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Flycam Flujo: Follow-Up & Summary

17 Jun

Apologies if this is a repeat of previous information, but some of it bears repeating.

The Flycam experiment has essentially ended, as I’ve taken it almost to its breaking point and back. More importantly, I just bought a new arm, so that kinda kills the all-Proaim-testing part of it. I will still have to have an adapter made in order to use that arm, but it’s a Glidecam, which I know works, so it’s not an unknown quantity necessarily.

Flycam Flujo ModdedSo how did the Flycam Flujo do? The maiden voyage (well, maiden series) saw it handling a C300 rig pretty regularly, including an unnecessarily heavy “low-mode cage” that damn near killed it. By the end of my run on the season, I had my transitions to and from Steadi down to five and two minutes, respectively, but that isn’t necessarily the Flujo’s doing. I used it effectively and without any equipment-related mishaps (several operator-related ones notwithstanding.) But there are a lot of things that need fixing.

The biggest problem with the entire system is the arm. At some point, probably eight months after buying it (and after about four months of constant usage,) the bearings in the arm started to break. Currently, one of them is completely gone–it must have fallen out on set, and I have no idea when that happened–and the one directly across has shattered. I currently have a steel bolt through the arm where the two bearings are missing, but it’s not the same thickness as the bearings were, and consequently throws off the angle of the first part of the arm pretty severely. Visual inspection reveals that there are several other bearings on the verge of breaking.Modded J-Box

The breaking bearings are probably a fault in the manufacturing, but the entire arm being twisted is not. It’s hard to tell, but the entire arm has torqued ever so slightly outwards, probably because it had a great deal of weight on it. The twist causes the sled to move forward, which makes the operator have to lean back, and down that road lie tears and pulled backs. Varying reports list different weight capacities for the rig, and while my setup was on the heavy end, I’m fairly certain that anyone putting anything on this that was smaller would have a bear of a time figuring out what to do with all that extra inertial energy in the arm. The single-point tension adjustments are very nice, but like many things on this rig, are cheap screws and begin to strip and get loose over time.

So the arm is a serious problem in the long run, even with the modifications I made. The different sizes of post actually helped a considerable amount, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get that same flexibility in my new arm.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

The vest is still atrocious, and the sled’s problems were well-documented at the beginning of this series, which is good because I no longer remember what they were. I’ve made quite a few adjustments to the sled, and am currently wiring a new post cable (specifically, HDMI-and-power-tied-together cable.)

But one thing that has absolutely worked is the idea of flexibility. I had the posts and socket-block adapter made so that, when the time came, I could swap an arm, sled, or vest without any other issues. The annoying note here is that I bought a used Glidecam V-25, which actually does have an issue, in that its connection to the vest is incorrect, and I’m having to have another adapter cut at a shop, but that’s only a minor thing. The bones of the system are solid enough to support something like what I’ve done, but it only worked because I have a serious background in this stuff, knew what I wanted, and had operating capital to get it.

All in all, I would not in the least recommend this rig to anyone. It’s been a great deal of trouble, and while it did land me a great job on an amazing set, it’s brought with it a great deal of stress and heartache as things that I shouldn’t have to worry about begin to fail or break.

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Flycam Flujo, The Overhaul: Final?!

16 Mar

I just wrapped my first week as an operator on a docu-drama show, shooting in the Hampton Roads area. Two days later, I’m not aching anymore–Days 2, 3, and 4 all found me spending almost all day in the rig. But damn it feels good to be operating all the time! And I did well enough to be offered the position for the rest of the season, shooting ’til October.

So the burning question: how did the Flycam Flujo perform on its first professional gig? The answer: meh.

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The one major issue I had was that nothing seemed to stay set. I would balance the rig, check my drop time, and when it came back down, it was out of balance. I’m thinking, based on some things I’ve seen online, that the gimbal handle is not at all aligned. The unprofessional nature of the rig means that I have no ability to adjust the thing if it isn’t aligned properly, so it’s just something I’ll have to live with.

But just as important, and just as frustrating, was the fact that the entire top stage was loose. I tightened every nut that I could, and still the entire assembly would shuck and jive. Thankfully not during a take! Just enough during setup to give me far less confidence than I wanted.

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The materials are cheap–this we all know–but cheap materials can sometimes do great things! Just look at Ford cars. [rimshot!] However, where the cost always becomes a factor is the materials’ ability over time to maintain its function. Here, I fear, is my Flycam’s Achilles–this thing will not last for a very long time, especially if I keep putting it through its paces on this show. Several key adjustment points were stripping out, particularly the side-to-side adjustment on the top stage. Not the threaded adjustment rod, though: just the knob which adjusts it, which is threaded onto the rod and has a tiny set screw, which I’m fairly certain is responsible for the stripping. The clamp that holds the bottom stage on was not staying tight either, and I’m afraid to crank down the screws on that too (see prior.)

Because of the nature of the show, they were looking for considerable amounts of low-mode. To that end, I determined that I needed to make a low-mode cage that I can also use in the future as a weight cage. Because I didn’t mind the weight (and I had less than 12 hours) I went to a machine shop and had a couple of plates of stainless steel cut, then stopped at Lowe’a and bough 3/8″ all-thread and some 3/8-ID tube.

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This setup, according to the manufacturer, should be well within the weight limits. Perhaps for the arm it is, but the sled itself was really having problems with the great weight. For the next show, I should have my post cable up, which will let me keep weight off the camera by letting me power the Bartech through the J-box. I’ll still probably have the battery on the back for counterbalance handheld. The whole weight cage thing was last minute, so it’ll be very refined by the time I get back in the rig.

Side note: this plate sucks. Notice how only one hole actually lines up?

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The arm is still holding up, but I’m watching a few screws on it start to tweak and bend. I’ve really pushed it to the limits here. But the additional pins I had made saved me several times, as we got stuck in low mode but needed to raise the camera. I think the parts I had machined are now the strongest parts in it!

I want to talk about how bad the vest is, but it’s been so long since I used a real Steadicam vest that I can remember what it’s supposed to feel like. However, because of my socket block adjustments done to the arm, I can upgrade or rent a different vest anytime, which, given the pay increase from this show, could be sooner rather than later.

The final problem: docking. Or lack thereof–the bracket that comes with the Flycam is an utter farce. So, as you can see from some pictures, I had to build and balance at the same time, sitting on a baby pin (with the 5/8″ insert created for my sled at the machine shop.) All was fine until I needed to put the thing on the arm. Then it became a silly exercise in patience: I’d have to lift the sled with my left arm, holding the handle with my thumb, and then move the arm underneath with my right hand, trying to dock without looking too much a fool.
If I had the low-mode cage on, I had to have an assistant lift the cage so I could get it up high enough. On Saturday morning, my left deltoid was absolutelu destroyed–it took two days to stop hurting.
The only solution is to bite the bullet and go big: as soon as I get back, I’m going to buy a Gorelock 2 docking bracket. It’s worth it, and I can keep this for future rigs, while just buying a new docking ring.

So it seems like this experiment has come to an end, or at least, the end of the beginning. Is this rig workable? Yes, with heavy modification. Some days, I almost wished I was using a Glidecam, but only because of the reliability it has over the Flycam. But here’s what’s important for me: when I got the call about this show, and I told them I was a Steadicam operator who owned a rig, it gave me an opportunity to prove myself. By the third day, I had been offered the position for the rest of the season, even though I’m going to miss three shows. And most importantly, I actually had the knowledge of my equipment to get the job done, despite setbacks in the field.

Will I start upgrading as soon as fiscally possible? Abso-friggin’-lutely.

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Camera “Cart”

13 Feb

I love the organization that I see big-time AC’s using–always seem to know where everything is, even in a huge Arri bag–and the carts are a big part of that. It’s great to say “go get X from the A-camera cart” and know exactly what and where it is, not having to rummage through cases or bags that are lumped in a trunk or a table somewhere.

But a Magliner runs $250ish, and the nose pieces, shelves, etc. all start adding up very quickly. You can buy a fully-rigged camera cart from Filmtools for a pretty penny, which I would love to have, but A) don’t have the capital for, B) don’t have a consistent need for, and C) don’t have room in my apartment for. So! Until the day comes when I have more money, more work, and a house, I will continue to find work-arounds.

Whilst flipping through channels the other week, my wife paused on QVC (or HSN? Can’t remember) and we saw the Origami shelf advertised. Of course, they show really stupid things to do with it on those shows–things that are semi-permanent, paired with a shelf being sold because it is temporary–but the wife said “hey, that’d be cool for your camera stuff.”

The next few minutes, I thought more and more about it–folds down pretty small, big enough to support weight…and yeah, it did seem like a cool thing. I started researching, and discovered multiple sizes. I ultimately decided on the R4-01 which seemed like it would be big enough to hold several cases, and wide enough to support my hi-hat (which I usually have setup on a cart with a tripod head, for building/staging the camera.)

After a snafu with shipping (meaning they said they delivered it, but they did not–Amazon very graciously sent me a replacement free of charge and with upgraded one-day shipping) the R4-01 showed up and was exactly what I was expecting. After almost breaking it to open it (the clip for the top shelf had hooked around one of the bars in the middle shelf, and I forced when I shouldn’t have–thankfulky, everything bent back into place pretty easily) I set it up in my living room and found it to be much taller than I thought. I’m a tall guy, and the top shelf sat comfortably at my stomach level. Adding my hi-hat to the top put the camera up near my chest, and let me build at a very comfortable height. The shelves were wide enough to hold my AC bags and camera case, and the bottom shelves were even long enough to mostly cover my Steadicam cases.

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I thought I would be cheap and buy my own wheels. Ultimately, I can’t speak to the quality of the casters from Amazon, and I don’t think I actually saved any money, but I built my own rolling platform to put the shelves on. I went with 2-1/2″ hard plastic casters from Home Depot–I wanted to get bigger wheels, perhaps even inflatables, but I was afraid (and rightfully so) that those would put the camera stage over my comfortable level.

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After a week-long industrial shoot, I am really pleased with the results. It easily fit all the cases, and I added a bag to the side to hold my personal items. I’d love to have some hooks or bottle/can holders, but we’ll see what develops. I will say, though, that we were inside, on-location and in-studio, and it was awesome. My wheels–nay, any wheels less-than-inflatables–would not do very well on any ground that is less than smooth. That being said, if you don’t mind carrying the shelves around (they’re not terribly heavy) then you could definitely get away with moving around on rough terrain, provided you weren’t moving a heck of a lot.

So! A little ingenuity and repurposing can get you a neat camera cart of your own. Until the Magliners are cheaper, that is.

Update: After a pretty big boost from The Black and Blue (thanks, Evan!) I realised that I needed to update the post with some in-the-field pictures.

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Here is that cart actually being multi-purpose for another DIY project…

Flycam Flujo – The Problem

24 Dec

I took a Tiffen workshop in 2009 to become a “certified” Steadicam operator. I was bit by the bug then–it seemed to combine my favorite parts of work and film (engineering and camera) and completely changed the way I thought about camera movement in a 3D space or environment. Now, almost five years later, I’ve been aching to get a rig of my own, so I can start operating as a freelancer in the area.

When I looked around, I found that I would be the only Steadicam owner-operator local to the Virginia Beach area. This presents me with some interesting issues. Firstly, is there even a market out here for that? It’s a fairly small and young video market, and Steadicam may be a bit above the milieu so far. B) how could I make myself more marketable and important to an area that doesn’t have any competition at all? And ultimately, how can I keep my costs low to begin with? A smaller overhead lets me charge a lower day-rate starting out, which means I don’t have to be stuck with a huge investment in case there, in fact, is not a market out here.

In the 2.5 years so far of graduate school, where I’ve actually been teaching Steadicam basics to students using a Glidecam X-22 (kill me) and used said rig for a couple of shoots, I had come across an oddity: one student with a credit card and a lack of inhibitions had bought a whole Indian-knockoff setup on eBay–for about $3,000 received a DSLR rail system & mattebox, a monitor, and a “steadycam” rig that, according to different websites, could hold between 6kg and 22kg (13-48 lbs.) which seems entirely too good to be true. But, being the “Steadicam teacher”, I agreed to help him do an initial setup.

When I pulled the long, slender cases open, I was shocked by the quality of what I saw. There was quite a bit of “modularity” in it, most things were metal or carbon fiber, the connectors looked like actual LEMO’s, and the vest had a clasp-like system (much better than the velcro thing that Glidecam has going for it.) We rigged it up, and that’s when the problems arose–hooking up a JVC HM-700u camera to the power showed 12v for ’bout 2 seconds, and then nothing. The post cables consisted of two straight cables (which, coming from Glidecam, I already know is a huge problem), one a simple HDMI female-to-male, the other a 12-pin LEMO that connected the base to the J-box. As soon as I put an Anton Bauer Hytron 150, the bottom box fell right off the sled!

BUT! for all its problems, the bones are there. I’ve used it twice now, once flying a RED Epic with Schneider-Krueznach Cine-Xenar III’s, and once with a RED Scarlet and the 18-85mm lens (NOT a lens for Steadicam) and I’ve been pretty optimistic about the rig. And, as time has worn on, I am just ready to be on the market. I would love to get a Steadicam Zephyr to start off, but that’s $10,000 for just a rig–a wireless follow-focus, any wireless monitoring, etc. would be extra. If there’s no market here, then what would I do but sell that rig for a small loss and suffer the psychological effects of failure?

So, the problem is this: get a Steadicam-type rig, with the appropriate accessories, for a decent price (I figured a $5,000 24-month loan would make my payments about $300 a month, which is pretty low for Steadicam equipment rental) and start acting as an owner-operator.

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