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handheld vs steadicam


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#1 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 04:17 PM

Hi,

When is the best time to use hand held camera and when is the best time to use steadicam (or any other smooth camera work)?


Thanks for your help.
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 05:01 PM

No huge set of rules, but hand held is very much associated with documentaries and news and carries the sub text of being in an uncontrolled situation and not knowing what is about happen next. If you're not trying to generate this feeling, you must ask why you aren't using a camera dolly, a Steadicam or a tripod for a shot.

Watch Kubrick's films, he uses both hand held and steady, controlled camera moves in the same film.
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#3 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 05:15 PM

Thanks for your help :)

But can't using the steady cam (or any other smoother camera movement) also show "being in an uncontrolled situation and not knowing what is about to happen next"?

For example: In The Dark Knight, when the Joker crashes the party and is threatening Maggie Gyllenhaal and the camera is smooth and goes around both of them.


Edited by Jim Nelson, 30 August 2010 - 05:15 PM.

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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 05:49 PM

That scene seems to be a mix of Steadicam and handheld, with the Steadicam shots being closer to the hand held than the dolly side of its operating spectrum, so that there's a continuity through the scene.
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#5 Tom Jensen

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 06:24 PM

Hi,

When is the best time to use hand held camera and when is the best time to use steadicam (or any other smooth camera work)?


Thanks for your help.


You use a Steadicam when you can't afford a dolly and know a kid who borrowed money from his relatives to buy a Steadicam. You go hand held when you can't afford either. You also use Steadicam when don't want to take the time to lay dolly track. Steadicam operators are a great substitute for a dolly since they rarely need a break and can hold their rigs for hours without a break or water. Sometimes they don't even get lunch. OK, who hates me? :D

OK, seriously, watch a great Steadicam shot like it Goodfellas and great hand held work like Saving Private Ryan. The gear you use is dictated by the shot and the story you are telling. Steadicam is more fluid and hand held can be a little rougher. You may go hand held when you don't have space, like in a car or a hallway.
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#6 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 07:53 PM

I'm sorry but I'm still a bit confused with when to use the steady cam. Can't using the steady cam (or any other smoother camera movement) also show "being in an uncontrolled situation and not knowing what is about to happen next"?
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#7 Valentin Farkasch

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 09:16 PM

yes of course it can
but in my opinon a steady cam creates more emotional distance than handheld
handheld really puts the viewer in the scene and feels less voyeuristic ...

steadycam shows the uncontrolable situation but puts you on the outside ...

it all comes down to what is it the story needs
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#8 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 09:30 PM

But smoother camera movement like the steady cam can enhance the character's emotions, which makes us also feel how they feel right?

For example: in Rocky when he climbed up those stairs and the camera smoothly goes around him; we feel his excitement. Or in The Dark Knight when the joker crashes the party and the camera smoothly goes around him and Maggie Gyllehaal; doesn't this smooth movement also make us feel the way she's feeling, in other words, scared of what he's gonna do to her?

Edited by Jim Nelson, 30 August 2010 - 09:33 PM.

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#9 Tom Jensen

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 09:40 PM

But smoother camera movement like the steady cam can enhance the character's emotions, which makes us also feel how they feel right?

For example: in Rocky when he climbed up those stairs and the camera smoothly goes around him; we feel his excitement. Or in The Dark Knight when the joker crashes the party and the camera smoothly goes around him and Maggie Gyllehaal; doesn't this smooth movement also make us feel the way she's feeling, in other words, scared of what he's gonna do to her?


Are you asking or telling? It's a tool, use it however you want.
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#10 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 09:44 PM

I just want to be sure, cause I'm having doubts whether what I think is true or not :(
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#11 Tom Jensen

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 10:27 PM

I just want to be sure, cause I'm having doubts whether what I think is true or not :(


It's true if you want it to be true. It's up to you. There are no hard and fast rules. Just think of how you want to tell the story and what you want to use.
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#12 Jim Nelson

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 10:42 PM

But was I correct when I said that "smoother camera movement like the steady cam can enhance the character's emotions, which makes us also feel how they feel"? and which therefore makes us involved with the characters?

- My 2nd question is: can it be used to enhance the feeling of an "uncontrollable situation and not knowing what is gonna happen next"?


I'm sorry if I'm being a pain, but I just want it to be clear :)

Edited by Jim Nelson, 30 August 2010 - 10:44 PM.

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#13 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 02:48 AM

An advantage of the Steadicam is that you can achieve steady images using longer lenses compared to hand held. However, the Steadicam only enhances the characters emotions if it reflects their emotions. The Joker is in control of the situation, so the smoother Steadicam shots underline that, the other characters no longer have control, so the less stable hand held camera reflects that situation.

To your second question: Yes it can, but so can a hand held camera or a camera move on a dolly. It's how you use these tools in a particular situation with particular characters played by particular set of actors are used by a particular director telling their version of the story. There are no set rules in this matter, it's more what works within the overall story telling style of the person telling the story. One director will do it one way, while another will handle it in a very different manner.
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#14 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 04:32 AM

You should also compare how Tim Burton handles the Joker in his Batman film and see if there are any differences.
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#15 Tim Partridge

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 07:31 AM

I really like how Joker is photographed in the first Batman film. It's mostly simple, tight, performance centred coverage, locked off or with very graceful, subtle, slow push ins just to punctuate moments. I think Burton is really good at doing that Blake Edwards proscenium physical comedy style of staging, but there's just enough of the slight push ins and pull backs that let the camera tell the story. completely different to Nolan/Pfister's roaming, verite, jump cutty anamorphic.

As far as I know, there was no Steadicam used on the first Batman film. Perhaps this was to not detract from the beautiful art direction (which won an Oscar)? I don't remember any Steadicam in Beetljuice either (Batman Returns used it). There's a fair amount of very effective handheld, though, particularly during the flashback to the parents and the art gallery defacing. The Francis Bacon moment is an unbroken handheld shot (on a wide lens) that doesn't draw any attention to itself.

In my opinion, Roger Pratt did a great job adding a layer of elegance to the wackiness, with enough variation in smoke and contrast to stop it from turning into a flat cartoon, just as he did so well with Gilliam. The second/action unit direction and photography I have always thought to be much faster paced and more imaginative with the angles, like an action movie, yet I think the clash with Burton's more comedic direction is really effective and is a refreshing change of gears in the film.

I am with Tom, by the way; they are just tools. I am sure one day someone will shoot a romantic comedy juddery long lens handheld with 45 degree shutter and everyone will then associate that with "intimate, close to the characters".
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#16 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 09:10 AM

Yes, it's a while since I've seen Tim Burton's version, but I can only recall it being more centred on Jack Nicholson, rather than the camera moves.
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#17 Jim Nelson

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 12:43 AM

Thanks so much for your help. Things are getting more clear :)

I heard that hand held camera makes you involved with the character, in other words you're seeing the world through his eyes. But since steady cam (and other smoother camera work) can enhance the character's feelings, don't they also make you involved with the character (and therefore see the world through his eyes)?

My second question is: you said that in the scene with the joker, they used the steady cam to underline that he's in control of the situation. But don't you also get the feeling that you don't know what's gonna happen next even though he's in control?


Thank you so much. You are all very helpful :)

Edited by Jim Nelson, 01 September 2010 - 12:47 AM.

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#18 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 02:05 AM

But don't you also get the feeling that you don't know what's gonna happen next even though he's in control?


It's not just about the camera, it's also about the performances given by the actors.
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#19 Jim Nelson

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 10:07 AM

Yes that's true but the smooth camera can underline that the character is in control of the situation and at the same time give us the feeling that we don't know what's gonna happen next right?

- And since it enhances the character's feelings, can it make us see through the eyes of the character like the hand held camera?


Thanks for your help. Things are getting clearer :)
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#20 Jaron Berman

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 11:15 AM

Like art, you can show a film to 100 different students and get 100 different interpretations... You can go out of your way to inject 4, 5, 12 levels of meaning and symbolism into a film but if ANY element is lacking, the end result will be, "who cares?" Brian is spot-on.

As for steadicam as POV - when you yourself walk through a room and look around, does it shake and bounce, or do your eyes and brain "stabilize" the image? The handheld-camera look is often used as cinematic shorthand for frantic POV, BUT you may find that steadicam is a more "realistic" depiction of how we actually see. Handheld camera, like blue nighttime, has become a bit of a convention, both for "war photo" style coverage and subjective POV. But like all good conventions, it's not a rule, it can be broken. Steadicam op Afton Grant runs a website called "steadishots.org," which has an enormous library of steadicam shots ranging from invisible/subtle to flashy and jaw dropping. Both styles have their places, and its important to see both - technically, neither "style" of operating is more difficult than another, but they are visually incredibly different. And to see something like Kill Bill next to Elephant is incredible - because you can have 2 masters using the same tool in VASTLY different but equally effective ways.

Steadicam is like a musical instrument in a lot of ways. It takes that kind of dedication and practice to remain "current," and there are myriad ways to use it. If you've only heard jazz, you'd probably have a very skewed idea of what a piano could do. You may come up with a vocabulary to describe exactly the place the piano fits in the jazz mix. But what about classical? Or metal? Or hip hop? Or ANY kind of music other than what you've heard...all still using the same instrument, but sounding very very different.

Camera technique doesn't do anything without thought, so you can't make hard-fast rules of subjectivity or objectivity. A dolly won't always have to look like an outside observer, just as a steadicam doesn't always have to be "steady" or level to be effective. Steadicam can be used to create wave movement, airplane movement, tremors, dutch, etc..ect.... I think you need to make a distinction between the tools and the look you want to achieve. It's not a chicken and egg situation. You need to consciously MAKE the decision of what you want to show up on screen, how you want it to feel, and why. THEN figure out what tools help you achieve that look. Instead of looking at tools as style modules that you can plug in and rearrange and substitute, think of them exactly as they are - means to ends. This is why strong and resolute directors are AWESOME to work with.
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