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Steadicam vs. Dolly and Jib


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#1 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 04:01 PM

Hello,
I would like to know how you all feel about the difference between these two camera movement options when:
1) Tracking a walking actor on the street (in profile and walking toward the camera)
2) Small push-in's and pull backs
3) Smaller track-ups and track-downs

Please feel free to communicate about other types of shots where these two options could be used and how you feel about the difference in the two different approaches.
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#2 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 04:15 PM

it's very frustrating for me because I feel it's an interesting question but, due to my english knowledge I dont' understand numbers 2 and 3. (do you mean 1 dolly tracking shot, 2 with stead, 3 with jib ? but you say "these 2 options", so I don't get it...)

I know well of tracking, stedycam and jibs, but if you woudn't mind, Dan, can you be more "easy to understand" if possible - to a non native english speaker ?
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#3 Rob van Gelder

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 09:51 PM

The use of these techniques is determined by the "look" that you want to have.
They all have their own characteristics and sometimes a Steadicam doing a dollymove is preferred, sometimes the use of one is determined by availability or money.

I just did a shoot on Steadicam, all with long lenses (75mm, 100mm) on 35mm film.
As the movements are not as straight as on a camera head and dolly, it gives the movie a different feeling, which is what the director liked.
I was basically used as an "unstable tripod". :D
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#4 DavidSloan

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 10:43 PM

It seems to me that a recent trend in Hollywood has been to replace the tripod, and dolly, with the steadycam. Some directors, like James Cameron, have never heard of a tripod...but some international directors like Hou Hsiao Hsien never move the camera. I guess it depends on what you're after; just saying I like one or the other doesn't make much sense.
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#5 J. Lamar King

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Posted 22 September 2004 - 11:32 PM

Deakins seems to whip out a Super-Techno when everybody else would use a dolly.
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#6 Bob Hayes

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 01:44 AM

It is hard to beat the flexibility of a Steadicam. But here are the differences. As I see them.

1. STEADICAM.
Positives: Allows you to move the camera without taking the time to lay track. Does a great job following unpredictable action . If actors miss marks or change blocking the Steadicam can correct. It can move over varied terrain like upstairs for example. It?s a great tool for inexperienced directors who are unsure of their ability to block a scene. Dollies require a mastery of blocking.
Negatives: The compositions tend to be more freeform and less precise. If you are into that perfectly composed frame Steadicam has a hard time getting it. Steadicam shots tend to float a little which can be distracting. Because wide lenses tend to work better on Steadicam you often end up with shots, especially overs, which are wider then you want.

2. JIB
Positives: One thing a jib does better then any other camera platform is go from high to low. A jib even a short Lousmandy style jib can go from touching the floor to 8? off the ground. A Steadicam in ?Low Mode? goes from the floor to 3? off the ground. A Dolly with an off set and a weaver goes from floor to 5?. A jib on a dolly can go from floor to 11?. A Jib on a dolly can copy many of the Steadicam style shots. It?s just harder. Because the operator doesn?t carry any weight jibs work great for long durations shots. Like concerts.
Negatives: Jibs have the same ?floating? frame problems. They are time consuming to set up and require lots of room. They are forced to move in an arc which is almost always the opposite curve then you want.

3. DOLLY
Positives: Dollies offer very precise repeatable moves. They are very steady particularly on long lenses. Because a dolly grip moves the operator and camera the operator can concentrate totally on composition. With a ?Dance floor?, a smooth floor where the dolly can move anywhere, a Dolly can do most of what a Steadicam can do.
Negatives. It takes time to lay dolly track or dance floor. Specific rehearsals are required to get cast, operator, dolly grip, and assistant camera in sync.
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#7 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 05:16 AM

"It?s a great tool for inexperienced directors who are unsure of their ability to block a scene. Dollies require a mastery of blocking."

As a steadicam operator I think I have to speak up and say that steadicam needs the same amount, if not more, blocking than a dolly shot. The fact that most steadicam shots move farther distances than dolly shots should tell you that they need more blocking and more rehearsal. It's a common thing for unexperienced directors to think that you can just "wing it" with steadicam and not worry too much about blocking, but it's not true. Steadicam needs very specific blocking (for the A.C. if nothing else) and is often NOT faster than doing something on a dolly. There have been many directors and producers screwed by thinking that steadiam will save them time and money. It's expensive, heavy, and requires careful planning to be done correctly. That doesn't mean it's a pain in the ass, it just means that it's the same as any other shot that you want to do and shouldn't be treated as something that's easy to ignore. Of course, any steadicam operator can "wing it" if need be, but you shouldn't expect miracles when you put them in that position.
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 05:25 AM

Hi,

I have some experience with steadicam and I'll second Mr. Grimmet's comments - it's actually very hard to change direction (in certain axes) with any speed and it's very important to know where you're going next. You can always tell when someone's got steadicam on an unpredictable subject because the framing, particularly horizontally, is often all over the place.

If you want steadicam to look like a dolly, that's one situation where I think someone with the latest flashest equipment helps. Having now played quite extensively with both (although I've never used a PRO on a shoot) I'm beginning to form the opinion that for those perfect dolly-smooth moves there's no substitute for a decent gimbal, irrespective of who's operating.

Phil
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#9 Rob van Gelder

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 11:35 AM

I did a televion movie for the BBC 2 months ago where the steadicam was chosen for the speed of the shooting, in a very hilly/angled terrain.

In the hands of an experienced director, who anticipates the use of Steadicam,BEFORE executing the script, and together with an experienced operator it can save a lot of time, and allowing flexibility.

I know for sure that in the 8 days of shooting we covered at least 3 weeks of conventional shooting, on dolly and sticks.

It was hard though, 6 to 8 hours wearing the rig every day, while one foot is always lower than the other does stress the human body.
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#10 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 07:28 PM

"In the hands of an experienced director, who anticipates the use of Steadicam,BEFORE executing the script, and together with an experienced operator it can save a lot of time, and allowing flexibility."

Good point Rob. In a situation like you describe steadicam CAN be a time saver. I've certainly been in situations where it has been, but I've also been in situations where the director wasn't prepared and it turned into a nightmare and no one was happy with the results. Unfortunately, the latter seems more common, but there are exceptions.
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#11 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 06:01 AM

I think I begin to get it... You want to compare stadicam to tracking with dolly (and jib if necessary) in these 3 situations.

I think that a tracking shot is best for tracking a walking actor. Depends on the steadicamer, actually, some would give you the same quality job but so easier on tracks...

I think that for small push-back and forth, up and down, steadicam might be smoother, but, especially for the downs and ups, it depends on the dolly you have : Chapman does good job, Panther is too slow.

If it's small ups and down with jib, it really depends on the situation. But since the jib describes an arc of a circle in both directions, i's not so precise (unless you have a Louma 2).

I think the Jib is usefull where no dolly nor steadicam can make it, and these are many situations. I think that If I had the choice, I'd use the Jib as a last choice for a shot that can be done otherways, but I love Jibs, and love to use them in such situations. You really can do things you can't do otherways
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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 09:56 AM

Hi,

Steadicam seems to me to be a massive timesaver in certain situations. I've said all this before on the old board, but for recent subscribers - it saves time in the typical big US television production situation, where you often have a very large studio set which is lit to look good from almost any angle, without lighting in shot. You can, and they often do, blast off page after page of dialogue with walk-and-talks in a way that looks pretty and takes very little time to set up. The overhead to this of course is keeping a standing set on a stage at Paramount (Star Trek) or Warner (ER, The West Wing) which is obviously expensive, but it's a very powerful way of making forty-five minutes of good-looking TV drama in 7 days. Steadicam is a massive timesaver in these circumstances, but if you watch carefully they often do only this with it - there aren't feature-film style tracking shots, it's not being a quick-to-set-up dolly, it's walk after walk around this enormous set.

If you do not have a large set that's well lit from all angles, steadicam can be a pain in the arse. I have done several short films where the producers wanted steadicam because they thought it would make the production look like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However this paradigm simply does not hold for many location shoots where it's impossible to hide the lighting well enough to do extended walkthroughs; I have been in this situation on many occasions, often when I'm trying to light and operate at the same time, when you're shooting in someone's friend's father's office block with awful fluorescents and huge windows, and it becomes impossible to make it look nice for the whole walk and disaster ensues.

So steadicam is a great timesaver if you already have a lot of money, but the freedom to see the whole location, warts and all, can be dangerous.

Phil
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#13 fstop

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 05:03 PM

It depends entirely on your lighting style. I am lighting a doco-drama/comedy short set all in one room in two weeks that is going to be all steadicam for A camera with B camera stationary zooming in. The performances are going to be largely improvisation based. I am lighting entirely from above (2Ks bounced onto silks and muslim as well as making use of the locations built in flos) and there will be no ceiling shots, with a bit of bounce in front of the camera. It's a mixture of that David Watkin single soft source thing I love meets the way Ken Lamkin/MikelNeiers/Nick Mclean/RonaldBrowne etc light US sitcoms (a largely unrecognised artform, IMO, ignored due to it's obvious artfice). I wouldn't light from above for every shot on every film I'm going to shoot, but here it works, and in general the built in practical/source lighting approach (with no relighting for close ups) of big lights far away tends to work better for Steadicam. That said, it's not a style EVERYONE can stomach, and I know most of you guys here prefer MUCH more control over lighting and exposure but I personally think it looks awesome AND it saves time! but yeah, it's not for everyone...
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#14 TJ Williams

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 11:33 AM

Maybe there is a principle here about choosing dolly or steadicam:

Small moves with steadicam save time and money because, the dolly dance floor or track and rehearsel of the shot for dolly crew takes longer, This is especially true where wider lenses are ok so the Steadicam assistant, doesn't need as much rehearsel.

Long involved Steadicam moves, work more efficiently outdoors or on large pre-lit
stages. (especially top lit. or dimmered) When the location has to be lit for a long involved "all in one" steadicam move there is delay for light placement, difficulty keeping good framing while missing all the lights, more rehearsel and soft takes, as longer lenses are needed to keep the amount of background out of the shot.

Many directors seem to feel they can do pages of stuff in long steadicam moves in indoor locations and save time. This attempt to have the cake and eat it is just wrong.
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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 04:33 PM

Hi,

Exactly, put much better than I did.

I could go off on a riff about how these guys who do walk-and-talks all day tend to strut about because they're doing it on high end shows; big deal, I can do walk-and-talks. Try doing a shot which is intrinsically hopelessly compromised by the location and will suck anyway, and try doing it on beat up old gear, without much rehearsal! They haven't lived...

Phil
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#16 Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 06:19 AM

As RobVanGelder said, it's for what look/effect you want.

When you steadycam the shot you do get a slight unstableness. It's almost like a first person view. But if done correctly you can get good results.

Usually when you shoot fast paced scenes you would use steadycam to get the first person view and get that camera shake. All adds to the effect. One thing you can do is to use a longer focal length lens, so it's more sensitive to any movement. Giving it a "Saving Private Ryan" look (Referring to the landing scene)
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#17 Stephen Press

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 06:53 AM

People get too hung up on either or. Both type of shots have their place where they make a shot sing or can kill it flat. The problem I find is educating the director as to when it works and when it?s a bad idea
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 03:08 PM

Hi,

> Usually when you shoot fast paced scenes you would use steadycam to get the > first person view and get that camera shake.

Steadicam is designed to remove "camera shake". Although it is often quite good for first-person views, it's done that way because we don't necessarily perceive the shakiness of our own viewpoint.

> One thing you can do is to use a longer focal length lens, so it's more sensitive
> to any movement. Giving it a "Saving Private Ryan" look

All that stuff was shot, mainly handheld, using a specialist image shaker device. Miles away from what you'd be going for with steadicam.

Where do you get all this stuff from?

Phil
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#19 Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 05:31 PM

Well ok what I meant by camera shake is that of what you see yourself. I could have made it a bit clearer though. A first person view does involve some kind of shake; it's what adds to the effect of realism.

Yeh sure Saving Private Ryan may have used specialist "shaking" equipment, but there?s plenty of alternatives (much cheaper ones, too) I was merely referring to the "effect", not what they actually did or used. Unless your Spielberg or Lucas or any other hugely successful director you have to stick with what you've got and can afford. A well planned low budget film can still come out extremely well, just so long as you know what you are doing and you have it all in your head planned ready to go.
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#20 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 05:37 PM

A first person view does involve some kind of shake


I personaly don't agree with that. Unless the person'running. I know it became some kind of a convention, but, seriously, does one see things shaking, when looking at anything ? I don't.
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