Jerry Holway and Laurie Haybell. The Steadicam Operator’s Handbook. 2nd. Ed. New York: Focal Press, 2013.
Steadcam filming allows imaging what a film shot should look like and moving the camera accordingly.
Garrett Brown created the first Steadicam in 1973. It consisted of a t bar made from plumbing pipe attached to a camera. This was supplanted by a parallelogram mini-crne with a fiber optic viewfinder.
The Brown Stabilizer emerged as a prototype. The first movie using a Steadicam was. “Bound for Glory”. “Rocky” followed.
An Oscar in 1978, and am Emmy in 1988, were awarded to Garrett Brown and Cinemax Productions for their technical work.
Wearing a Steadimcam puts pressure onto legs yet allows free movement.
One can not grab a Steadicam’s center of gravity. A mass added allows the operator to control the center of gravity. Once this is done, it moves with little force.
A three axis gimbal balances the Steadicam independently of lifting it. This allows avoiding angular movements while lifting, allows aiming with less force, and remains balanced while carrying.
A mechanical arm minimizes bodily movements and gives the camera spatial isolation.
A cage should allow for easy access to controls, batteries, and video operating.
High mode is when the camera is over the sled. This is the method used most. Low mode is when the sled is upside down. Super Low is when the lens is on the floor. The Missionary position places the camera and operator in the same direction. The Don Juan is when the camera points towards the operator The Goofy Foot is when the camera (usually held on the left side) is held on the right side. The Long Mode is when the post is lengthened. The Hard Mount is when the operator sits on a socket block attached to a vehicle. The Soft Mount is when an operator shoots from a vehicle.
To build a Steadicam, the docking bracket attaches to the study stand. The docking ring slides into the docking bracket. The battery and monitor are added. The force and aft, and the side to side adjustments, are centered with turned stage knobs. The camera is placed on the sled using a dovetail, or camera mounting plate. Note the camera’s center of gravity (c.g.) The dovetail plate is placed in the side to side mark’s center. Add mounting holes with screw(s) and an anti-rotation pin. Position the dovetail in the dovetail grabber. The same force and ft is positioned around 3/4 of an inch behind the center post’s centerline. The camera is locked.
Static balance, which determines how much tilt or roll there will be, is determined by the fore and aft, side to side, and top to bottom. Use knobs to balance the fore and aft. Sliding the gimbal along the central post, or making the post longer, creates top to bottom balance. Place the sled’s components and the camera close into their proper positions.
If he monitor needs to be repositioned, it can be balanced according to the line dance, which involves putting the gimbal 2 inches away from the post’s top and placing the monitor two thirds along the rod. It can be viewed best along a 45 degree upward tilt.
The Steadicam can be balanced while the rig is worn with the docking bracket’s balancing stud, sliding the gimbal handle into the studs and using sand bags to hold thing, For and aft balance is achieved by fine tuning within the fore and aft knob Side to side balance is achieved with the side to side knobs. If side to side balance cant be reached, move the dovetail plate.
Top to bottom balance is achieved by releasing the gimbal clamp. This should only be done when the post is horizontal. The rig should be moved back and forth so that the rig achieves horizontal balance. Once neutral balanced is found with the rig being horizontal, the gimbal should be moved a half inch closer to the stage and clamped. With the rig vertical, move the fore and aft as well as the side to side nobs so the rig in vertical.
A drop test should have the sled drop vertically to the rig’s bottom in two to three seconds. Catch the rig before it reaches the stand. Lowering the gimbal increases the drop time while raising the gimbal increases the drop time, Some fore and aft balance and side to side fine tuning may be necessary.
A flat pan occurs when a rig is in dynamic balance. Dynamic balance is obtained with a long drop time of three to four seconds. A rig should spin in balance. If it does not, change two of three big masses until both achieve static balance and dynamic balance. The camera is moved slightly, and the camera moved in the other direction form the balance. If the battery will not move far enough, either move the monitor or use a heavier batter.
To walk with the Steadicam, accelerate your speed smoothly. Start and stop walking with your weight on one foot.
The operating hand points the camera and keeps the rig level. Grasp the post with the meat of finders and not the fingertips, Te thumb and forefinger are on opposite sides of the post.
Squeeze the thumb and forefinger to begin panning.
Tilot up with the pinkie finger placed in the post’s center and then push tilt down by pulling the post mostly with the second and third fingers holding properly so it doesn’t fall.
Always keep your hand near the c.g. Keep the operating hand on the post. Hold with a light touch and not a death grip. The pinkie finger is always used and should not relax. Do not drop the thumb or put it on the both of the post.
The hand that grasp the gimbal handle, the arm hand, steadies the Steadicam, begins and stops spatial moves, and keeps the camera on path while moving. The arm hand pushes in the desired direction The operator and rig come to an immediate stop together.
To switch form the Missionary to the Don Juan, use a line dance, which is aiming the camera, walking around the camera while keeping the post at a constant angle, and then standing up straight.
The operator has ore control in Missionary.
The arm hand can change the lens height on the same axis or by moving the bam.
Pan with the gimbal.
Visualze what the shot should be before taking it. The Director or DP will often describe it. Know the dialogue and what shot is required accordingly.
The F-bracket reverses the gimbal plus moves the arm where it works with the rig. A high low mode occurs by not the F-bracket. The F-bracket must be installed with a double shear safety pin. Some F-brackets lack a safety pin and thus must be drilled and pinned on.
The Panavision Lightweight II is best for low mode. Also acceptable are the Movie Compact, the Arriflex 435, and other cameras with an integrated low mode mount.
For low mode, the plates should be separated to raise the c.g. of the camera mounting platform. The side to side should be as thin as possible and the fore and aft as long as possiblel.
Sometimes it is easier to shoot low mode upside down and correct it in editing.
Switch to low mode by placing a dovetail plate on the camera’s top, move the monitor upside down, static balance, release the gimbal clamp, and move the gimbal about half an inch away form the camera, tighten the gimbla, clampg, check he drop time, and attach the F-bracket.
Scout a shooting location and determine a correct way to make the needed shots.
A hand tilt can change a view and a bent neck can rotate the field of view so the operator may keep viewing the monitor at all times.
A mark on a floor is often a V. An X is harder to see.
When moving backwards, use holding the gap, where the gap guides camera placemnt Similarly, holding the plane is used to judge shots.
Use visual and tactical clues in assuring the camera is level.
A spirit level that is parallel to the bottom frame line can be adjusted for levelness.
Note that a babble level also measures acceleration, so when accelerating, it will indicate the level is off when it is still level.
Use good posture when operating a Steadicam.
An operator needs to design a shot and configure a rig accordingly. A path is chosen and any obstacles in that path must be removed.
Known what the Point of view is for the shot.
A more rational shot moves through space, and shows spatial relationship. A lock step without a panning shot is less naturalistic and more graphic.
It should be decided if it is better for the camera to be steady as the characters move or it one should move the camera.
Moving a Steadicam involved maintaining balance, using proper tension, noting that focus is achieved with slower moves, and creating the proper space using correct turning and using proper foot placement.
When moving, track shots to make certain the focus on actors is correct, there are no racing backgrounds, watch horizons, maintain top to bottom balance for slow moves, and pull the arm hard for sharp accelerating or deceleration.
Lean with the Steadiam while shooting while walking up stairs. Lean back for shooting while walking down stairs.
When making slow moving shots, use arm movements more and walk to catch up with the shot. Steps have to be very concise.
One should learn to shoot from either side. Shooting from the right side is called “goofy foot” operating. To go goofy, the socket block is flipped and the threads are changed. Be certain there is a bottom screw.
When filing in areas with limited sace, it is advisable to reease the wlak and commit to “muscle memory” the walk.
Spatial movements affect more the foreground while angular moves more affect the background, Booming corrects for background changes.
Steadicam operators consider the frame edges more than the subject when panning. Look at the trailing edge to have time to move and frame precisely.
Matte box rods or straws can help point the camera.
To get a locked frame, be still, and let the camera become still with a loose grip.
A whip pan requires a full but light grip to start it and a hard grip before it stops so it ends with a loose grip. A half circle pan may best use a switch. A body pan is done in Missionary,
Using a longer lens requires more balancing, A motorized stage ay be required.
The zoom control on the gimbal handle can change focal length.
By keeping the center of rotation inside the frame while moving the center of rotation along the frame catches an organized show with low angular change.
Raising the appearing point above center without moving the sides angles the lens downwards. This makes what on the screen seen as being passed over in importance. Moving the side or moving the appearing point slightly higher or lower frames a subject. A moving appearing point makes people look around the frame. A fixed appearing point makes people focus on the frame.
Directors often communicate directly with Steadicam operators. Some Directors of Photography (DP) may feel slighted and should be kept advised on what is happening One’s attitude in communicating with actors and others can make a difference, It is generally advised to speak little and speak when required.
It may be useful to get advice from the A-camera operator on the the DP prefers to frame and on technical issues, Do not consume too much of the A-camera operator’s time as to become an annoyance,
Use a longer arm post to increase lens heights range in high mode,
Raise the socket block and use a slightly short arm post to increase the lens height in low mode.
Lower the lens height’s range 6 to 10 inches using the upside down F-bracket or J-bracket to lower the lens height range.
Superposts are posts 5 feet or longer.
A motorized stage has four buttons for changing the rig balance and moving the stage. Pots set the motor speed. A Level Assist can help level the stage.
If more inertia is needed to move a rig, a small extension can increase inertia. This will increase vibration andWeights or Antlers and gyros can increase inertia.
Kenyon stabilizers are gyros. They are usually used two or three at once. The best way to prevent tilt, roll, and pan and roll is to place one Kenyon unit vertical and another 90 degrees horizontal. A third gyro placed at right angles from the others increases smoothness.
Isoelasticity increases iif the Ride Knob is unscrewed.
An arm post usually should have some friction to better operate the gimbal. Freeing the aro post allows it to not be in the way when squeezing into tight spaces.
When shooting a vehicle from another vehicle, watch the horizons. If shooting on a vehicle, train, boat, us, etc., note that shooting by looking at the horizon gives a human perspective Some movies call for bumps and motion.
A soft mount on a vehicle reduces vibrations.
When filming a moving vehicle, start moving the camera before the vehicle moves and kiss off when the shot ends.
One generally does not lean when filming from a motorcycle discuss this with the motorcycle operation on how to best shift weight.
A camera dolly can be useful Note they can flip over.
Filming on a Western dolly is good if movement precision is not necessary.
Filming on a modified golf cart is quiet. The carts are slow and have a rough acceleration.
Do not step off a crane until it is safe. The crane must land and the bandolier removed from its central column. Practice first at half speed and make certain it is safe.
Skyman is a rigged wire that can absorb vibrations. It can be rigged for use as needed.
Do not use an unmodified snowmobile, It can easily tip over, It is also loud.
It is very dangerous to work on an American Tuli crane. They tend to fall over.
Do not work on the things that easily tip over like cranes, kayaks, rafts, and small boats.
Do not film from a helicopter. The mount would need to be FAA certified. It is hard to shoot in the wind created riding a helicopter. It is hard to hald onto a camera as helicopters bank.
The Segway-for-Steadicam can use a soft mount or hard mount,
In 1985, a Steadicam and accessories cost about $60,000.
Wind can ruins shots. Keep the rig away from shots.
Liquid crystal display screens freeze and don;t wor in below freezing temperatures.
Batteries do not work well below 40 degrees F.
The Steadicam Tango adds two sleds on a central gimbaled spear This creates a wider boom range and horizontal sweep.
The Steadicam is “an instrument infinitely and wonderfully responsive to the will and commitment of the operator, When the operator is inspired and focused, there;s a great image on the screen.”