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Spielbergs Dolly Floor


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#1 Mitch Lusas

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 01:33 AM

Hello all,

I'm curious as to how Spielberg's Dolly floor is built. I've heard it described as a dance-floor, but I was wondering if anyone had any details. And to be more specific, does anyone know who first came up with this concept? (I figure it was a Key Grip, and he should get some credit).

Thanks.

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P.S. For anyone who doesn't know what this dance floor is: Basically, Spielberg can change shots during a take. It's pretty foolish to lay down track with him, as he can see an opportunity and he wants to move on it immediately. I suppose a Dolly Grip or Key Grip came up with this idea to build a level, smooth floor for most dolly shots in Spielberg's films.
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 02:38 AM

Basically, Spielberg can change shots during a take. It's pretty foolish to lay down track with him, as he can see an opportunity and he wants to move on it immediately.


Spielberg also uses a technocrane for this reason; it allows him to position and move the camera very freely (within reason, of course).
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#3 Max Jacoby

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 04:01 AM

Dance floors are pieces of plywood that are nailed to the floor to create an even, smooth surface. It's usually several layers. It is more labor intensive than laying tracks, but it gives you much greater control for the movement of the dolly. But I seriously doubt that the dance floor was invented specifically for Steven Spielberg. There is a long history of tracking without rails already.
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 07:29 AM

Television studios also have smooth floors, so they can track using the cameras on the pedestals without the need for a grip or the dolly.
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#5 Mitch Lusas

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 10:51 AM

Thank you for the replies.

Michael, I took a look at the SuperTechnoCrane. Pretty impressive. This would seem to be an answer when there is ample space.

Audiris, I've heard that the 'dance floor' Spielberg uses is built up with a couple layers. I had guessed plywood, but I was curious as to why a couple layers. My theory was that the first layer may have been 2x2 wood strips separated every 18in. My reasoning, is that it could possibly lead to better leveling. Does anyone have any idea what these layers were, and the reason behind them?

Thanks again.
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#6 Bob Hayes

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 10:54 AM

"Dance Floor" has been used since the seventies. I've never heard it referred to as a Spielberg floor. Neither is it nailed to the floor. The base is ¾" plywood. It is usually composed of combinations of 4x8, 4x4, and 4x2 sheets. Also dolly grips will use angled pieces of plywood. Once the area of the camera move is determined the plywood is placed on the floor much like a Chinese puzzle. The plywood is then covered with thin sheet of masonite, or Luann, or a high impact plastic. The sheets are staggered so the seems do not line up. The only time it is screwed into the floor is when you are on a stage with a real stage floor. Occasionally grips will screw the top layer to the ¾" plywood to cover an uneven spot. It is really the only way to dolly complex moves. It is very time consuming to build. But once installed is allows the dolly grip to do multiple setups very quickly.
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#7 Mitch Gross

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 01:53 PM

I think the history of dance floor goes even further back. In the US for a long time "track" was always a custom platform built out of wood, usually something like 1x6 planking. It was only needed for exterior or location work as everything else was done in studios with smooth flat floors. Metal track rails were invented in Europe, I believe. Americans used dollies like the old McCalister, the Peerless and eventually the Moviola, which introduced the crab function (steering all four wheels). These dollies could not run on metal track. In Europe the Elemack Spider and later the Cricket dollies were designed to switch between track wheels and wheels for flooring, or even inflated tires for some exterior use. The Elemack dollies used a center column design as opposed to the American style scissoring lift arm. The Elemacks were much smaller but could not get as low as the American designs.

Americans were using metal track for certain work, and it took a special track rig with a gearing strip to execute the famous zoom out/dolly in effect in "Vertigo." But I remember reading an article by a French New Wave filmmaker who was amused seeing an American crew build a complex wooden dolly platform for some shots in Otto Preminger's "Exodus." Apparently they insisted on working this way even though a simple metal track system would have taken half the time to complete.

Anyway, back to Dance Floor. It is quite literally that--flooring used for dancers. Someone once told me that the name came from the old MGM usicals, but I find that hard to swallow. And the RKO Astaire/Rogers musicals used polished floors that had to be rebuffed at lunch and dinner every day to hide the scuff marks. As noted, dance floor is 3/4 ply covered with Masonite with the seams staggered and often paper taped for smoothness. I use this all the time as NY locations can often be infuriatingly small and it is a way to squeeze every inch of a move where track may not sometimes fit. Seven feet of space and 8' track sections equal dance floor perfection. As long as precise leveling is not an issue it can be a very quick way to work.

For a great example of compound moves made possible by dance floor, check out "Masculine/Feminine" by Godard. There is a scene that takes place inside & outside a corner Bistro which must entail 30+ moves from a Cricket dolly.

Spielberg had nothing to do with dance floor, although I'm sure he uses it all the time. Perhaps you are confusing it with switching track, which was created by his dolly grip at Speilberg's request for "Saving Private Ryan." This attaches to standard metal track and allows the dolly to momentarilly park on it and then move in a direction 90 degrees from the original path. It only fits the Fischer PeeWee dolly, which is the most popular dolly around. I believe the device was profiled in detail in the AC article on the movie at the time.
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#8 Michael Nash

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Posted 28 March 2006 - 02:40 AM

It only fits the Fischer PeeWee dolly, which is the most popular dolly around.


Tell that to folks here in LA. I used Chapman almost exclusively back in Florida, but since I've been here (7 years) 95% of the shows I've worked on have used the Fisher 11 (or 10, if they need something bigger). Mention the PeeWee and people look at you funny, like you're Al-Qaida or something!
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 12:06 AM

Tell that to folks here in LA. I used Chapman almost exclusively back in Florida, but since I've been here (7 years) 95% of the shows I've worked on have used the Fisher 11 (or 10, if they need something bigger). Mention the PeeWee and people look at you funny, like you're Al-Qaida or something!

Hmm, it's funny to hear that. I find that it's pretty equal between Fisher and Chapman. Do you work mostly in features, commercials, or what? Just curious.
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#10 Michael Nash

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 03:00 AM

Hmm, it's funny to hear that. I find that it's pretty equal between Fisher and Chapman. Do you work mostly in features, commercials, or what? Just curious.


A little bit of everything. On film it's mostly features, but also music videos, shorts, and some commercials. TV's another story.

Honestly it's been several years since I've seen a Chapman product on set. That's not an endorsement or criticism; just an observation.
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#11 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 30 March 2006 - 01:07 AM

Honestly it's been several years since I've seen a Chapman product on set. That's not an endorsement or criticism; just an observation.

Hmm....maybe that's just a coincidence? I prefer Fisher dollies myself....but you get whatever the DP prefers in most cases.
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#12 Mitch Gross

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 03:30 PM

I seem to always have dolly grips pushing Fishers at me. Wheni don't care then I let it be their preference (they're the ones who have to deal with it), but there are times when I know that we'll need to small footprint of the Chapman PeeWee. I will say that I've never tipped a Fisher, but that certainly isn't true of a PeeWee.

btw, steer clear of the Italian Dino "imitation PeeWee" dollies. I find them unstable and pieces fall apart. Don't like a dolly that you have to keep a tool kit around to use. Sexy looking in black & orange though.
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#13 Hal Smith

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 05:04 PM

A true dance floor for dancers also has a layer of padding in it so that it can installed on a concrete underfloor and not cause impact injuries. I've built a temporary stage with high quality plywood staggered on top of regular carpet padding. The pad also helps to stop miscellaneous squeaks and pops from small movements of the plywood/floor interface.

Dance flooring for dancers is topped with a layer of Marley, a special plastic sheeting, on the top with the joints and edges held down with gaffer's tape.

The requirements for dancers might be help also for camera work. The padding will keep down noise and the Marley would form a nice regular surface with no directional grain to seduce wheels into tracking off line.
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