I love a nicely composed long lens lockoff just as much as the next person, but knowing when and why to move a camera can add to the effectiveness, beauty, and purpose of the image you are trying to create. Whether long, medium, or on a wide lens, moving a camera can emulate the audience perspective, the character perspective, or simply provide a narrative observation. No other tool has freed the camera more than the invention of the Steadicam. When dolly track limited our imagination, and cranes flew to their limits, our industry needed something that would achieve a cinematic image while enabling the camera operator to more freely position the lens and explore a space more dynamically. I’ve had the pleasure of working with this great tool for over 10 years; first discovering a dusty relic of a rig in the National Geographic equipment room while contracting for the Society back in 2001.
Fast forward 13 years later to the invention of the handheld digital 3 axis gimbal debuted at the NAB show last year in Las Vegas. As a camera operator, I was interested to see a new device come on the market, but wary of fads and cheaply built devices made for the sake of overseas revenue with no real impact on the art. Just a few months ago, a video came out with the inventor of the Steadicam Garrett Brown, talking with Tab inventor of the MoVI gimbal system. Seeing Garrett show such great interest in the device gave it more credibility for me as a professional operator. It was the stamp of approval I needed to add one to my kit.
I instantly saw the benefits of combining the MoVI to my Steadicam system when I merged the two for the first time on a series of Honda commercials. The Steadicam is an amazing tool with the most well constructed components designed to perform flawlessly in most conditions. Except in this case, where high wind would be involved while filming from a fast moving camera vehicle. Typically, this type of “running” footage of vehicles is done with a very expensive arm-car configuration brought in from out of state. I decided to take a different approach by hard mounting the Steadicam arm to the camera car, which would take care of the Z axis stabilization and also physically carry the load of the camera, attaching the MoVI with the use of an optional cheese plate to the Steadicam sled. Now I could further isolate the MoVI from the vehicle’s movement with the precision gimbal of the sled, with the added benefit of seeing my image on the 7” daylight viewable monitor on the Steadicam sled. The wind that would be buffeting the Steadicam sled, normally challenging horizon and panning efforts, would be negated by having an intelligent head achieving a digital level and holding a solid frame at all times. There were also several other shots that were far more achievable with just the MoVI alone, like hanging off the front of a boat, while others required a heavier camera setup or a more stable movement achievable with the Steadicam.
Cut, client happy, moving on.
So Steadicam didn’t replace the Dolly, and MoVI won’t replace Steadicam. Being able to have new and innovative tools that can work together creates an exciting future for the industry. I am personally excited to be able to use these devices artistically to further meet the needs of Directors and Clients, whose visions will continue to take filmmaking to the next level.
Kevin Andrews is a multiple-Emmy winning camera operator working in the industry for over 15 years and has collaborated with such clients as the History Channel, Comedy Central, National Geographic, NBC, CBS, Mountain Dew, AT&T, Cabela’s, Honda, Audi, and Southwest Airlines to name a few. Currently behind the lens on various commercial, narrative, entertainment, and other national broadcast projects while embracing new technologies and the rapidly changing future of television and cinematography.