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Skyler R Mills

New camera dolly system

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My name is Sky Mills and I'm a senior in high school. My engineering class has been given a project to re-desin or create a product to fill a need. My group wants to re-design the standard camera dolly system because as fellow film producers, we all have trouble with tripod/dolly/jib camera systems.

 

We are currently researching information and I just wanted to ask if any of you have your own problems with camera stabalizers that our design could address. If so, do you have any suggestions on how we can fix this? Just wanted to ask and see if we could get some feedback. Thank you for your time.

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Sounds like an interesting project! People have come at this problem before to "solve" issues of cost, weight capacity, size, physical weight, complexity, etc... It's hard to design a better mousetrap without extensively using all the mouse traps out there. And you may find that dolly grips and camera ops are opinionated bunches (just read through the camera forums on this site!). But know that in the early 70's, a cameraman named Garrett Brown had the same idea, posing the question, "why does a dolly have to be so heavy and complicated to setup? How can I move the camera around faster?" He came up with what is now known even in pop culture as the Steadicam. So obviously, it's an interesting problem and one with many possible solutions.

 

There are 2 main manufacturers in the U.S. that essentially own the market on dollies - Chapman Leonard and J.L. Fisher. Fisher gives tours which are great and full of interesting design notes if you ever get a chance to take the trip. Their initial dolly design was based off a hydraulic accumulator from an aircraft's landing gear - surplus from WW2 - based off an earlier design which resembled aircraft parts even more. Here's an earlier thread on it including external links:

 

http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?showtopic=48469

 

There is another company in the game, more popular abroad than in the U.S. - Panther. They actually sell their dollies instead of just renting, as well as their other grip gear. Some of their ideas are quite clever, updates on earlier fully hydraulic designs. It's personal preference, but in the 2 times I had to use the Panther it failed both times and caused production delays. Michael Ballhaus used to own a Panther, so they are/were out there and being used but major DP's.... but I think my experience was somewhat typical. Fisher dollies are just pretty bulletproof even when they haven't been factory cleaned in a while - and they have backup systems to avoid delays like the ones we experienced with panther.

 

Speed and reliability are the most important things, more than exotic features. But also don't forget P=MV Dollies are heavy PRECISELY because mass and speed make the shot steadier - dollies are often used to make very very slow moves which means the track must be PERFECT or the weight of the dolly must be high to dampen and keep the inertia high. Just a couple things to think about. Good luck on the project!

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