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How to train operating a remote head on a "Russian Arm" or similar?


Moritz Moessinger
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As a commercial DP, I am slowly moving into Car Commercials and I was wondering if any of you had any insight or tips on how to train operating a remote head on a Russian Arm or similar?

I know the tracking vehicle comes with a team (precision driver and arm operator) but usually the DP operates the remote head, at least in Europe.

Before having to jump on it on a shoot where it means something, I am wondering how to train for it? It could also be a tip how to train to use the joystick etc.

Thanks for your help!

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Spent the last 5 years doing mainly car commercials in the RA. Or "Arm car" as they prefer it these days (as they're very entrenched in old politics and fractions and want to distance themselves from the Russian heads...).

I operate all my own stuff. I know a few operators that use wheels in the car, but the absolute majority use a joystick, myself included. Not really sure you can train for it, but when you're working up close and fast, it helps to keep the pan speeds up. I have quite high dampening as well, but that's a personal choice. Makes my abrupt operating look smoother.

 

You kind of have to anticipate moves a bit - and you'll miss. I miss all the time. Car accelerated left and you thought it was going to break etc. Happens. The hardest ones, are the pretty common: start at front, over the top of the car (and turn camera 180 degrees without a 4th axis) and then nailing a low end symmetrical shot as the car accelerates away. Those are very hard and almost nobody nails them without at least few tries. Sometimes they just don't ever get nailed. I always try to discourage the use of them, because they're that hard. If you have to do them, start upside down and then turn image in post - at least then you don't have to try to nail the 180 turn at the top when you're looking down and have no reference except the roof of the car.

Another tricky one is drifts in turns as you counter - they tend to get very fast in the last moments and easy to lose track of. But sometimes the messiness adds to the action and speed in those shots. Perfection isn't always the best for the shot.

But to be honest, I'm not the best operator in the world either. I'm decent. I'm sure there are guys that can nail those shots much better than me, so if you have very technical stuff like that, don't be afraid to ask for a pro operator.

You'll also find after awhile, that it's really hard to do any type of truly new or groundbreaking RA shots. They've all been done and frankly, most cars look good in three quarters, or 7/8's and that's where you end up to sell the sheet metal. Very few cars look good dead on or in straight profile - and with any city work, you'll always fight the wides and profiles and end up on a too wide a lens. Most cars kinda look bad on wide angles (there are a few exceptions).

Hope this helps! RA work is fun though - keeps you on your toes and it's very dynamic! Never a dull day in the arm car...

 

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@Adam Frisch FSF

Thank you for your response and insight into your way of working. What I take form it is, that it is absolutely normal to miss a few shots and try not to overcomplicate things. I have some experience with remote heads on techno/scorpio cranes etc. and think I have to work on my joystick skills since I am unfortunately not part of the generation who grew up with a Playstation controller there hands 😉 

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