Project Case Study: Hiring a Gimbal Op?

Photo by Maksim Axelrod

Again, I am a DP
As I said in a previous post, I am a DP first before anything. I am not a MoVi op – though I know how to setup and operate one. I have many hobbies, most of which happen to be related to filmmaking. I love using and figuring out stabilizing systems. I was gearing up to be an engineer until I made a turn to software and then eventually film, so I’m into tinkering with things. The stabilizing systems are so fun to use and interesting from a mechanical perspective – combine this with a camera and GTFO – heaven.

The Project
This shoot we were hired to shoot the Luminaries, a crazy-cool light installation at Brookfield Place in downtown Manhattan. The company had already shot a bunch of stuff around the Luminaries previously as it was installed last holiday season, but this year they had music synced to the light show. Our main task was to show that this was a light show that was synced to music. A big part of that had to do with the programming of the lights, which was handled by the client, and camera movement (by us, of course).

I teamed up again with director Brian Choy. We knew that we wanted a lot of camera movement to showcase the lights moving around. Drones look cheap if not done right, and since we were not able to get a drone permit, the MoVi m15 (plus my fav rig, the Ready Rig GS) sealed the deal. We had been working with it on a few projects prior for simpler shots, so this would be a bigger trial for us. All of my experience was now going to play into this project. The moves wouldn’t be complex, but there would be a lot of moving around, which meant that as an operator, I had to be as flawless as possible at 23.98 fps.

Hiring a Gimbal Op
Why did I decide to operate the MoVi instead of hiring one? I thought I could do the job well – that’s simply it. For a more complex, all day affair, I’d hire someone who specializes in it. I’ve seen a lot of footage before and know what to look for when hiring.

So what do you look for in gimbal footage if you’re really anal about stuff looking good? Well – if you’re auditioning a gimbal/movi/ronin/etc op, ask for samples of footage they’ve shot at 23.98 fps with NO image stabilization. That will really tell you if they know what they’re doing. What happens at 48 fps, 60 fps, and beyond, the slow motion actually hides a lot of the errors that operators are prone to. It was our mission to make 23.98 fps as smooth as humanly possible when we first bought into the MoVi. After a lot of trouble shooting and tests, we were finally able to get really close for a majority of shots to feel comfortable going into this shoot. See this video – we wanted to show that we could use the MoVi for a long distance at 23.98fps. After a lot of practicing over the last few months, we got some nice footage on this run.

The Outcome
I won’t talk much about the mechanics of this shoot, I think Brian did a great job directing everyone who walked into the shoot (it was literally all random citizens who were interested in the light show and what we were doing). We got a serious amount of footage in 8K that he sorted out and delivered in a week. Here’s the outcome:

Directed+ Edited by Brian Choy
Director of Photography + MoVi Op Arthur Woo
Jib Op and Assistant Maksim Axelrod
Sound Mixer Kenzo Niwa

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