There were 33 events. It was all over in 7 minutes.
The Backyard Games were held in my backyard on September 3, 2016. In the weeks leading up to the games my family thought I had gone mad. Earlier in the summer, I had built a DIY hexacopter (drone). I had been getting up every morning at 6am to do test flights. My family was not quite sure what I was up to, but they knew I had lost it when I painted "BACKYARD GAMES" on the lawn.
The drone video below is 7 minutes and 24 seconds long. If that is too long for you, skip ahead to 5:56 and just watch the coolest part -- the closing ceremonies.
During August of 2016, I worked on various Backyard Games logos and finally settled on an orange design depicting a ball being held in a scoop. The logo would appear on t-shirts worn by the athletes and it would be painted on our volleyball court. The logo was also to appear in flames around our fire pit -- it was going to be a spectacular display, but this didn't quite work out as planned (more on that later). I spray painted "BACKYARD GAMES" on the grass in two different places using standard white latex paint. It was going to be quite expensive to buy stencils large enough for this (several hundred dollars). They are typically used for text on sports fields. Since I only needed 11 letters (ABCKYRDGMES), I opted to make these myself for a cost of $11 (each piece of bristol board costing $1). Due to delays, rain, and grass-cutting, I ended up painting these twice, the second time on the day before the games.
More than anything, the Backyard Games was an exercise in choreography. I spent hours walking around the backyard with a clipboard planning the sequence of events and the timing of each event. Then I needed to program this into the drone using software called Mission Planner. I mocked up a full-size version of our yard in a field on a nearby farm by cutting grass and using spray paint to mark various landmarks (trees, the house, the driveway, the volleyball court, etc). Each morning, I would fly a series of flights and then come home and watch the video and tweak Mission Planner. Why didn't I just do test flights in our backyard? Well, there are houses nearby and I needed to do test flights early in the morning when the weather is usually calm. I couldn't be flying a drone around in our backyard at 6am every morning because the neighbours wouldn't be too happy, but I could do it on the farm.
I started prepping my kids about two weeks prior to the event: "We're going to do this thing. It's called the Backyard Games. You're going to do a different sport every 10 seconds. It's going to be tons of fun." ... blank stares. I eventually got them engaged.
Finally, in the days prior to Labour Day weekend in 2016, I had everything planned perfectly. Backyard Games t-shirts had been made. I had done several dress-rehearsals with the kids and they were ready. We just needed to wait for a calm sunny day which arrived on Saturday, September 3. That morning, I laid out all the equipment and did a final walk-through with the kids. The weather was perfect. All systems go.
I was quite nervous that morning. So much time and effort had gone into this. I felt we had to do this in one take because certain things could not be re-done. For example, I needed to pour gasoline around the fire pit and it would not be safe to repeat this a second time soon after it had burned. Also, we only had one set of fire extinguishers. It was all-or-nothing.
The video opens with the drone taking off and flying to the front of the house. Then the Flashlight Relay begins.
The flashlight we used was quite large (50 cm/20 inches long, 1.5 kg/3.3 lbs). Outside of Canada and the US, you call this a "torch". We call it a "flashlight".
I have heard through the grapevine that the organization that runs the big summer games every 4 years (you know, the ones that start with "O") jealously protects various words and phrases they consider to be proprietary. I painstakingly tried to avoid making any reference to any of these terms in both the video and in this post. As such, I wish to be crystal clear -- in the Backyard Games, we ran a "flashlight" relay prior to the opening ceremonies. If I were to use the word "torch" and the word "relay" as a single phrase, I might be stepping on toes.
Some people suggest that the "O" organization selects cities for their games based on the size of bribes received during the selection process. That is absurd. It does not happen. No way. Never. However, I have no such scruples. If you send me Steem Dollars, I will gladly consider your backyard for the next Backyard Games.😜
The centerpiece of the Opening Ceremonies is the lighting of the Backyard Flame. Athlete #3 raises the Official Butane Lighter. This stirs the crowd into a frenzy. Then he lowers the lighter and ... nothing happens. 20L of gasoline had been poured in and around our fire pit in the shape of the Backyard Games logo. It was going to be epic. Oh well. With time running out, my son gave up and threw me the lighter, whereupon I successfully lit the flame. Unfortunately, in the bright sun, you could barely see it.
As pointed out in the video, the "Screaming Crowd" consists of three lawn chairs, two of which are empty. In the third chair is my wife -- I think she might be sleeping.
The Games Begin
These were the 33 events on the agenda:
Synchronized Diving - 1:54
Rowing - 1:58
Freestyle Swimming - 2:04
Water Polo - 2:13
Power Walking - 2:28
Chariot Racing - 2:40
Javelin - 2:43
Baseball - 2:46
Football - 2:50
That Other Football - 2:54
Weightlifting - 2:55
Watermelon Shotput - 2:58
Volleyball - 3:05
Chuckwagon Racing - 3:14
Trampoline - 3:29
Horseshoes - 3:34
Golf - 3:36
Women's Marathon - 3:43
400m Hurdles - 3:52
Basketball - 4:04
Mixed Singles Tennis - 4:09
Hopscotch - 4:20
Cycling - 4:25
Street Luge - 4:27
Gymnastics - 4:31
Interpretive Dance - 4:39
Plasma Car Racing - 4:49
100m Sprint - 4:59
Chariot Racing Finals - 5:11
Lawn Bowling - 5:13
Water Guns - 5:18
Discus - 5:22
Watermelon Shotput Finals - 5:45
In addition to the GoPro video shot from the drone, I also had a Mobius camera mounted on the hard-hat I was wearing. Unfortunately, that video is difficult to watch because it is shaky and I kept looking up at the drone. If there is interest, I may also post that video later. The ground shots you see later in this post are screenshots from that video. If I was doing this again, I would place 4 or 5 stationary Mobius cameras in various places around the yard.
I knew we only had one shot at this. I was worried about the drone. Would there be enough battery life? It had flown previously for about 12 minutes, so I knew it should be ok. I was also concerned about the drone's GPS system. It had glitched occasionally during test flights. In the end, everything went smoothly despite a few glitches.
Here are some things that did not go exactly as planned:
0:37 - Flashlight Relay. I had bought a very bright LED flashlight that had a blinking mode. This was supposed to be visible during the relay. I had instructed the athletes to point it in the direction of the drone. You can see it flash a few times, but this was not nearly as impressive as intended. Too bad.
1:04 - The Backyard Flame fails to ignite. Gasoline had been poured around the fire pit. The intention was for fire to run along the ground and around the fire pit forming the shape of the orange Backyard Games logo. I had even designed the logo with this in mind. We had done a dry run two weeks earlier and it had worked. The backup plan was for my son to move towards the fire pit and light it in a different location, which he did at 1:15, but this failed also. I had programmed the drone to linger a while here just in case we had difficulty. Finally, with time running out, I directed the athletes to move on. My son threw me the lighter and I successfully lit the fire. As it turned out, the fire was barely visible in the bright sun. Later on in the video, you can see it more clearly (around 3:19).
3:42 - GPS glitches and the drone flies off. Just after the Golf event, the drone unexpectedly veered off course at a high speed. I thought it was gone, but it recovered after about 20-30 seconds, much to my relief. I edited this out of the final product, which is why there is a break in the video at 3:42. There had been GPS issues in test flights during the previous week. I believe I had mounted the GPS antenna too close to other components on the drone. Typically, the GPS antenna is on a mast to keep it isolated, but masts tend to break during crashes, so I had mounted it on a very short mast.
5:23 - The Discus event gets skipped. Four Frisbee-type discs had been placed just outside of the volleyball court (visible in the lower left of the screen at 0:10). Athlete #2 was supposed to toss these discs, but instead ran to partake in the water gun fight. With an event about every 13 seconds, it is amazing this was the only event we missed. By the way, my two daughters bonked heads during the Water Gun event. There was some screaming and for a minute I thought we were going to have a real fight or an injury. Fortunately, they shrugged it off and moved on.
5:38 - The Podium Ceremony gets missed. This was a programming error on my part. The camera panned up for about 10 seconds -- nice shot of the neighborhood, but the podium ceremony got missed. You catch just the very end of this as the athletes jump off of the podium (5:38). At that point, I noticed there was still a watermelon on the ground. No point in letting that go to waste, so I instructed my son to smash it. He followed up nicely with a hit from the baseball bat.
I thought it would be funny to have the Backyard Flame unceremoniously snuffed out with fire extinguishers. What followed was much better. The athletes ran away and just kept spraying. Amazing! This is my favourite part of the video and it was totally unplanned. The aerial view of this was incredible. On the ground it was pretty impressive too.
Almost the entire video was shot from 30 m (100 feet). However, in the final scene the drone drops down to 10 m for the Snow Angel on Grass. The athletes are not quite centered in this shot. This was a compromise for safety. I couldn't risk having the drone crash on my children.
Finally, the drone ascends quickly to 60 m. This was an impressive final shot of my entire backyard with the white cloud from the extinguishers still lingering in the air.
Way too much fun.
Hope you enjoyed the Backyard Games.