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Operating Whip Pans or Quick Landing Shots


Nelson JJ Flores
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Hi everybody,

I wanted to know what techniques are effective when it comes to whip panning or when you quickly have to move the camera towards the direction of a character or object; whether on tripod or handheld?

Practicing helps I know, but has anyone ever used a method where they improved their accuracy when landing on the shot? For example the BTS for La La Land where the op is going back and forth between two people. He's amazingly accurate so I want to improve my skills to get to that level eventually.

 

 

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A fluid head set to the stiffest settings helps with fast whip pans. Of course, the heavier the camera + head, the stronger the legs need to be; otherwise, the tripod would move!

A geared head can help a lot with this because you can control the "sensitivity" of the gears.

The key with a stiff fluid head is the ability to stop the camera almost instantly. The stiffer it is, the faster it'll stop...of course, you'll have to push harder and really nail the landing.

(Also, Ari Robbins, SOC [the operator in the video] is a legend)

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I find the key with kind of pans that Ari is doing there is to lower the drag in the head so that it is not fighting you when you whip across, but it’s not so low that you can’t stop the move smoothly. If you take too much out, the head will slop around all over the place when you try to stop the pan. A little trial and error will help you arrive at the right setting.

Body posture is also crucial. You’re basically pivoting between two points that you can’t see until they appear in your viewfinder. You need to have a fixed point of reference. I like to plant my feet so that I can twist from one end of the pan to the other without moving them.You can see Ari doing the same thing in the video. Note that he’s also using the matte box bars as a second pan handle. This helps you keep the camera movement exactly tied to your body movement. Then it’s just a case of practicing the move until you start to get used to the position your body needs to be in for both frames.

Lastly, you need to not think about it, just kind of feel it. I find if I try to consciously analyze the move, I’ll get it wrong.

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As above .. I definitely  wouldn't set the head to the stiffest settings for whip pans ..  sort of defeating the purpose..    low not not off..   and  body position where you don't have to move your feet or least possible ..  in this example he's working off a monitor .. definitely helping .. using the viewfinder I think this 180 degree shot would be pretty much impossible body movement wise ..  and grab those rods ..  ! .. another point of contact 

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On 8/8/2020 at 1:49 AM, AJ Young said:

A geared head can help a lot with this because you can control the "sensitivity" of the gears.

 

Even in the highest gear, I think you would struggle to pan a geared head that fast. An Arrihead takes 9.5 turns of the wheel in 3rd gear to pan 180°. That’s a lot do in just over a second.

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10 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

Even in the highest gear, I think you would struggle to pan a geared head that fast. An Arrihead takes 9.5 turns of the wheel in 3rd gear to pan 180°. That’s a lot do in just over a second.

I stand corrected! 🙂

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1 hour ago, Mark Kenfield said:

It’s HARD. Really hard. I’d always suggest shooting a little wider than your final frame, so that you can crop-in and finesse the end of the pan in post.

I think Ari has said that it may have been reframed a little in post. It’s also possible that the sequence is comprised of multiple takes. Whip pans are an excellent place to hide cuts, after all.

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  • 1 month later...

I actually tried this about two weeks ago on a shot where I was the B cam operator and was shooting just so that they might have another vantage point when editing while the A cam was shooting the main action.

I once hear that when you want to make a nice stop at the end you've got to find a relaxed position and then twist in the direction where of the beginning. Like a spring or some thing. The main thing was a good stance in a relaxed position.

It actually worked quiet well because I was able to pan slowly towards character B but then whip pan back towards character A for a reaction shot or reply. 

It did take me two practice takes to learn the dynamics of the dialog and get the feel how the two actors reacted to each other but in the last couple of takes I was able to consistently between the two and catch a nice frame without missing the main reactions.

I think they decided that they would use my shots more than what camera A was shooting.

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3 minutes ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Great thanks  .. haven't seen that in many years .. still amazing .. 

'West Side Story' is on Netflix US version.....I'm revisiting in the light of the Spielberg one that's still to come out in cinemas prob 2021 I guess?

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On 8/9/2020 at 2:51 AM, Stuart Brereton said:

Even in the highest gear, I think you would struggle to pan a geared head that fast. An Arrihead takes 9.5 turns of the wheel in 3rd gear to pan 180°. That’s a lot do in just over a second.

Hi Stuart:

The whip pan technique I use with a gear head is to "throw" the pan wheel in the proper direction, pull or push hard using the tilt wheel as a handle and then press my hand on the top of the spinning pan wheel to very quickly and smoothly brake to a dead stop.  If the whip pan is level - with no tilt involved this is very fast and quite accurate.  If there is tilt up or down required then the degree of difficulty is increased.  Any tilt of more than a few degrees would mean a fluid head is called for in my opinion.  Even with many years of practice I would rarely try to accomplish a gear head whip pan by putting the head in 3 and turning the wheels - there are a couple of people I have known who could do this routinely but they are/were one-in-a-million operators such as Nick McLean Senior who was maybe the finest operator I have come across. Nick could routinely do what many consider impossible.

It is also important to note that very few Panaheads or Arriheads I have ever come across are really much good.  A great Panahead is silky smooth in all gears with no lash or drag - having enough clout to demand a perfect head is a big part of the equation.  I eventually bought my own Arriheads because really good Panaheads were very hard to come by and I was pretty much pissing off the Panavision techs with my constant complaints and requests for service - they thought I was not reasonable I'm sure and maybe they were right.  I found a great Arrihead tech and bought multiple heads so I could have one in service while using another. 

Kind regards,

Neal Norton
DP

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2 hours ago, Neal Norton said:

The whip pan technique I use with a gear head is to "throw" the pan wheel in the proper direction, pull or push hard using the tilt wheel as a handle and then press my hand on the top of the spinning pan wheel to very quickly and smoothly brake to a dead stop.  If the whip pan is level - with no tilt involved this is very fast and quite accurate. 

With a bit of practice, this is probably the only practical way of doing a whip pan on a geared head, but I wouldn't want to have to do it repeatedly throughout a scene.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...
On 8/8/2020 at 2:10 PM, Stuart Brereton said:

I find the key with kind of pans that Ari is doing there is to lower the drag in the head so that it is not fighting you when you whip across, but it’s not so low that you can’t stop the move smoothly. If you take too much out, the head will slop around all over the place when you try to stop the pan. A little trial and error will help you arrive at the right setting.

Body posture is also crucial. You’re basically pivoting between two points that you can’t see until they appear in your viewfinder. You need to have a fixed point of reference. I like to plant my feet so that I can twist from one end of the pan to the other without moving them.You can see Ari doing the same thing in the video. Note that he’s also using the matte box bars as a second pan handle. This helps you keep the camera movement exactly tied to your body movement. Then it’s just a case of practicing the move until you start to get used to the position your body needs to be in for both frames.

Lastly, you need to not think about it, just kind of feel it. I find if I try to consciously analyze the move, I’ll get it wrong.

Some tripod heads allow you to mount a second pan-handle on the left facing forward. I use this technique not for filmed drama but for chasing agile aircraft in flight.

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On 11/25/2020 at 8:09 AM, Robert Hart said:

Some tripod heads allow you to mount a second pan-handle on the left facing forward. I use this technique not for filmed drama but for chasing agile aircraft in flight.

I used to do this all the time with O' Connor heads. Much better than using the rods and getting snarled up in the focus motor.

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