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Old January 21st, 2008, 05:48 PM   #1
Obstreperous Rex
 
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Press: The Industry Loses Chadwell O'Connor

Received today as a press release:

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The industry mourns the passing of the father of the counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, Chadwell O'Connor. From his birth on October 9, 1914 to his death the 5th of September 2007, Chad O'Connor followed two passions - steam engines and camera support.

Chadwell and his first wife Helen shot their own steam locomotive movies in the late 1940's. Annoyed by the jerkiness of his pan and tilt shots, he developed the world's first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head which enabled his pictures to be smooth and clean. In 1950, while O'Connor was shooting trains in Glendale, California, another locomotive enthusiast inquired as to what was between the camera and tripod. That enthusiast was Walt Disney. He liked the counterbalance fluid head so much that he ordered ten and stopped all motion shots of his current film Living Desert, until they received the new equipment.

The meeting turned into a life-long friendship, a new direction in O'Connor's life - and a new chapter in movie-making history.

O'Connor opened a “side” business, building fluid heads, first out of his garage, then as the business grew, he opened an office on Green Street in Pasadena which his second wife Regina ran during the day. Both of them pitched in at night.

Concurrently Chad's involvement with steam power also flourished. His relationship with Disney remained so strong that when Walt created Disney World in Florida, he commissioned Chad to make the complete steam power systems for six steam launches and provide the boilers and auxiliary power equipment for the three large paddle wheelers. O'Connor continued to design more steam locomotives, including replicas of “Jupiter” and “#119”, the two engines that met on the 10th of May, 1869 - where the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory, Utah-opening the Transcontinental Railway. The engines still operate today.

However, it is his unwavering support for the film and video industry that we most remember. He really enjoyed working with cameramen by inventing solutions for their needs. He produced thousands of OConnor fluid heads and legs from the ever-popular OConnor 100 which is so rugged it is still a staple of camerawork worldwide, to the new OConnor 120EX which was made to complement today's high-end film and television production.

So influential were Chadwell O'Connor's contributions that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a 1976 Sci-Tech Award, and an Oscar® in 1993. In 1994, the Society of Operating Cameramen presented him with a Technical Achievement Award.

Here's what a few industry professionals have to say about O'Connor's contributions:

Steven Poster, ASC, President Local 600 International Cinematographer's Guild:
"I can remember the first time I got my hands on a professional movie camera,” recalls Steven Poster ASC, Local 600 President. “There was the ubiquitous OConnor Fluid Head sitting right underneath it and almost every movie camera I used in the beginning of my career. I'm writing this from a stage, forty years after that first experience. We just did a shot with the Genesis camera sitting on the latest version of the OConnor fluid head, again supporting the camera. That's a very long and successful professional relationship. Chad's sense of insight and invention will be missed by all of us who take camera operating seriously."

David J. Frederick, SOC, Past President, Society of Operating Cameramen:
"...as first a camera assistant and then a camera operator, we called for a piece of equipment by its name, for instance, 'bring the OConnor!'” recalls David J. Frederick, SOC. “It was just that, a piece of equipment. But it was also known as a failure-free and foolproof dependable piece of equipment. Now, when I pause to appreciate the man who designed these perfect building blocks of camera work, I really appreciate the dedication to the purpose and the tenacity of the design. Chad O'Connor's life's work, camera support equipment, has become a standing legacy that will long survive us all. The OConnor Engineering team has involved Camera Operators, the SOC, the ASC and other working cinematographers in the development of this equipment that our artistry and livelihood depend on. For that legacy we are much indebted to Chad O'Connor and offer our appreciation."

Gavin Finney BSC, President:
"The relationship between camera equipment and the crew who use it is not an impersonal one based purely on specifications, it can become as personal as a painter to his brush or a sculptor to her chisel; they become extensions of the body, through which we can react to and create from the scene unfolding in front of us. When I first used an OConnor head, it was a revelation. With its infinitely variable drag and minutely adjustable counterbalance, one could custom set the head to almost any camera or situation. It didn't hold you back with coarse settings that were either too strong or too weak; it never slowed you down with limited movements requiring wedge-plates to be added. One could start a film on it and never change the head until one was finished. The greatness of Chad O'Connor's original design is that subsequent attempts at improving it haven't always been successful. In this day of constantly changing equipment, whatever camera I'm using, the OConnor stays on the list."


Chadwell O'Connor will be missed and remembered - by the train world ---- and every time a cameraman attaches a camera to that unassuming but powerful - OConnor Fluid Head.

###

About OConnor

Pioneering fluid head innovator OConnor has been the choice of top cinematographers for nearly 60 years. Known for their hallmark smooth feel and consistent reliability, OConnor's award-winning fluid heads provide the ultimate control and stability for film-style shooting. Today's line includes the Ultimate range of fluid heads, Cine HD and carbon fiber tripods. OConnor's most recent technological achievement is the 120EX, the flagship of its new series of EXTENDED CAPACITY fluid heads-the EX range.

Along with five other leading brands in the broadcast industry, OConnor is part of Camera Dynamics Inc., which in turn is part of the Vitec Group of companies.

The Vitec Group plc is acknowledged as a global leader in the supply of equipment and services to the broadcasting, entertainment and photographic industries and has established a reputation for technical excellence and superior engineering along with an astute business strategy, which has seen it grow by acquisition. Innovation is a cornerstone of the Group's activities and the organization is committed to a policy of continuous product development. With revenues (2006) of £210m ($400m) and over 1500 employees worldwide, its products are distributed in almost 100 countries, through a strong, fully-resourced distribution network or direct to the end user or corporate customer. More information can be found at www.vitecgroup.com.
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 08:37 AM   #2
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Press: received more, re: Chadwell O’Connor

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It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of Chadwell O’Connor. He passed away on 5 September 2007 and was laid to rest at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach, California. Chad is survived by his stepdaughter Tamara and his son-in-law Jeff Geist.

Chad was born on 9 October 1914 and was raised in Boston, Massachusetts by his father and stepmother. Chad lost his birth mother at a very young age to the influenza epidemic.

Chad was a very creative, innovative and charismatic man who loved most things relating to steam and steam propulsion. After a very active youth involving steam boats, and steam cars, Chad obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering through attending Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. He also became a licensed State of California registered Professional Engineer in the fields of Mechanical Engineering and Control Systems.

During WWII Chad was called to service to help create a solution for interchangeability of aircraft parts primarily for the McDonnell Douglas DC-3 airplane. Prior to his involvement, new parts did not always fit the airplanes that had suffered war damage. Chad’s role in creating a solution carried a high government priority and was significant in supporting the needed wartime equipment and subsequent effort.

Postwar, he joined the City of Pasadena Department of Light and Power as a Mechanical Engineer and was later promoted to Assistant General Manager.

Chad’s love for steam continued. He and his first wife Helen shot their own steam locomotive movies before the locomotives were replaced by diesel-electric locomotives or trucks. During this time, Chad would show his movies in his home theater. Annoyed by the jerkiness of his pan and tilt shots, he developed the world’s first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head which enabled his pictures to be smooth and clean. This was in 1949.

Later, Chad was at the Glendale Train Station filming the “Daylight” train that ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco. While setting up, a man noticed his equipment and inquired as to what was between the camera and tripod. Chad explained what it was and the man became extremely interested in it. After Chad had captured the locomotive shots, the man became insistent that Chad make one for him. Chad advised him that it might take a while because this was just a hobby. The man said, ‘My name is Walt Disney and I would appreciate it if you could make it as quickly as possible.’ Chad did so and Walt enjoyed the results of shooting with a counterbalance fluid head so much that he ordered ten more and stopped all motion shots of his current film “Living Desert” until they received the new equipment. This was the birth of Chad’s new side business, O’Connor Engineering Labs., which he went on to operate for many years with his close friends out of his garage in Alta Loma, Calif.

Chad lost his first wife Helen to illness and later remarried to Regina. As the fluid head business grew, Chad opened an office on Green Street in Pasadena which Regina ran during the day and the both of them at night. In 1968, the camera head business grew to the point that he had to quit his job with the City of Pasadena, open a new office on Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California and work full time just to keep up with demand.

Chad’s relationship with Walt Disney remained very strong so when Walt created Disney World in Florida, he asked Chad to make the complete steam power systems for six steam launches and provide the boilers and auxiliary power equipment for the three large paddle wheelers.

Soon, O’Connor Engineering outgrew their general office facility in Pasadena and assembly facility in Irwindale, and moved to a new single facility in Costa Mesa, California in 1973.

During the 60’s, Chad was asked by the National Park Service to provide a bid to create the drawings needed to manufacture the full-sized working locomotive replicas of the “Jupiter” and “#119” steam locomotives that met on May 10, 1869 when the Transcontinental Railway was connected with the ceremonial driving of a Golden Spike at Promontory, Utah. The original drawings had long since been destroyed and the original locomotives had been scraped. In the mid 1970’s, the project started. In the following year and a half, Chad and many of his closest friends completed about 800 drawings by hand for every part. Following the drawing phase of the project, Chad successfully bid and was awarded the project of actually building the locomotives. The locomotives were built in the Costa Mesa facility, shipped to Promontory, Utah and operate today.

Even though Chad’s true passion was steam, he continued to support the film and video industry by creating many new camera support products. Chad really enjoyed working with cameramen by inventing solutions for their needs. In 1976, he received a Sci-Tech award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1993, the Academy again recognized Chad’s contribution to the industry with a full Oscar. That was followed in 1994 with a Technical Achievement award from the Society of Operating Cameraman.

His passing is a great loss of a creative spirit that inspired so many.
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 09:50 AM   #3
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Thanks for posting these Chris. It's always good to honor the silent giants that hold everyone else on their shoulders.

Anyone who has ever used an O'Connor, can appreciate his work.
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