In the age of advancing technology and expanding creativity, the role of a camera movement specialist has become more essential on set. It’s finally possible to achieve fluid moves without the need of costly, time-consuming, and constricting equipment like dollies, jibs, or steadicams. Instead, we use a tool called a gimbal which allows me (the MoVi operator) to maneuver the camera rig on any combination of axises needed to complete the shot.
I find that being a camera movement specialist is one of the best jobs on set…Why?…cause you get to play with the coolest gear and you get to capture the most dynamic shots. From being a MoVi Operator for several years now, I’m still amazed at the quality that can be achieved with Freefly System’s awesome gear.
Now with great camera gear, comes great “tweakability.” Another thing about being a MoVi Operator is the art involved in just building the camera rig. Build clean, or go home!
Parts to a MoVi
There are six main components to any gimbal.
- Wireless Follow Focus
- Wireless HD Downlink
- Monitor (for MoVi Operator)
- Battery Power
- Gimbal support (Ready Rig, Easy Rig, etc.)
Camera: Depending on the camera and lens being used, determines which power harnesses we use in addition to which MoVi. The MoVi M5 is for your 5 lbs and lighter camera rigs and the M10 or M15 are for 5-15 lbs camera rigs. We typically will run RED Weapon or RED Dragon when on set. Some tech specs: The Weapon body only weighs 3.5 lbs., however once you have the Jetpack module installed, you’re up to 4 lbs. for body. RED Dragon’s body weighs 5 lbs. Being an entire 1 pound lighter when running the Weapon helps throughout the day, especially when flying on the Freefly Alta.
Wireless Follow Focus: When running a MoVi gimbal, there’s no practical way for your 1st AC (focus puller) to pull focus with his/her hands on the camera during a shot. This is where a wireless follow focus comes into play. We use both the Cine Gears and DJI’s follow focus systems. Both of these systems are great, however their range is somewhat limiting. When running the MoVi on the ground, we typically get about 150-225 ft of radio range. One running the MoVi in the air, we can get 300-450 ft LOS (line of sight). Fortunately, any focus pulling from the air is going to be in close proximity, which keeps the drone and camera close by. So usually we won’t lose signal to our wireless follow focus.
Wireless HD Downlink: With improving technology, wireless HD downlinks are getting better and better. As a MoVi Operator, you need to make sure you provide not only your 1st AC a live video feed, but also the director/client a feed so they can monitor the shot, live. Cables can be used, but this can compromise your camera’s overall stability, not to mention it’s dangerous (a good tripping hazard). We use Amimon Connex HD wireless systems. On the ground we get between 500-800 ft depending on the conditions. With the Connex in the air, we can get a solid signal feed from 1200 – 1500 ft LOS. Another huge plus is the ability of connecting several wireless receives so your 1st AC can have their own monitor and not crowd the director/DP around video village.
Monitor for MoVi Operator: Depending on what the shot requires, the MoVi Operator may be operating (MoVi will be used in “majestic” mode), or a gimbal operator/DP will remotely operator the MoVi. In this case, the MoVi Operator pretty much just carries the MoVi and moves through the chosen camera path. Either way, it’s critical for the MoVi Operator to have a decent monitor for framing. We’ve always been a huge fan of SmallHD’s monitors. We use both DP4’s and DP7’s. Their small, lightweight and don’t pull too much power.
Battery Power: Being completely mobile makes batteries your new best friend. When we’re on the ground with MoVi, we run two batteries. One 4S LiPo which powers just the MoVi. Then V-lock batteries that power everything else. Our V-locks power the camera, follow focus, hd downlink and field monitor. The V-lock sits up on top for easy access so that we can swap batteries quickly and easily when needed. This is where building a clean build is required. One, it keeps everything organized and low risk of cable snags or system failures. Two, you will look more professional out in the field which will further your reputation. Great reputation = more jobs!
Gimbal Support: When a MoVi is fully loaded as a cinema package, the entire system can weigh anywhere from 18-22 lbs. This is a lot of weight to carry with just your arms throughout the day. This is where an Easy Rig or Ready Rig some into play. I think one of the most critical parts of being a MoVi Operator is the ability to produce repeatable shots. Lets face it, “one take wonders” are few and far between. It takes a lot of rehearsing from the talent, MoVi Operator and 1st AC to execute the shot correctly, especially on complex shots. Without the proper support, your arms will give out within the first 20 minutes. I’ve never been fond of Easy Rigs since they limit mobility and limit fine tuning with adjusting the weight support. I’ve always enjoyed our Ready Rig! The main reasons are, 1) it sends the weight of the rig to my hips, which saves my back which allows me to last all day, 2) I can fine tune each arm support independently, since there’s more weight on the right side of the gimbal, due to the V-lock battery, this allows me to balance the rig correctly. The Ready Rig even gives additional stability support with it’s spring straps. A win, win.
So hopefully this post shed some more light into the MoVi world for those of you wanting to learn more about gimbals on set. If you want to learn more about our camera movement services, check out our website here: Gimbal-Op.com