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Old June 14th, 2008, 01:10 PM   #1
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Which would be smoother?

I feel silly for asking something like this...

Which would yield smoother footage using a DVX-sized cam?

A) A skilled handheld op using a Fig Rig?
B) That very same op using a steadicam-like device (with vest) for the first time with no or very little practice?

My money's on A. I think smooth footage that feels like your on a bloody boat is not really "smooth," which is what I'm basing my guess on. What do you all think?

~~Dave
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Old June 14th, 2008, 06:22 PM   #2
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Well frankly I think anyone that puts any piece of gear into play without practice coud have a problem. A Steadicam device is right up at #1 IMO. However, using your theory of no practice I might agree the figrig would be better however it depends on the operator. For the life of me I can't hang onto a figrig for more than a couple of minutes but I've been in a Steadicam Flyer with a fullsized camera and while it was not the best footage ever shot it was steady, smooth and quite comfortable to wear for a long time.
Again though, putting a peice of gear like a Steadicam into play without any practice and going on a paying gig with it could be less than pretty.

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Old June 14th, 2008, 10:17 PM   #3
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That's what I'm thinking. I really didn't want to put myself in that position. For the record, the no practice thing is not really by choice. I don't own a steadicam or anything like that and the production doesn't have the budget to rent me one for the 2 months until we shoot. They're also not paying me enough to offset the cost of buying or renting one with my own money.

Anyway, at this point, it's just a curiosity. I sat down with the director tonight, voiced my concerns and suggested we hire a dedicated steadicam op. Since he's also paying the bills, he was a little concerned and asked what the alternatives were. I showed him some Fig Rig footage and he was happy with it. "Handheld but smoother," he said. So all is well.

Back to the original thought, sort of - does anyone else find that on-a-boat feeling from first-time stabilizer users really annoying? Sort of relevant anecdote: I worked as an AC on an indie feature a few years ago and the whole film was a bunch of long steadicam takes. The DP/Op used to be a steadicam guy but hadn't flown it in a while (he became an ENG guy). Anyway, finally saw the finished film a few months ago - the film, which was shot in order, went from that shifty horizon line in the beginning to fairly smooth at the end. It was sort of amusing. This thing is an art and I really have a lot of respect for the guys that make it their specialty.

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Old June 15th, 2008, 03:52 AM   #4
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Years ago it was much more common to see pretty horrendous looking Steadicam footage in films or television as conventional operators would "try it out" for the odd shot here or there as needed. Eventually those who were inclined to make it a specialty bought the gear, practiced and worked and got good, and those who weren't interested in that left it to those who were. In recent years the proliferation of smaller and more affordable rigs combined with the accessibility to vast amounts of footage via the internet has brought the novice look back; I'm still fascinated at how many videos there are floating around of people's first efforts with a stabilizer (my own, some 24 years ago, were also pretty rough but I wouldn't have dreamed of showing them publicly!)

I agree that an inordinate amount of float is distracting but most people are able to get beyond that point within about 10 hours of solid practice. It's good that you have concerns about taking that on, Dave, but if you were to take a 2-day Flyer workshop and got a day or two of practice in just before the shoot, there's a good chance you'd be able to pull off satisfactory shots and maybe even by the end of the shoot you'd find that you might just enjoy it enough that you would consider buying a rig (trial by fire can be a great motivator)!
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Old June 15th, 2008, 07:43 PM   #5
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I suppose it all boils down to how critical the eyes of the viewer are. After watching my Grand Prix footage at the end of 5 day workshop I requested that the tape be burnt.
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Old June 16th, 2008, 12:06 AM   #6
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Absolutely, Nick. The trick to being a great operator, I think, is to be demanding on your own work without getting too discouraged, i.e. there's ALWAYS room for improvement but you have to be realistic about it. Some people have what I consider a low threshold for their shots where they feel they are dead-on while I see some issues. I can pick my own shots apart if I choose to but for me at this point, if the people I'm working for are happy, I'm happy.

I wouldn't expect anyone to be truly "ready" even after a 5 day workshop but again it depends what level one is working at and what one's expectations are. Not even is going to be a world-class Steadicam operator, even if they work hard at it. I used to say it takes about 40 hours of solid time in the rig to get the basics down but having seen what level of operating many folks who buy the small rigs consider acceptable, I've trimmed that down to 10 hours mostly so that people don't get turned off by the prospect.
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Old June 18th, 2008, 04:45 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
...I used to say it takes about 40 hours of solid time in the rig to get the basics down but having seen what level of operating many folks who buy the small rigs consider acceptable, I've trimmed that down to 10 hours mostly so that people don't get turned off by the prospect.
Then again, being acceptable is all what the individual operator is aiming for. I am up coming operator with many many hours in a rig but my skills still need a lot of homing in. My intentions is not to become a highly rated operator like you CP, but one that can get the shots in on demand required by the fim criteria. I do not intend on doing big hollywood films like the great CP...but I do intend on taking on indie, corporate & documentery jobs. Small community projects are fun and keeps me intuned with the growing small & upcoming film makers.

So 10 hours in a suit is hardly enough for me or should I say for an individual small time operator to consider resonable. So CP, go ahead, be hard, constructive criticism is needed. I for one appreciate your points of view when you evaluated my workshop photage. It gives me something to head for regardless of my aim as an operator.

Thanks again. I know you've heard it many times over CP, but admire you and your open mindedness on all levels. I take your criticism seriously and passionately to the heart because I know the kind of person you are as an operator. And basically, you are the only top-notch, big dog Hollywood operator that dares to venture out into forums like this and mine, to give us your wealth of experience at all levels. This is what I call a true operator; who cares for up coming operators, or just being friendly to say the least.
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Old June 18th, 2008, 08:39 AM   #8
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...or as my girlfriend often says "you're addicted to those message boards"...!

Thanks for all of the nice sentiments CK.

I would say that the type of work you are describing is in many ways as demanding of one's operating skill as working on studio features. Generally there is very little time to prep the gear, tune the rig and limited takes to get things right plus you have much less crew and peripheral equipment that can make the job easier, so you have to be on your game. My first ten years or so of operating were doing exactly the kind of things you are doing now.

The 10 hours concept is really more aimed at those who are not intending to specialize at the Steadicam as you and I have. Many people these days have a goal of amassing what equates to a small production studio's worth of gear; camera package, lights, dolly, stabilizer, crane, sound gear etc. so that they don't have to rent anything to be able to shoot small projects or even features. The stabilizer is just one of the tools in their arsenal, they don't have the goal of working for other people as a Steadicam operator but they like to be able to do those shots for their own projects, which they are probably writing, directing, producing and editing also. There's only so many hours in the day and it's likely that they aren't going to be as obsessed with the nuances of their Steadicam work as they are pulled so many directions to begin with; they just want to be able to follow someone down the hall without footsteps in the shot.

That level of operating is attainable for most people with 10 hours of solid practice or actual shooting, assuming they have some sort of guidance (I fear that there are still quite a few out there that follow the lead of some of the bizarre advertising one can find for certain rigs that show one hand on the gimbal handle and nothing on the post!). Those that put in the next 30 hours of practice should have the basics down pretty well and some of the more exotic techniques. From that point on, it's a matter of dedication and perserverance, as I think the next milestone for most is years down the road, when you suddenly start to like your own work without it frustrating you!

So with this all in mind, I do feel that the jack-of-all-trades who have no intention of becoming truly proficient Steadicam operators are working under a different set of criteria. The only time that I get frustrated is when these folks show either surprise or frustration that the thing actually requires any practice whatsoever and want shortcuts, or indignant that quality gear costs more than the camera (which are getting ever cheaper).
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Old June 19th, 2008, 03:35 AM   #9
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Rightfully spoken CP.
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Old June 19th, 2008, 08:38 AM   #10
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Here is my very green perspective on the subject..

Consider this.. The minimum legal time to get your private pilot license is 40hours of time in the seat flying. I got my ticket with 47hrs in the log book. Learning to operate the Steadicam Pilot seems harder than learning to fly a real plane!

I've got about 10hrs wearing the Steadicam around the house (inside and out). I'm not even close to learning how to land this thing yet. ;) Obviously not going to show anything I've shot in a public place. The neighborhood kids have gotten a kick out of me running around them playing basketball though.

A good bit of it has that "floaty" look that while smooth doesn't look natural and not what is expected from a good shot. There are glimpses of nice stuff in there too but not enough and certainly not worth the time overall. I know it will get better as I work more at it. It has gotten better and that keeps me going.

Whew! I'm glad I have a day job! :D
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Old June 19th, 2008, 11:23 AM   #11
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I guess I'll modify my previous statement where I vaguely referred to having "some sort of guidance"--anyone who takes one of the 2 day Flyer/Pilot workshops with Peter Abraham will be much more likely to get good results with those 10 hours of practice than those who are just "winging it". Watching a good instructional DVD won't be as good but would be at least a start.
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Old June 19th, 2008, 04:13 PM   #12
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No argument there. I have the DVD and have set up the practice recommendations and that does help. I'm planning to take a workshop towards the end of the summer when my schedule is less congested. I'm sure I'm being more harsh on myself because some of the guys I work with say things look better than I personally think they look. They certainly don't meet my expectations yet.

I'm not giving up though!
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Old June 19th, 2008, 08:44 PM   #13
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Chris,

I don't know why we are so hard on our own shots but we are. If it's excellence we are seeking then that's good.

I had some footage on our website that Charles Papert saw and critiqued. He mentioned things about composition / framing that I hadn't even thought of. The footage was smooth enough but he noted what would make it "look" even better. I just wanted to show that our system could achieve good, smooth shots but he wanted to help me learn the nuances of good composition as well. I appreciate that!

There's so much more to great steadicam work than just the "smooth" thing.

Tery
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Old June 20th, 2008, 04:02 AM   #14
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Chris,

I don't know why we are so hard on our own shots but we are. If it's excellence we are seeking then that's good.

I had some footage on our website that Charles Papert saw and critiqued. He mentioned things about composition / framing that I hadn't even thought of. The footage was smooth enough but he noted what would make it "look" even better. I just wanted to show that our system could achieve good, smooth shots but he wanted to help me learn the nuances of good composition as well. I appreciate that!

There's so much more to great steadicam work than just the "smooth" thing.

Tery
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You got that right Terry...and this exactly why my comments about CP will always stand. BTW, how are you?
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Old June 20th, 2008, 04:25 AM   #15
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Chris,

I don't know why we are so hard on our own shots but we are. If it's excellence we are seeking then that's good.

I had some footage on our website that Charles Papert saw and critiqued. He mentioned things about composition / framing that I hadn't even thought of. The footage was smooth enough but he noted what would make it "look" even better. I just wanted to show that our system could achieve good, smooth shots but he wanted to help me learn the nuances of good composition as well. I appreciate that!

There's so much more to great steadicam work than just the "smooth" thing.

Tery
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Directors also have their own take on Steadicam shots, which is sometimes close to the edge of what is practical. On a recent Super 16 job I has to track an actor down a staircase in CU using a 16mm lens. Needless to say the monitor was extremely close to a tender part of his anatomy and I wasn't happy with some aspects of the overall shot, however, it will work as part of a sequence.
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