Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Subscribe Now

Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

HomeCraftsCamera Support-Working with the Grips

Camera Support-Working with the Grips


Camera mounts and motion systems have come a long way since clunky dollies and bulky scaffolds. Though these methods are still used, two pieces of gear that have made inroads into production are the Libra head and the Technocrane, proving that equipment once considered only for specialty uses can have applications throughout a shoot.Two technicians working with this gear, Greg “Woody” Schmidt and Jason Kay, say they are now often hired to stay on a production for its entire duration—particularly those shows requiring a constantly moving, fluid camera.Schmidt, a specialist with the Libra remote head, describes the mount as a “wireless, water resistant, very versatile camera platform.” He says it can be used on a cable with a half-mile run, out on boats, and on off-road cars. “The computer tells it to change direction when the terrain changes direction; it has rate sensors that are like an autopilot in an airplane. It stabilizes the camera while the operator is still operating.”The comparison to aircraft technology is appropriate. The Libra head was invented by Australian Nick Phillips, a former aircraft engineer who originally created the device as an aircraft mount. The design was honored with a technical Oscar in 1999.Schmidt describes the Libra head’s rate sensors as being the modern equivalent of gyroscopes, without all the problems that gyroscopes have. He points out that gyroscopes “tumble” when tilted past 20 degrees, and must be stopped, leveled, and restarted.But the Libra head senses the rate of change of whatever platform it’s on. “The original rate sensors were like two speaker membranes next to each other. When one moves, and tilts down, the other tells the motor to tilt up because it feels the motion, and feeds information to the motor, which corrects in the opposite direction. But the technology changes so fast that we’ve gone from mechanical rate sensors to optical rate sensors that use a laser in a box, and it picks a spot in the box to stay at, and it says no matter what, I’m going to stay at this point. It’s all built into the head.”Versatility is a major benefit. According to Schmidt, “The Libra head is one of the original small stabilized heads. There were other larger stabilized heads but they weren’t as versatile.” It was designed to stay on a movie and to be used “for anything you wanted to,” he says. “You can put it on a dolly without track, and then you can go around corners with it, and do it wirelessly and remotely if you need to. There are directors and cameramen who use it instead of a Steadicam. They’ll put it on a crane arm and do Steadicam-like moves because they don’t like the Steadicam.”Schmidt is also a camera operator, and for the Libra head he gets his work mainly through Panavision, whose Panavision Remote Systems division houses the unit. His freelance schedule is both hectic and eclectic.“Last Sunday I did a Captain Crunch commercial, Thursday I was on The Fast and the Furious 3, and then yesterday I was back on the next Mission Impossible. We do a lot of different things. I’ve gotten offers to go work other equipment, but to me the Libra head is the most versatile of them all. So I stay with that.”The head is available mounted on specialty vehicles somewhat more glamorous than old studio carts. “We have a Porsche Cayenne that we mount the Libra head on, on fixed mounts, and there’s also a Mercedes with a computer-controlled arm, and it does a lot of the same things that the Libra head does; the arm stabilizes, so if you put it at a certain place it will always want to stay there no matter what the car’s doing, so if you go up or down a hill, everything stays exactly where you put it.”A few examples of Schmidt’s experiences using the Libra head convey its effectiveness in keeping the camera stable under rough circumstances. “On The Perfect Storm we went out in Hurricane Floyd for a day or two. The head was mounted on a bazooka lashed to the railing of a 50-foot oceangoing tug. We were in the remnants of the hurricane and the captain of the boat was almost ready to turn around.“I just finished Mission Impossible III; the Libra head and myself were on for the whole show,” Schmidt adds, citing the film as one in which almost every shot has movement. “We put the Libra head on a Technocrane and we were constantly moving it, and sometimes very rapidly.”Schmidt recalls one of the more memorable shots on MI3 being the first of the movie, in which a small ’60s Fiat with the Libra head mounted on its side chases Tom Cruise up the river, using a 400mm lens. “That was a good test of the stability, and I got a great shot out of it.”Jason Kay, a specialist with the Technocrane, points out that the two devices are often married together. He also worked on Mission Impossible III. “Woody did first unit and I did the action unit,” he says. “There was a Libra and Technocrane on both first and second units. A lot of it was long-lens stuff, but to make it more dynamic we would be on camera cars going 40 miles an hour up roads made especially for the movie, and we’d be going quick, tracking things. Without a stabilized head there’d be no way to do that.”Designed by a German company, the Technocrane is leased through Panavision, which designates specific cranes to specific freelance technicians. Kay describes the Technocrane as having its own chassis, and it is transported in its own trailer. “We arrive and wheel it out, add counterweights onto the side and we build out the remote head. A 30-foot crane, from the post, it sticks out eight feet, and once you balance it you have the option to go from eight feet all the way to 30 feet, because it’s telescopic,” he says.“So you can basically hit any point in space from eight feet to 30 feet, at anywhere from right on the ground to 30 feet in the air,” adds Kay. “Now if you’re doing stage work you don’t need anything extra to stabilize, because the remote head it comes with is fine for stage purposes. But lots of times, like on driving shots, or stunts, or in windy conditions, or when using a long lens, anything past 75mm, you’d put the Libra on for stability. This way, with a 50-foot crane, the shot will look like a really fast 50-foot dolly move, without any rocking motion.”Kay points out that the Technocrane eliminates the need for erecting scaffolding, using pedestals, or setting up sticks for every shot. “At any given second you can change the position of the camera to anywhere you want,” he says. The crane comes in industry-standard15-, 20- and 30-foot length. Panavision offers additional lengths, including a huge 50-foot span.The crane operator swings and booms the crane manually; the telescoping motion, which can be as fast as 10 feet per second, is done mechanically by pressing a button.Kay says that the Technocrane has wide applications. “This year I’ve worked on episodic TV, live TV, music videos, commercials, features of every budget—and student films where Panavision donates the crane and I’ll donate my time to help students who have no budget. With Panavision it’s all about the up-and-coming customers. Help them at the beginning and they’ll remember you for the rest of their career.”Though Panavision is interested in new markets like live TV, Kay says that the greatest demand is still from feature films. “We have cranes running the length of features, on the show for five or six months. This year we have three cranes out on features that are five months or more.”One memorable shot involved landing on top of Mt. Whistler in Canada, a 15,000 foot peak, where Kay operated the crane overlooking a sprawling glacier. “The shots were so dynamic we spent two days just rehearsing, not even rolling film. It was
pretty insane.”But Kay considers the most interesting part of his job the times when his own creativity is brought out in explaining to a director or DP what the Technocrane is capable of doing. “They might have an idea on a shot list and you can say, maybe we can do this or that, just kind of going out there and showing them exactly what the crane can do and giving them something way more than what they expected.”

Written by Henry Turner

- Advertisment -


Beowulf and 3-D

By Henry Turner Beowulf in 3D is a unique experience, raising not just questions about future of cinema, but also posing unique problems that the...