Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes 10: Toys!

For those not technically minded, you're excused from today's lesson, because today I'm going to show you some of the toys we get to play with in the film industry.

These are part of the standard operating equipment you'll find on almost every shoot. They enable the camera to move along tracks to get closer into the action or run alongside the action. The movement created is a little different from an ordinary zoom in or out. The dolly is moved manually so it usually requires its own dedicated technicians, the dolly grips.

Dolly image courtesy of www.needlegirlhaystackworld.com

Dolly tracks come in both curved and straight lengths, so they can cover pretty much any motion at floor level, but what happens if you have a location with a floor so uneven you can't lay tracks (like a forest floor covered in twisting roots) or too narrow to fit a dolly (like a doorway in an apartment)?

That's when we might use a...

This is a body-mounted rig usually carried by a particularly buff specialist operator. Film cameras might be getting lighter as technology improves, but you try carrying this weight over and over again as a scene is re-shot and re-shot and you'll develop muscles too!

The steadicam also has built-in stabilisers to offset the body's natural up/down walking rhythm to avoid making viewers seasick.

Steadicam image courtesy of www.focalimageproductions.com.au

An amazingly simple contraption for getting a little height. The camera is rigged at the top, the operator climbs up, and a couple of brawny grips keep the ladder stable. The one pictured below is quite a fancy model. Most are much shorter and much less impressive.

Image courtesy of South African grips company Dragon Grips
But if you want the camera to sweep dramatically upwards or sideways, you need a...

Jib arm / Crane
These are long arms that can lift the camera up high or extend the camera into hard to reach areas. Jibs are lighter and smaller and come with interesting names like Jimmy Jibs and Meerkats.

Jimmy Jib from South African company Crow's Nest in use at the Augrabies Gorge

Cranes are longer, reach higher, and are more stable. Both use weights to balance out the long reach.

In the Olden Days, directors and camera operators still sat on the end of a crane to manually operate the camera. In this age of safety and liability issues, this gung-ho approach is rare.

Gung-ho approach on The Hunger Games - courtesy of Dragon Grips

Reaching the unreachable - courtesy of Dragon Grips

These days we have remote camera heads (head = the fancy doodat on which the camera is mounted which connects it to whatever else is supporting it) which can swivel the camera up, down or tilt side to side.
Cam Remote from www.camerasystems.com

These remote heads are also highly specialised pieces of equipment that have their own specialist technicians with fancy job titles like Scorpio Head Operator or Powerpod Technician.

Tracking cars and Process trailers
You know those scenes where the actors are driving along, engrossed in conversation and not paying the least attention to the road? That's because they're not!
Their car has been secured on the back of a process trailer, rigged with lights and cameras, and all the actors need do is remember their dialogue.

Process trailer courtesy of San Diego Film Commission

A tracking vehicle is any vehicle, be it a quad bike, golf cart or truck, that transports the camera alongside the action

Tracking vehicle courtesy of Dragon Grips

Aerial Camera Mounts
Last, but by no means least, are the special rigs that enable cameras to fly above the heads of us mere mortals. Cable cams and helicopter mounts are the ultimate toys on any film shoot, but since they also cost a pretty penny to use, it's not often we get to play with them!

Image courtesy of www.aerialstar.com

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