Drone filmmaker captures Children's Fairyland from the view of a flying fairy — and it's downright magical

There's still magic in the world, as evidenced by this fairy's-eye view of Children's Fairyland, that charming 70-year-old storybook theme park in Oakland, California.

You might remember that when I'm not blogging, I work with Fairyland. WELL… months before we were mandated to shelter in place, a local photographer, Stephen Loewinsohn, contacted our team at Fairyland. He wanted to know if he could come in and capture the park by drone. He showed us some of his work samples (um, wow) and told us he was a lifelong fan of the park. He also told us the finished product would be a gift to us, no strings attached. OF COURSE we said yes! Naturally, none of us realized at the time that it would be the first comprehensive look our community would get from inside the park for months. But that's part of what makes it extra special. We premiered the video on Thursday evening, with great success, as the "cherry on top" to our reopening fundraising announcement.

At my request, Stephen shared his inspiration and thoughts on creating this video:

I grew up in Oakland and went to Fairyland as a kid. Now I have two young kids of my own, so Fairyland is a really special place for me and my family.

I've been working as a professional photographer and filmmaker in the Bay Area for many years, and lately I've been experimenting with building and flying custom camera drones with amazing acrobatic capabilities for specialized filming applications. I've also been teaching myself new techniques for visual effects, compositing, and animation during quarantine. So this project was a way to bring together those two areas of visual storytelling (drones and animation) into one magical adventure through Fairyland.

The first step was to fly a tiny drone (essentially a racing drone with a 4K video camera attached) through the empty park. These types of precise flights in close proximity to objects must be flown completely manually using VR goggles to see what the drone sees. So I spent an entire day in the deserted park flying dozens of takes in order to capture these shots. The feeling of piloting a drone in this way is extremely immersive, and flying through a place like Fairyland is as fun as it looks. So that was the easy part.

Then I spent many weeks in quarantine editing the footage and animating the little flying pixie. Because of the frenetic pace of the camera movements, tracking an object through 3D space is extremely difficult with this type of footage. Many sections of the video had to be painstakingly masked and animated one frame at a time in order to get the desired result. I don't know if I've ever spent more time working on two-minutes of video ;) But I'm really happy with the way it all came together, and it was definitely worth all the hard work if it makes people smile.

I think a lot of families in the Bay Area (and around the world) are really missing our playgrounds and community spaces like Fairyland where kids can run around and be kids right now. I know we are! I'm hoping this video gives people a way to visit Fairyland virtually, as well as a reminder of what's waiting on the other side of the pandemic. I'm really looking forward to the day when we can all safely visit Fairyland in person again, but until then, Fairyland belongs to the fairies!

Follow Stephen on Instagram, where he nabbed the most apt handle ever: @peoplelooklikeants.