Q: We're planning to produce a training video with an action theme and have been advised to use steadicam.
But we have never used steadicam before and would appreciate some info about it. What exactly does it do? How does it work? Why should we use it?
Thanks in anticipation.
A: Steadicam works equally well in training video productions as it does in marketing, or any corporate video. Or in a movie for that matter!
It involves using a motion camera to track motion shots, rather than using a static video camera panning or tilting from a tripod.
Steadicam has become a generic term for motion camera stabilising devices, much as hoover means vacuum cleaner.
A Steadicam is a stabilizing mount for a video camera, which mechanically isolates the operator's movement from the camera, allowing for a very smooth shot even when the operator is moving quickly over an uneven surface.
This allows the camera to literally follow the action, or sweep around still objects (such as meetings!)
In practice, the word steadicam refers to the combination of the mount and the video camera.
Before Steadicam, a corporate video producer had two choices for moving or tracking shots, dolly or handheld.
> The camera was mounted on a dolly, a wheeled mount that rolled on tracks or levelled boards. Dollies are still frequently used today in movies. But in corporate productions these are time-consuming to set up and impractical in many business locations.
> The camera operator can hold the camera in their hands or on the shoulder which, although allowing greater speed and flexibility, even the most skilled camera operator cannot prevent the video image from shaking.
Handheld footage has traditionally been considered suitable for for documentaries, news, reportage work, live action, or as a special effect to produce an in your face atmosphere during dramatic sequences.
The gritty police television drama NYPD Blue and more recently CSI are quite famous for their use of handheld camera work as a dramatic element.
But this has been overused, in that corporate video directors with no budget for proper motion camera such as Steadicam, persuade corporate clients that "on the shoulder" camera will look "realistic and credible".
But often this is an excuse for cheap low budget handheld work, where the poor camera op has to try and keep as still as possible during complicated shots (breathing not allowed!)
A Steadicam essentially combines the stable steady footage of a conventional tripod with the fluid motion of a dolly or tracking shot and the flexibility of handheld or on-the-shoulder camera work.
While smoothly following the operator's broad movements, the Steadicam's arm soaks up the jerks, bumps, and shakes.
There's a some info on shooting and the use of Steadicam in video here - Shooting your company video
Steadicam has an interesting background
It was introduced to the film and video industry back in 1976 by its inventor, a camera operator named Garrett Brown.
He called it the Brown Stabilizer (Well, that was original!)
Once he'd got his first working prototype off the ground, Brown shot a short demo reel of the amazing motion moves his new device could produce.
This reel was viewed by various directors, including Stanley Kubrick and John Avildsen.
Success quickly followed. Steadicam's first major use was in Kubrick's biopic Bound for Glory, but the real breakthroughs came with Avildsen's Rocky in 1976, and Kubrick's The Shining in 1980.
It has been used in corporate video work, both training and marketing since the 1990s.
How Does Steadicam Work?
The operator wears a harness, which is attached to an elastic arm.
This harness is connected by a gimbal to the Steadicam arm which has the camera mounted at one end and a counterbalance weight at the other.
The combined weight of the counterbalance and camera means that the arm holds a high inertial mass which can't be easily moved by the camera operator's body movements. Try shaking a bowling ball to see what this means.
The freely pivoting arm adds extra stability to the video-captured image, and makes the weight of the camera acceptable by allowing the body harness to support it.
When the arm is correctly adjusted, the operator is able to completely remove their hands from the steadicam unit, while still having the camera remain in place.
As for using steadicam in training video? If you have the budget to do this, it will almost always look better. Details of our training video production services here - rossiterandco.com/trainingvideoproductionservices.htm
Steadicam in corporate video transforms relatively mundane tripod shot scenes into living breathing sweeping shots that will engage audiences as well as add a special look to your production.
© Studio Rossiter