all the images together and the 3D model will be complete. 


Explore the Completed 3D Model

Explore the example interactive 3D model (below) or watch the fly-through video (further below).


The Most Common Mistake

One of the most common mistakes pilots make is that they’re “not consistent with what they’re shooting — it takes time to get proficient in flying and some don’t take the time to learn. Novice pilots may not get enough overlap between images or cover enough area if they’re flying manually.

How do you avoid this mistake? - Practice, practice, practice! Practicing in big wide open spaces or with flights way above the tree line. To ensure sufficient overlap between images,  on the side of taking images more frequently and covering more of the surface of the structure. As part of our training service, we do offer flight-training in this area. If you are interested in a particular type of training, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

Commercial Applications for 3D Models

Drone enthusiasts aren’t the only ones using drones to make 3D models. Construction sites commonly use 3D models to evaluate the topography of a site, identify earthmoving needs, and to monitor progress of projects against project schedules. Other industries using drone-based 3D modeling include mining and inspection.

There are also potential uses for drone-based 3D models in environmental conservation, agriculture, farming, architecture and urban design. 

Thank you for reading this article, and we hope it was a helpful guide to understanding the basics of creating 3D Models from your aerial photographs. 

If you're interested in becoming a fully qualified Commercial Drone Pilot and earn your Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) then look no further. Aerial Motion Pictures is also home to Fly ICARUS the Leading Commercial Drone Training in the UK, find out more at https://www.flyicarus.co.uk/ or give us a call on 01491 526 700 today! Fly Safe - Fly ICARUS....


Ella ShepardComment