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Geared Head operating


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#1 Markus Rave

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 04:22 AM

I have bought a Mitchell geared head a while ago. Now I am looking for practice tips beside the "do the 8". I have been using fluid heads for most of my career. At the Moment I own a Sachtler Cine 75HD. But last year I wanted more accuracy on a commercial shoot. So I need to go on.
Are there any seasoned ops who are willing to share their knowledge?

Edited by ethnopac, 28 November 2005 - 04:23 AM.

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#2 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 05:35 AM

My first real practice with a geared head was on a dry erase board with a curvy track drawn on it. We would just try to keep a laser pointer between the lines as we traversed the track. I think that was pretty helpful, but it's much better to actually practice with a camera and a moving object. Only then will you really know if you're any good at it yet or not.
My first job with a geared head was on a sitcom, and I was really nervous! Of course my first shot was a dolly move with backpanning involved, and the actors started by coming down stairs, so I had quite a bit of tilting too. The first take was shaky, but after that I was really confident with the wheels and was pretty much nailing every shot. The director and the 14 producers and writers sitting at video village didn't seem to notice that I'd never used wheels before....so I think I did quite well. By the way, I never did a lot of practicing with the gears. It's tough when you don't own a head. Once you get the feel of it with some real people I think you'll be fine.
I wish I owned one! Good luck.
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#3 hugovillasmythe

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 11:00 AM

A variance on the wavy line black board is the local TV sports. I switch on my tv, choose a football game. Set up the head with the laser pointer and start following wnatever is on. If you own a collection of DVD's you can slip one in and catch a "subconcious" class on framing and lighting watching "The Godfather" for instance, and follow with your laser pointer on frame.
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#4 Max Jacoby

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 01:18 PM

I practiced with a laser pointer as well, later on with a video camera. You have to get to the point where it becomes second nature, i.e. you are not thinking about how to turn the wheels anymore to get the framing that you want. The first time I operated a geared head was on my last short. I had the same experience than Brad, after a while you start getting very comfortable with it. Of course I was the director as well, so that helped.

The only way you are going to get really good at it is by doing it on actual shoots, so you have to take that step.
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#5 mrrsoc

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 01:28 PM

I never used the two-dimensional practice techniques such as those mentioned sometimes...figure 8s, etc. To this day, I probably couldn't do one. But give me an actor, and they'll never escape :D

So much about operating is watching how the actor is performing. You learn to read his/her body cues and rythyms that cue your eye and hands. Within a couple of days, you get to know how to read them.

Don't be too proud to decide for yourself what shots are appropriate for the wheels and which are not. I would say that about 90% of shots I do on wheels, but there are shots for which they are not appropirate for me ergonomically. At 6'4", a dolly move with a significant pan with the camera LOW is silly. I immediately know that is an O'Connor shot and change out. Virtually every shot otherwise I can do better with wheels. It does become instinctive. The only thing that will get you there is intensity of the work. Stage floor work with lots of moves will get you in shape in a hurry ;) That said, the technique will be very different depending on whether your work is feature (especially anamorphic) or 1.33 TV. In some ways, TV is more challenging in that you have to chase everybody all over the place since you are looking through a soda straw compared to the wider ARs of features.

The best feature about wheels is that the shot is not going anywhere unless you move those wheels; no balance drift, etc. When doing an over, I can look "out of the shot" for a moment with my left eye to check something or someone (other actors, the AC, the mic. or boom op, etc) without worrying that I have screwed the pooch by not watching every split second.

The only paradox that I run into sometimes is that I would always prefer to do closeups with the wheels, but sometimes you need that left hand to gink a quick correction on focus to help the AC (it happens with the best of them, and they welcome it). Sometimes you can still get your left hand up there to do it when on wheels, but I am never comfortable with that one.

Cheers,

Randy Feemster, SOC

Edited by mrrsoc, 01 December 2005 - 01:33 PM.

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#6 Bob Hayes

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 07:48 PM

There is a real learning curve when using the wheels. But once your good they can?t be beat. I practiced at lunch with a gear head and a laser pointer. I drew figure eights and spelled my name. I even made little mazes with strange angles and turns and would see how fast I could get through them. I also practiced on Baby legs sometimes starting kneeling and then standing up during the shot.

The funny thing is you start by counting turns and trying to remember which way the camera will move. Then one day it becomes completely automatic.

I?m usually OK with my operators adding a gear head onto the package to learn. Rental houses will sometimes throw one in for that purpose. Just practice at lunch not on my time. Nothing is more frustrating then an operator who has decided to learn the wheels on your show. Throw the gearhead on when the shots are pretty static and just get the feel of holding the wheels.

The only paradox that I run into sometimes is that I would always prefer to do closeups with the wheels, but sometimes you need that left hand to gink a quick correction on focus to help the AC (it happens with the best of them, and they welcome it). Sometimes you can still get your left hand up there to do it when on wheels, but I am never comfortable with that one.


When grabbing focus I'll steady the left wheel with my thumb and the right with my pinky.
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#7 Chris Keth

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Posted 02 December 2005 - 03:54 PM

I work at the equipment cage at school now so I've been practicing on that gearhead. One of the profs told me the best way is to take it and only it on a shoot but I'm a bit timid to do that and screw things up. Instead, I've been writing my name, figures, et cetera. I've also been trying to get used to following different diagonal angles.
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