In the old days, if a director or cinematagrapher wanted a smooth, controlled camera shot, they could either attach the camera to a crane or hook it to a dolly and run it along pre-laid track on the ground. When the Steadicam was invented by cinematographer Garrett Brown in 1975, everything changed. Thanks to a series of counterweights and an armiture that absorbs bumps and shocks, the camera could now move much more freely through various environments, leading to some of the most famous shots of in all of cinema. Early examples of the Steadicam included Oscar-winning Rocky and Stanley Kubrick’s work on the horror classic The Shining, and since then directors like Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson have used it to great effect in their own now-classic films.
But the days of Steadicam operators could be numbered thanks to a new innovation in technology. Gizmodo points us to Freefly’s new product called MōVI, a custom-made gimbal and gyroscope that houses smaller consumer-grade cameras and allows for a much quicker and lighter camera operating experience. Check out this awesome video from DGA member Vincent Laforet detailing the way this product works:
A single Steadicam operator must wear a bulky, heavy vest strapped with battery packs and a separate monitor so they can see what they’re filming as they’re moving. The MōVI can be operated by one person in a similar fashion, but it can also utilize an extra person to lighten the workload. Instead of one person strapped into an ungainly rig and having to watch not only where they’re stepping but also make sure everything remains properly in frame, the MōVI allows you to control the camera remotely. The cinematographer uses a remote to move the physical camera within the rig and frame the shot as it happens, while the operator can run alongside actors, up stairs, or pass the rig through tight spaces while concentrating on not tripping over anything.
One of the most important aspects of filmmaking is time management. I’ve been on sets of huge films where it’s taken dozens of people upwards of two hours to set up a single shot. Crew members have to lay track down for dolly moves, the crane’s trajectory has to be worked out and the camera mounted into place, and lighting often has to be reconfigured to account for the movement of the jib. With a product like this, that time could be reduced significantly, allowing for much longer shooting sessions and much less down time for actors.
Saying the MōVI might make Steadicam operators obsolete is a strong statement, and a change like that certainly isn’t going to happen overnight. But as we’ve seen with the rise of digital and fall of celluloid, Hollywood isn’t completely averse to change: they’re sometimes just slow to adopt it. Steadicam operators bring years of expertise and can pull off moves that your average Joe with a MōVI definitely could not, but over time, this could be the way that movies and television shows are primarily shot. It’s relatively cheap at about $15,000 – which, granted, is still a little hefty for you and me – but it’s far cheaper for a film with millions in its budget to purchase a device like this than to hire a Steadicam operator for the length of a shoot.
The implications are pretty huge, and when a product comes along that lets you increase time and decrease money spent on a film set, Hollywood is sure to take notice. We’re guessing it’ll take a little while for this to fully catch on, and even longer for it to trickle down to being able to buy a consumer grade version, but as the tech world continues to evolve, things like the MōVI are just going to get cheaper. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll be able to pick up a version at your local Best Buy, and then finding out whether or not you’re the next Scorsese is all up to you.
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