Jean-Marie Lavalou, the Frenchman who co-created the Louma Crane, the first remote-controlled camera system used in the motion picture industry, died on July 15 in Paris. He was 76.
Born on March 9, 1946, Lavalou was born into the ‘La Fromagerie Lavalou’ family in Bourg Saint Leonard, Normandie, France. He developed a passion for film at an early age and traveled to Paris to attend the Ecole Nationale Superieure Louis Lumiere film school, graduating in 1968 before entering national service.
It was during his national service in the French Navy film department that Jean-Marie’s life path would change forever when he met his inventor partner, Alain Masseron. Together, they created never-before-seen camera movements while making a film inside a submarine by attaching the camera to the end of a wooden pole and tracking through the narrow vessel.
The young inventors then brought their device to the camera rental house SamAlga Cinema in Paris. Upon seeing its potential, chief engineer Albert Vigier quickly introduced them to David Samuelson of Samuelson Film Service in London. With the combined teams of engineers and the eureka moment of combining the device with the in-development video assist system that Joe Dunton was working on at Samuelsons, the first remote head for motion picture filmmaking was born.
The story of the Louma Crane is well documented and it was the passionate (some would say obsessive) Lavalou who brought together the many talented engineers who made his and Masseron’s vision possible. He lived his dream of working with the likes of Roman Polanski and Steven Spielberg, and he was forever in awe of Directors and Directors of Photography, striving to create new equipment for them to use on set.
Receiving the Academy Award of Merit in 2005 with his co-inventors was most assuredly a career highlight for Lavalou. In later years, he was also responsible (alongside the development of the Louma 2 telescopic crane) for bringing the Spydercam system to France when he designed the stadium roof fittings and pulleys on which the wires are attached.
Lavalou was considered a mentor and friend by many, and he liked to tell stories over bottles of wine, walk in the Pyrenees, and spend holidays with his family in Brittany. On Sundays, he could be found in the library at the La cité des sciences et de l’industrie, Paris’ Museum of Science and Industry.
It was the L-o-u from his surname and the M-a from Masseron that combined to become the name of the world’s first motion picture remote camera system. That will be his legacy, and because of that, he will never be forgotten, be it by those in the film industry, the crews he worked with around the world, or his family.