Jump to content


Photo

The circular track stigma.


  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 Adam Frisch FSF

Adam Frisch FSF
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2009 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, USA

Posted 09 December 2006 - 07:39 PM

Let me start off by saying I hate circular track. HATE it. There - it's out. Not because circular track has personally offended me or failed to do what it's supposed to do, but because it's the most misused and misunderstood tool in the entire arsenal of gripping.

Here's how it goes:

Director wants circular track. I ask "are we tracking around some object?". Answer is no - it's just "cool" to have, they think. Slap it on at the end of a straight track, do some cool moves, yeah.

Here's what happens - we lay circular track, plop the dolly on and the director/operator tracks aimlessly around the track panning and compensating for the circle - completely cancelling out anything and everything. And obviously also creating these jiggly, snakey camera moves that drive me nuts. This happens without exception.

Allow me to lay down the law for circular track for the benefit of those who are in the dark: the ONLY time circular track can, and should, be used if you're tracking around some object WITHOUT panning. The camera has to be locked off in pan, basically. If the object doesn't stay in frame during this circular track without panning, you're basically doing it wrong. You're filming the nodal point in the circle's mid and that's it. For everything else straight track will do the job much more gracefully.

Sick of this now - had it out on so many jobs at the request of the powers at be only to see it screwing shot after shot up. Am I the only one who feels this way? :angry:
  • 0

#2 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 19759 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 09 December 2006 - 07:50 PM

I understand what you're saying, the whole backpanning problem from correcting out a curve in the move... I often "straighten out" the moves that a director wants to avoid this, but sometimes you need a curve to the move in order to maintain the same screen size as you arc around something. And I can see panning someone into a circular move... And sometimes a curve is the only way to get around some furniture or architectural supports when you'd rather do a straight move.

But I'm sure you run into this problem of directors wanting to lay out a circular move more often on commercials and music videos than I do on narrative scenes.

Too often on a narrative scene, a director wants to just slowly pan onto the scene action from some meaningless object or wall as a way of starting the scene, which gets old fast.
  • 0

#3 Adam Frisch FSF

Adam Frisch FSF
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2009 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, USA

Posted 09 December 2006 - 08:14 PM

Thanks for the support in my mental breakdown, David! Yes, panning into a circular track would def work.

I do recall an absolutely brilliant use of circular track (I think) in the classic The Spy Who Came In From The Cold shot by Ossie Morris, BSC. It starts as a straight track at the back of a court room where Richard Burton is accused (BTW, why are actors of today so bland compared to his likes?). At the end of the row of seats it imperceptibly starts to travel down the aisle instead and end up in an over the shoulder on Burton! Fantastic, and completely wiggly-free and smooth. But who knows - maybe it was an earlier version of grip Jim Kwiatkowski's 90 degree switcharoo-track that he invented for Spielberg? Or maybe they just tracked on board? Could those old studio dollies really do the crab stuff back then?

Speaking of board - the remake of Thomas Crown Affair has some bravura dollying with some amazingly complicated moves. But McTiernan has always been very cutting edge with his camera moves.
  • 0

#4 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 19759 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 09 December 2006 - 09:30 PM

The shot I hate is when a director wants to circle around two people facing off, but not be wide enough to hold both people in the profile 50/50 2-shot angle, so you drift from this over-the-shoulder but then have to start backpanning to hold the person facing the camera once the foreground person's shoulder leaves frame, but then decide when to start fishing when you come around for the opposite person -- and it's particularly annoying when the director wants you to pan to catch as much dialogue on-screen as possible. And of course it's even more annoying when they want to cover in a moving pick-up the opposite person's lines that were off-camera... but you've never been on a consistent screen direction each time for the dialogue. So you have to cover the drift one side and then the other side of the foreground head.

Then there are the directors who, after you've shot part of a scene on a Steadicam, want to shoot everything else on a Steadicam "just to save time" including inserts and other non-moving objects. So they've got you shoving a wide-angle lens into someone's face to catch a reaction, or have the poor Steadicam operator try to hold still while an actor delivers two pages of dialogue stationary.
  • 0

#5 K Borowski

K Borowski
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 3905 posts
  • Camera Operator
  • I.A.T.S.E. Local # 600 Eastern Region

Posted 10 December 2006 - 12:07 AM

I agree with both of your assertions that the circular track is quite overused, as is the steadicam/hand-held camera, but I think that (relatively) recent TV and cinema are full of innovative uses of the pan & zoom out from an object to start a scene technique. Can't think of any more recent examples than this, but I think the middle of the Star Trek TNG series had some very well-done instances of this type of shooting. I'm particularly impressed by its use in some of the shots in the classic "Yesterday's Enterprise", although I believe it was used from the very beginning, as I recall the technique being used in some of the first season episodes. Is there a particular film or television series that started this in the '80s or has it been around much longer than then?

Regards,

~Karl Borowski
  • 0

#6 Paul Bruening

Paul Bruening

    (deceased)

  • Sustaining Members
  • 2858 posts
  • Producer
  • Oxford, Mississippi

Posted 11 December 2006 - 11:23 AM

I remember back when I was a teenager thinking that the circle dolly around two folks kissing was a great shot. Today, I can't think just what in the heck I liked about it. In the same way, I've grown tired of vertigo shots. I'm getting a little worn on the slow dolly-in on a sad monologue. I guess I'm just getting old and cranky.
  • 0

#7 Leo Anthony Vale

Leo Anthony Vale
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2010 posts
  • Other
  • Pittsburgh PA

Posted 11 December 2006 - 01:15 PM

Could those old studio dollies really do the crab stuff back then?


I think a crab dolly was first used on Hitchcock's 'The Paradine Case'. 1947


I remember back when I was a teenager thinking that the circle dolly around two folks kissing was a great shot. Today, I can't think just what in the heck I liked about it. In the same way, I've grown tired of vertigo shots. I'm getting a little worn on the slow dolly-in on a sad monologue. I guess I'm just getting old and cranky.


If I remeber correcctly on the circular dolly around the kiss, or at least one of them, there's adifferent location or time on each side (one being the stable) and at some point J.Stewert looks up with a 'what the hell's going on?' look.
  • 0

#8 Tim Partridge

Tim Partridge
  • Guests

Posted 11 December 2006 - 02:48 PM

Then there are the directors who, after you've shot part of a scene on a Steadicam, want to shoot everything else on a Steadicam "just to save time" including inserts and other non-moving objects. So they've got you shoving a wide-angle lens into someone's face to catch a reaction, or have the poor Steadicam operator try to hold still while an actor delivers two pages of dialogue stationary.


This happens on the high end??! :blink:

I've been on a set where the "director" requested grabbing stuff quickly with the steadicam as you described, and it was an insert on a long lens. HD shoot. "Director" viewing from video village (in another room) and he was saying the "angle was too jerky, but keep it on the steadicam, don't waste time getting legs". Focus puller suggested resting it on the operator's stand (independently from the director), to prevent operator getting a sore back from uncomfortable "locked off" position. Rig rests on the stand, operator still connected to the rig. Operator disconnects from the rig, "director" requests the camera is tilted slightly, as if rig is a tripod, which, incidentally was a metre away the entire time. There was this unspoken, depressing, collective embarrasment shared by the entire camera crew, the ADs and pretty much everyone who was on set- The DPs face just looked like thunder!

Personally, I liken directing film/TV to driving a car, in that you have to know how to drive a car in order to do so!
  • 0

#9 Brad Grimmett

Brad Grimmett
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2660 posts
  • Steadicam Operator
  • Los Angeles

Posted 11 December 2006 - 05:17 PM

or have the poor Steadicam operator try to hold still while an actor delivers two pages of dialogue stationary.

There's a name for this...."Standicam". I think it's SUPER and I LOVE doing it. <_<
  • 0

#10 Leo Anthony Vale

Leo Anthony Vale
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2010 posts
  • Other
  • Pittsburgh PA

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:56 PM

I think a crab dolly was first used on Hitchcock's 'The Paradine Case'. 1947
If I remeber correcctly on the circular dolly around the kiss, or at least one of them, there's adifferent location or time on each side (one being the stable) and at some point J.Stewert looks up with a 'what the hell's going on?' look.


I know someone who's fond of pointing out the Macaillester crab dolly is a reworked WWII bomb loader:

"There is a LONG story about that dolly
design-- it is actually a modification
of a bomb loader the US military used
during WW2.

After the war they had hundreds of these
things, all intended to transport and
position bombs weighing up to a half ton
into bomb bays or under wings of aircraft
of various designs, so it had to have
extraordinary steering, smooth raise and
lower, and the precise tiny movements
without twitches or jumps to put these
things into place AFTER they had been
fused. Some aircraft did not have enough
space to fuse the bomb after it was loaded
with a new design bomb.

Almost identical units were sold under five
or six names."

& on reflection, the circular dolly in 'Vertigo' is not actually a dolly, rather the acctors are on a turntable in front of a rear projection screen.

---El Pedante
  • 0

#11 timHealy

timHealy
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1252 posts
  • Other
  • New York

Posted 11 December 2006 - 08:09 PM

Then there are the directors who, after you've shot part of a scene on a Steadicam, want to shoot everything else on a Steadicam "just to save time"


One of my favorite complaints! Cheers.

Best

Tim
  • 0

#12 Jonathan Bowerbank

Jonathan Bowerbank
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2815 posts
  • 1st Assistant Camera
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 11 December 2006 - 08:29 PM

Might I add, David, that your circular dolly shot in "Akeelah..." was fantastically done. The placing of the shot was perfect as well, it really pulled me into the scene.

If anyone wants to see a circular tracking shot done right, check out that scene. You can even see how it was done in the DVD extras.
  • 0

#13 boy yniguez

boy yniguez
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 92 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 13 December 2006 - 08:52 AM

Allow me to lay down the law for circular track for the benefit of those who are in the dark: the ONLY time circular track can, and should, be used if you're tracking around some object WITHOUT panning. The camera has to be locked off in pan, basically. If the object doesn't stay in frame during this circular track without panning, you're basically doing it wrong. You're filming the nodal point in the circle's mid and that's it. For everything else straight track will do the job much more gracefully.

and who may i ask laid down this law? what if you want a change in size of the subject during the track? that can only be done if the subject is NOT in the nodal point of the circle (unless of course you are zooming)!
  • 0


Paralinx LLC

CineLab

Glidecam

Technodolly

Rig Wheels Passport

Opal

The Slider

rebotnix Technologies

FJS International, LLC

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Wooden Camera

CineTape

Ritter Battery

Visual Products

Aerial Filmworks

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Abel Cine

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Metropolis Post

Willys Widgets

Tai Audio

Ritter Battery

Aerial Filmworks

Glidecam

rebotnix Technologies

Abel Cine

CineTape

Opal

FJS International, LLC

Paralinx LLC

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

The Slider

CineLab

Wooden Camera

Rig Wheels Passport

Technodolly

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Willys Widgets

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Metropolis Post

Tai Audio

Visual Products