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Old April 20th, 2011, 08:03 PM   #1
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Shaky Cam Technique

Any tips from professional shooters on how to deliver good shaky cam footage?

I shot with the 5D2 on a RedRock rig with (mainly) a ZE 35/2 lens and tried my hand at some controlled shake. Let's just say the results weren't to my liking. I did much better just trying to pan, tilt, push, or focus into or out of the shot I wanted and holding things steady when looking at the gear of interest. When I shook things (trying to do smooth shake, rather than harsh or violent shake), it just looked amateur, rather than motivated.

The very best stuff I shot followed the motion of sliders, jibs, cranes, and computer controlled cameras. In those cases, the eye follows the motion of the target, rather than noticing the motion of the camera.

By comparison, check out the video in the Ford Ecoboost Torture Test, which was shot about 99% with the 5D2 (according to one of the shooters who posted about it on another site.)

2011 Ford F-150 | EcoBoost Torture Test | Ford.com

In particular, look at the interview shots on the "log hauling" segment. The shake makes things look urgent, rather than amateur. In fact, the whole video is very well done. I watched it on TV and wanted to own one of these engines - even though I have no desire to own a pickup truck!

REQUEST: If you hate shaky handheld stuff, that's okay, but let's not derail the thread with opinions on style. I didn't post this for a style popularity contest or for people to vent. I want to know how the professional shaky-cam technique is best achieved.
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Old April 20th, 2011, 08:27 PM   #2
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Just don't use your rig, handheld it with at least a 50mm and you will have the natural shake.
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Old April 20th, 2011, 08:58 PM   #3
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Turn off in camera stabilization?

I think the one thing you want to avoid is "roll", which can induce that seasick feeling (that's where completely ditching the rig may go too far?), but you want "bounce" and a little side to side jiggle. Just enough "energy" to impart a "feel", without making the viewer ill or the image too degraded.

It's like the old Star Trek series where everyone tosses or tilts in one direction and the camera moves/tilts to fake a "hit"... along with so many series and movies that try to create "urgency" or "excitement" - probably some good stuff out there if you search around on camera techniques?

With CMOS sensors, you've got a major challenge with "jello", so you can't overdo, making the challenge more "interesting", but I suspect after looking at that Ford footage (with LOTS of focus issues, blech!), it's a matter of using the rig to contain roll, and just letting gravity and nature take it's course...

edit- by "rig" I'm presuming something with two handles or contact points in a relatively horizontal stance...
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Old April 21st, 2011, 01:22 AM   #4
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Good point about avoiding roll. With "The Office" effect, it's all pans, tilts, and zooms. I've got a RedRock "Event" rig which has two handles and a chest pad, so I was able to control roll well. It's also got a Z-Finder and RR follow focus with a short crank. I can brace the handle on my wrist/arm with the focusing hand, so I can maintain control and focus at the same time. Unlike a large shoulder unit, I can pull it forward, off my chest and eye for more mobility, or pull it back to stabilize it

Khoi, I don't think true handheld is the right approach. I want the camera motion, but not the micro vibrations. The problem with micro vibrations are that you get motion blur even on frames where you don't have any larger motion. It muddies up the image.

On The Office, they shoot with larger, broadcast cams and get the effect. A DSLR without a rig is just too nervous.

At NAB, I tried keeping things circular to keep them from being too jerky, but that definitely wasn't right. While it wasn't too hyper, it makes me think, "keep still for a second, will ya!"

I'm thinking that the right technique is to drift away and snap back to your subject - especially after they move or say something interesting. It's like ADHD cam. The attention drifts, snaps back, and starts to get distracted again. It's like the subject is a magnet that turns on and off. And it's that magnetism that draws the eye back to the subject. I'm going to give that a try - and to keep avoiding roll. I'll also work with stepping in and out, since I'm using a prime, rather than a zoom.

There's The Office style (ADHD?), and there is also the Bourne action style (paranoia?), which is more panicked, like a twitchy bird. During a fight scene, I get the feeling that the cameraman is watching the fighters, while taking quick glances to see if there is a weapon he can grab. It's almost like he's glancing around, going "oh crap... oh crap... oh crap." So you get a good amount of time where the camera isn't moving much punctuated by moments of small snap movements.

I'll have to watch the two examples back to back to see how they are done.

BTW, I spoke with a RED expert who was involved in District 9. On the handheld stuff, I didn't notice much rolling shutter, so I wondered if it were stabilized and shaken in post. Nope. The whole film was shot mostly handheld, aside from a small number of crane shots. I think that film had both aspects - the ADHD of the documentary stuff, and the paranoia of the action scenes.

I need to study this more and practice. I travel light at times and don't have room for sliders and such. And if the subject is static (like cameras at NAB), it's really important to create motion with the camera to keep things interesting. Learning the range of handheld motion techniques can help keep things interesting!
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Old April 21st, 2011, 11:35 AM   #5
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

You're probably barking up the right tree with the "drift" approach - think of it like you're walking up or running to the spot where you're shooting - there will be motion as you step up, then you'll settle in and nail your framing, and right about that time your natural body wobble starts to kick in! So you get "corrections" trying to maintain the frame. You don't really have to work at it, happens pretty naturally! Standing "still" really ISN'T, as we aren't tripods, and remaining in an upright position as a biped requires quite a bit more "adjustment" that becomes very noticeable when you're shooting!

I might mention that that chest pad also may be part of your "problem" - I've tried various rigs, and really dislike having a chest contact point, as I'm not zen enough to have total breath control, and it introduces undesirable "breathing" motion - I prefer a belt pod type support, less motion! For short takes, just shoulder/double handle rig is pretty good, add the belt pod for longer clips.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 12:16 PM   #6
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Personally, the chest pad works pretty well for me. I'm a competitive swimmer, so breath control is second nature. Also, I try to breathe with the diaphragm. It's easy to push the camera and inch or so forward, so I can go "chest or no chest" quickly.

A belt support would be nice for standing. I find that I naturally pull the camera into the chest support, and the steeper angle to the belt would be even better. One disadvantage would be mobility. For walking, I like to lift the camera off the chest and use my arms as shock absorbers. (A friend of mine was a news reporter for over a decade. He'd lift the camera off the shoulder when walking.) I would think a belt support would be hard to isolate when walking. It would also prevent you from getting low. With the chest rig, I can bring the handles down the the ground, with limited smoothness, of course.

But if you will shoot a long time from eye height and don't expect to walk with the camera, I would think a belt support would be ideal.

Later today, I'll try some "drift and reacquire" shooting to see how it looks. In the Ford piece, it looks like they used this technique on interviews, but not when showing static objects. For static items, they tended to use a slider or some other pseudo steady technique. Maybe that was part of my problem. I was shooting products, logos, and signs for the most part. Since they aren't moving, it really draws attention to the camera motion. People in interviews move randomly, so some pseudo-random camera movement seems to fit better.

The shots where I swooped in, acquired, and held as steady as possible looked great. But they didn't quite have the dynamic urgency and modern look that I hoped to achieve. I cut around the shots where I tried to add motion on purpose.

Time for more tests - and more practice!
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Old April 21st, 2011, 12:57 PM   #7
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Paul Greengrass movies seem to get this technique done well. I used to think the technique must have been done in post-production.

However I was watching some of the behind-the-scenes footage on the last Bourne movie, and I was surprised to see the cameraman bouncing on his knees and jerking his shoulders sideways during close up filming of the characters. He was just doing a load of short sharp movements with the camera on his shoulder.

The TV show 'The Shield' also uses it a bit (along with short sharp zooms), again they were shoulder mounted cameras (no steadicams or anything), and controlling the movement with the legs and shoulders.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 01:57 PM   #8
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

You can see a cameraman doing his 'dance' behind the scenes of the Bourne Ultimatum here. Good display at around 3.24:

YouTube - Planning The Punches - The Bourne Ultimatum
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Old April 21st, 2011, 05:20 PM   #9
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

That was awesome! Looking at it closely, there is a fair amount of roll as the point of interest moves right or left. And, yes, it's move, acquire, move, move, acquire. The moves can be pretty abrupt and quick and that leaves time to acquire and give the audience a moment to focus. It's definitely not a continuous, vibrating, shake. It's twitchy.

It also follows - and never leads - the action. Like the audience, we're reacting to the scene. But the lag has to be very short. It should never let the point of interest leave the frame. So the cameraman needs to learn the choreography as well. Though he follows the action, he's got to anticipate each trigger.

And, sure enough, he's using a shoulder rig with two handles. A wireless follow focus keeps him free to move and free to concentrate on framing. The focus puller really needs to have a practiced feel. Definitely a job for highly skilled pros.

I wonder how many times they did additional takes due to the actors and how many times they did additional takes due to errors by the operator and 1st AC?

I'll have to take a close look at The Office tonight. They used "roll" in the Bourne fight. Do they use it for The Office? I just watched the Ford Hauling Timber segment again, and there's no roll to speak of. They also don't seem to be "bending their knees." It's mostly a tilt/pan action, which is what I tried at NAB.

I'm thinking that both styles can work fine with the 5D2. For the frames with quick bursts of motion, it's too disorienting to really notice the rolling shutter. When the camera settles, the rolling shutter doesn't show up.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 07:18 PM   #10
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

I'd think "rolling" with the punches, as it were, makes sense if you're shooting people in a fight - might be a bit much for other purposes!
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Old April 21st, 2011, 10:52 PM   #11
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Agreed. I'm thinking that it could work well for extreme sports shooting, wild chase scenes and other harried action. Not so much for interviews and product shots.
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Old April 22nd, 2011, 01:12 PM   #12
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

That was awesome. It's given me some great ideas for something else.
Also it seems the fighting is done slower than the finished footage. Clever, very clever.
Thanks for that link
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Old April 22nd, 2011, 03:55 PM   #13
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wayne Avanson View Post
That was awesome. It's given me some great ideas for something else.
Also it seems the fighting is done slower than the finished footage. Clever, very clever.
Thanks for that link
Yeah, the slow fighting is an old Hong Kong movie trick. If you ever look at the behind the scenes footage of The Matrix Reloaded it is shocking to see how slow they are doing the kung-fu sequences - it has to be speeded up in post to get the effect.
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Old April 22nd, 2011, 11:12 PM   #14
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

Let's hear it for overcrank! In fact the T1i might be the perfect DSLR for fight scenes. It shoots at 20 fps. :)
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Old May 6th, 2011, 07:10 PM   #15
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Re: Shaky Cam Technique

BTW, last week I was in Madrid where I went to La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas and attended a bullfight. And, yes, they killed the bulls. All six of them.

Las Ventas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Crazy me. What did I bring? A 5D2, a shoulder rig, an EF 200/2.8L without IS(!), and a 2x Extender(!!!) Believe me, I wasn't able to control the camera shake artistically. I just tried (ha!) to avoid it.

And the footage will work perfectly. :)

First, I shot with a 1/400 shutter speed. That eliminated any blur from micro-shake. The frames are nice a crisp - when I was able to keep them in focus. When the bull stands still, it looks terrible. All you notice is the shake. But when I track motion, it works great. The eye follows the motion and forgets about the camera movement. It's urgent and brutal - just like the "sport".

The footage will go into an artistic project that will only include short bursts of footage. I can throw out 95% of what I shot. The sound design will be LOUD when the footage appears and should be especially intense.

Regarding the action, it's much harder to watch on "film" than live. When you're there, you're an outsider and a passive observer. The events simply unfold in front of you. Things are small in your field of vision. Things still feel small and distant through the loupe and screen. When watching on a large monitor, it's much more difficult to watch. It's out of context. It's large. It's in your face.

Anyway, people say you need IS for long lenses. That's not always true. It can work with a fast shutter speed when you have action to follow and when you can edit out the stuff that was out of focus or poorly framed. But this technique needs to be reserved for action scenes of the highest intensity.
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