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March 18, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Fan-dancy Camera Moves

By Dayton from SLN More Blogs by This Author


Remember the first video that you made? The first that I can remember that I made was a music video in my high school digital media class, it was to the song "Yeah Toast." I would have loved to show you that video, but unfortunately it is long lost to the vast depths of the YouTubes. It was shot on a Canon FS10 (ohhhyeahhh) and edited on Pinnacle Studio 9! It got me an A for the project, which I thought was pretty good for a video that I had a song ripped off the internet! It turned out pretty good for something created with the non-help of a kid that seemed constantly blown out of his mind and a ditzy girl that thought we were in some type of environmental protection class, or something?

My point is that I was pretty proud of my little production, even though by any standards that aren't high school sophomore standards, it was absolutely atrocious. The gargantuan expanse that separates amateur videos and professional videos is a path that is long, arduous, and takes no prisoners! Even though I have been involved with creating the medium for the better part of 9 years now, (that's right, since middle school!) I see myself as somewhere in the middle of the separation between the phonys and the hollywood phonys, but continually making progress forward. What made me write this blog was my thinking about what it is that makes a film higher quality. So, in the next few entries I'm going to cover that.


Please do keep in mind that at no point will I reference the story that a film is created around, though I fully recognize that that is doubtlessly an integral element to every good filmic creation. The following is an analysis of cinematography and the editing process, not script writing or acting. I have yet to actually immerse myself in either of those art forms. 

How The Camera Moves

Look at this video. Looking past the mind boggling idiocy of the content, what else is it that makes this video a straight up home movie? It is really quite obvious when you compare it to a polished piece, you see things like blatant handheld camera shake, poor audio quality, and degraded video quality. I am not saying that the video is no good, it serves a purpose and serves it well, but to further extend our knowledge base in the cinematic arts, let's talk about camera movement!

Handheld video isn't always bad, sometimes it is crucial to adding that chaotic element that you need to a scene. Take for example this excerpt from the Bourne Legacy. In my opinion the handheld shake may have been overdone, (because the motorcycle chase extends well past what you see in the clip and gets a little annoying) but it is a technique used on big budget productions. But, if you are a small time filmmaker like the rest of us, this blog will show you a few ways in which you can make your video look better with improved camera movement.

The Jib

Jibs, also called cranes, are used mostly for Y axis movement but can also mimic the effects of a slider or dolly on the X axis. Depending on the length of your jib, a pan with it may give the effect of sliding sideways, even though, in reality, it is spinning with an offset anchor point. 

If used properly a jib can add a very dramatic effect to the scene. Sometimes the movement is subtle and sometimes it is very dramatic. This video shows a brief demonstration of what a jib can accomplish. A unique feature that a jib can accomplish is jibbing up and panning to one side simultaneously, which can create a great diagonal path that the camera takes. 

A jib is great for transitioning from 2 shots without actually cutting between clips. A jib can allow a filmmaker to start with an establishing shot that isn't immediately focused on the subject and smoothly move to where the action is, a very professional looking effect if done properly. For smooth jib operation, it is necessary first to be properly counterweighted so the camera is not sinking or raising.

Another little trick that I like to implement is using massive rubber bands to throttle jib movement. If a little bit more counterweight is put on the jib, it will have a very smooth, gravity fed, upward motion. If you use a rubber band (I like using exercise bands) to stop the jib from continuing upward you will get a super smooth, eased in and out shot. The opposite applies to jibbing down by lightening the counterweight. This technique is best used with an assistant.

The Dolly/Slider

A dolly and a slider achieve basically the same thing, but with different means. They move the camera in a line, usually straight, but curved dolly tracks exist too. The only difference between a dolly and a slider is that a dolly makes use of wheels and bearings on a track while a slider is 2 pieces sliding against each other. The advantage that a slider has over a jib is changing X axis perspective without changing the orientation of the camera in relation to the environment. So, if you were trying to film a subject that was moving a large distance, but you still wanted a tight shot, a dolly would be your best bet because it stays oriented in 1 direction the entire time. Some dollys and sliders are designed to be used vertically as well as horizontally, and many have tripod heads attached to them.

Check out this dolly demo!

Obviously the most flexible option (as far as actual filming goes, not transportation) would be having a jib mounted on a tripod that was stationed on a dolly. But, when you have both a dolly and a jib things start getting very expensive. Even if you have an amateur jib and semi-pro tripod, you are going to need a massive dolly to accommodate that. When you get a dolly that large (see above), you will need to get track laid down, which will be just another expense and pain in the neck for the crew deal with.

Dude, all I want to do is make cool home movies!

If you aren't a budding videographer, but you still have some interest in the art, there are plenty of ways to mimic these effects without breaking the bank! Making a dolly is probably the easiest. In the past I have seen wheelchairs used to truck in toward the subjects very smoothly. Skateboards can also make great dollys for horizontal dolly movements, assuming the ground is smooth. If you need to make a video and you don't have money falling out of your pockets, and are great resources to make equipment yourself or find a work-around. YouTube is also great place to look for tutorials on indie movie making too!

Happy Filming :D!

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