Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Little Sample

I tried the stabilizer in a shot with my middle child that is similar to the shot I will actually make for the film. Here it is on YouTube, first done hand-held (and boy, do these little digital camera stink at being hand-held), and then on the stabilizer. I think you'll agree I'm not quite there yet; I seem to get a slight left-right jerking motion still. But I think you'll also agree that it's worlds better than the hand-held shot.



Friday, April 13, 2012

A Little Stability

In the film I'm shooting next summer, I've got two, maybe three shots where I have to track, and I wasn't looking forward to coming up with some kind of dolly (nor was I interested in trying to do the shots hand-held).

Dollies seems simple until you actually use one. If the ground isn't level (assuming you can't manage tracks) and if the tires are too hard, you get a lot of bounce in the shot. If you let air out of the tires to smooth it out, you make the dolly harder to push, and the stops and starts aren't smooth (although this is not so much of a problem in this film since the stops and starts would likely not make the final cut anyway).

So I decided to look for a stabilizer, something like Steadicam, but not nearly as expensive. I found a few in the under $100 range, which is certainly less that I'd pay to build even a low-quality, very frustrating dolly.

Then I ran across this. Johnny Chung Lee, who comes up with all kinds of amazing little gadgets and projects and current works for Google, came up with a stabilizer using some pipe and a barbell weight that he spent about $14 for five years ago. After looking at his footage and seeing what he had to say about the contribution of technique to making a stabilizer work, I decided to give it a try.

I didn't get in for $14—five years makes a difference—but I did make it for about $22, not including the barbell weight, which I already had.

I haven't built his version yet, and I don't know that I'm going to. Because I'm lazy. I didn't use any tools whatsoever. I just threaded two ten-inch pipes through the straight part of a "T" and threaded the third into the side. I capped the side, then slid the weight over the bottom and capped it. So the weight is not secured and would probably bounce if I ran with this thing. I'm not planning to run with this thing.

At the top, without drilling anything, I attached a flange, then screwed my Velbon still camera tripod head to the flange using a screw and a wing nut. I attached the Nikon S6100 to the tripod head.

But first I shot a video walking up my stairs while hand-holding the camera. Then I shot a video of the same path with the stabilizer.

Now, my technique is terrible; I've never done this before. But the difference was remarkable. Not ready for actual production yet (which is why I'm experimenting with this a few months ahead of the shoot), but definitely better than my hand-held shot (which was as bad as the camerawork in The Hunger Games).

I'll post something when I've shot something mildly interesting that doesn't make me look bad.

I gotta tell you, between cheap digital still cameras that shoot great video and clever folk like Chung Lee who are nice enough to post their ideas for the world to see, this is a great time to be a cheapskate filmmaker.