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Crane options and steadicam stepoffs


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#1 Michael Collier

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 08:44 PM

I am designing a complex steadicam shot, and I need to get an idea of how I will do it for budgetary reasons (at least the basics so we can plan the schedule).

Its a crane shot, high overhead on dolly, the crane dollys with the motion of the charecters below running, then booms down. As the crane reaches bottom the steadicam op will stepoff and complete a long shot. The crane should be 25-30' in length, the dolly pull should be around 100-150'. The dolly must match running speed (aprox 10 mph at a fair jog)

My question is the crane on dolly issue. obviously a jib can ride on standard rails without too much pain in setup, but a crane with a person riding needs something entirely different. I clearly won't be in charge of rigging this, but just to get an idea of what to look at for the producers standpoint would be good. Is there a rail/crane system that is cheaply rentable, idealy in seattle? What is the gross weight of such a system?

I am split between renting a pre-made crane system, or having one fabricated in town. We have at our disposal lots of raw steel we can rent (yes, rent!) have a design made by an engeneer, built by one of our oil service companies (there are a lot of them here too) and eventually disassembled and the steel returned. This would save greatly on shipping charges to the state, but I don't know if union rules requires certified cranes to be used if a steadicam operator is to ride one. Either way I would love to know what the standard way of doing something like this would be. There is no chance for a dance floor, its and EXT shot.

My next question has to do with the stepoff. Idealy I want the stepoff to be done in a manner that maintains the backwards moving camera. I doubt I can time the stepoff perfectly to maintain this motion, is it possible to choreograph the operator step off as the dolly is slowing its roll but still moving (as fast as 5mph), and have him walking backwards off the platform as soon as he hits ground. I don't know if that makes sense, but the idea is he maintains the backwards motion of the crane as he steps off, slowing slightly. I imagine it would be like getting off an escalator standing backwards. Doable, but complicated by the steadicam rig and the uneven ground he will step onto (and the slight drop)

Are there steadicam ops crazy enough who would do that, or would saftey rules preclude a move like that? is there a better step off point that I am not seeing? cable cam is a no go because of the shot that follows the crane bit.
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 11:14 PM

I'd be really worried about him stepping off of the crane walking backwards (running really) at 5mph
Perhaps it would be better to do it as 2 shots and hit a cut in there. Have the steady cam op pick up "booming down" a bit as he's moving backwards to have it look like the last few inches of the crane move. It would also be hard to figure out but you're not risking an op toppling over backwards with the camera... Just my 2c. on the matter.
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#3 Darryl Richard Humber

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 11:19 PM

I am designing a complex steadicam shot, and I need to get an idea of how I will do it for budgetary reasons (at least the basics so we can plan the schedule).

Its a crane shot, high overhead on dolly, the crane dollys with the motion of the charecters below running, then booms down. As the crane reaches bottom the steadicam op will stepoff and complete a long shot. The crane should be 25-30' in length, the dolly pull should be around 100-150'. The dolly must match running speed (aprox 10 mph at a fair jog)

My question is the crane on dolly issue. obviously a jib can ride on standard rails without too much pain in setup, but a crane with a person riding needs something entirely different. I clearly won't be in charge of rigging this, but just to get an idea of what to look at for the producers standpoint would be good. Is there a rail/crane system that is cheaply rentable, idealy in seattle? What is the gross weight of such a system?

I am split between renting a pre-made crane system, or having one fabricated in town. We have at our disposal lots of raw steel we can rent (yes, rent!) have a design made by an engeneer, built by one of our oil service companies (there are a lot of them here too) and eventually disassembled and the steel returned. This would save greatly on shipping charges to the state, but I don't know if union rules requires certified cranes to be used if a steadicam operator is to ride one. Either way I would love to know what the standard way of doing something like this would be. There is no chance for a dance floor, its and EXT shot.

My next question has to do with the stepoff. Idealy I want the stepoff to be done in a manner that maintains the backwards moving camera. I doubt I can time the stepoff perfectly to maintain this motion, is it possible to choreograph the operator step off as the dolly is slowing its roll but still moving (as fast as 5mph), and have him walking backwards off the platform as soon as he hits ground. I don't know if that makes sense, but the idea is he maintains the backwards motion of the crane as he steps off, slowing slightly. I imagine it would be like getting off an escalator standing backwards. Doable, but complicated by the steadicam rig and the uneven ground he will step onto (and the slight drop)

Are there steadicam ops crazy enough who would do that, or would saftey rules preclude a move like that? is there a better step off point that I am not seeing? cable cam is a no go because of the shot that follows the crane bit.

It is a terrible idea to use a crane you've built yourself for this and I don't know of a professional Steadicam op that would get on one. Second, this shot is a tricky proposition at best and you need a grip crew who know the ins and outs of this shot and have done it before. A full out run for 150 feet with a Steadicam op on a platform coming down to a stepoff is something that requires a good Key Grip's expertise. Most portable cranes ride on rails (phoenix etc) but are rideable only to a specified length of arm. One of these might work, but you'll need a platform on it for the op to stand on. Ideally you would get a Titan or Supernova for this but unless you're in a parking lot it's pretty impracticle for this. I've done shots similar to this but I was in a parking lot, and was on a big enough crane to ride with and assist the Steadicam op. The shot can be done, but you need a good Key Grip who has seen the terrain to scout it out and make recommendations. Don't try to shortcut this one. This is the kind of shot people get seriously hurt on or worse. Good luck.
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#4 Warwick Hempleman

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 04:27 AM

I second Darryl re: building a crane. Go with what exists, there are so many reasons not to reinvent the wheel, and economics and safety factors loom throughout.

One thing I'm wondering about is a huge tracking move followed by steadicam. Have you considered your blocking to keep the track out of frame? You may want to rethink the shot a little, and the means of achieving it. Would a telescoping crane, like an ST50, work instead of using the Steadicam move? What about a Strada / Akela, with the Op hung from it in a harness? Also the speed at which you want to track the action is fairly fast, especially with a person standing, hanging or sitting on the crane platform. A jumpoff from a crane while tracking is a very tricky thing to do, to put it mildly. You'll almost certainly want to block for a full stop of the crane before the Op would step off.

And, as Darryl says Good Luck. This could be a beautiful camera move or the last thing somebody ever does.

Edited by Warwick Hempleman, 01 November 2008 - 04:27 AM.

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#5 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 06:17 AM

It is a terrible idea to use a crane you've built yourself for this and I don't know of a professional Steadicam op that would get on one.



I second that. No Steadicam op that i know of would even consider stepping on a home made crane. Personaly i wouldnt do a step off from a crane that was dollying at anything resembling a fast speed. That sounds more like a shot you'd be better off doing with a remote head on a wire rig. It doesn't sound like a safe shot to be using a steadicam on, sorry.
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#6 Onno Perdijk

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 03:51 PM

Hello Michael and others,

describing your shot by using a crane as to enlighten your idea is very good; it gives a very good impression of a very impressive shot! as wick said how about blocking tracks? and as others said: tricky business for a steadop to walk backwards at this speed starting from zero speed, stepping of running on full speed... post the phonenumber of this guy; he will be having lots of work ;-0

First of all: get an experienced grip, whatever your solution will gonna be.
secondly: better safe the poop.

I could think of a wireless gyro-stabilized remotehead, underslung a small platform, connected to the four cables of a "fly-by-wire" / cablecam-system. Release them when you are close to the ground and have 8 grips running with the platform and do finish the shot and 4 others to safe the remaining cables (hopefully this idea releases you from the "no go wire" thought).

When using available equipment you could use a giant buildingcrane . With knowledge and experience hung the opp on the harnass (as Wick suggested) and/but with this note that this is not a balanced crane but a "payload-lifted" (if you get what I mean...?) With the swing of the boom and the tracking facility on the boom you could archive your tracking lenght along the running family, and release when on the ground....

It are just some quick thoughts, not a full "but what if..." and "how to..." Maybe tomorrowmorning when I reread this post I will think of my own stupidity somewhere...

Good Luck as allways,
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#7 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 06:03 PM

What if you put a big techno-crane on the back of an insert car? Then you can use the telescope and the arm to do the "step-off" part of the move?
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#8 Michael Collier

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Posted 02 November 2008 - 02:35 AM

It is a terrible idea to use a crane you've built yourself for this and I don't know of a professional Steadicam op that would get on one.

I second that. No Steadicam op that i know of would even consider stepping on a home made crane.


Understood. Note that it would not be 'homemade' but designed by qualified engeneers and built by some of the best welders and fabricators in the world. But if any questions of saftey preclude me from getting a professional op to work comfortably and with confidence, then the shot is a non-starter anyway.

What about a Strada / Akela, with the Op hung from it in a harness?


Good insight, I will have to ponder that option.

Personaly i wouldnt do a step off from a crane that was dollying at anything resembling a fast speed.


Sounds like I need to rethink the blocking so the crane does stop. I am sure that is probably the most workable option. Like has been said before, there is no reason to risk saftey just for a shot. I can probably amend the design with added saftey in mind. In the end I will always trust the advice of the person in the hot seat, saftey is not a joke and no movie is worth risking everything.

The cable rig with platform is tempting, but I think the sucessive shot needs steadicam to be pulled off, a platform carried by 8 people might make the last bit of the shot (ultamately the most important part) needlessly tricky or impossible. Likewise with the techno on an insert. I think I sacrifice a lot less just simply stopping the crane before the stepoff.


This could be a beautiful camera move or the last thing somebody ever does.


very poigniant message. I am hoping it will be beautiful, but under no circumstances will I tolerate any exposure to undue risk for anyone on set (for any shot). Thats why esp. on this shot I want to solicit the advice of anyone who has done a shot like this. I will take all of your comments to heart as I push forward. Thanks all for the advice, and keep 'em coming if you think of anything else that might be a concern, or equipment I should look into.
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#9 Sanjay Sami

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Posted 02 November 2008 - 09:03 AM

Hi, I may be a bit late replying to this. I hope not. The move could be great, but you have not explained what the steadicam needs to do after the step off. This may allow us to suggest a safer way to do the shot. A couple of questions:
1. If the camera is looking straight down, the steadicam op. is going to struggle to hold the frame.
2. How do you plan to keep the track out of shot if the track distance is so much greater than the arm?
3. Absolute no, to a steadicam operator getting off backwards off a moving crane. There are complicated issues when you allow a step off a crane. The arm is counterbalanced. At 30 feet arm length you are looking at a payload to ballast ratio of atleast 1:5. If someone stumbles, trips , f#$@'s up - you will have dead people on set as the ballast comes crashing down with a half tonne (atleast) and the crane does a back flip. The step off and securing is going to require some choreography and at least 2 static seconds on the ground.

I have done this kind of move successfully several times, and I have more white hair on my head because of it every single time.

As darryl recommends, a big truck based crane would be ideal. But that will be dictated by terrain.

As far as location cranes go, my reccomendation will have to be the Giraffe Long Ranger from Filmair. It is the only one that will get you the length and stability that you need.

Forget about the steel, hand built crane. A steel 30 foot crane will be so heavy that pushing it at 10 MPH and then stopping it and controlling the arm will be a serious task.

Lastly, and in my opinion most important. Get the best Key Grip money can get you to pull off this shot safely. Things can go horribly wrong very quickly.

Having said all of that , with the right people and the right tools, the shot can look fabulous.

Good luck and be safe!!
Tell us what you decide
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#10 Lachlan Ward

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Posted 15 November 2008 - 08:03 PM

Hi Mike. Have you thought about frame blending? It would be the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to do what you want. You just use a Stanton Jib(or anything for that matter) and Stedi-cam OP at the same time. The Jib drops the camera down infront of the stedi-cam op for a second and then pulls out quick sharp. I've seen it work well, however, I'm not a post guy so get in contact with one and find out what works best for them.

Good luck

Lachlan
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