In order to show the good functioning of a prosthetic knee and lower leg my client needed some interesting footage. They needed our talent/model to walk backward along this smooth, concrete floor so we could show how well the mechanics of the computer controlled joint worked. There might be people who have practiced walking sideways while keeping a video camera completely shake-free but I'll tell you right now that I'm not one of them. When I'm working I'm looking for control and repeatable results. We can't always engineer that but we can channel our best"MacGyver" imitation and try...
Our cameras framing was to include from waist to floor and we wanted a smooth trucking shot to follow the model/talent as he moved backward. I was to match his speed and keep our distance constant through a 25 foot trail. If we had budget, crew and time I would have had people pull dolly track off a truck (that we didn't have) and line it up down the hall. Then we would have put an operator on a costly dolly and had the assistant camera operator (which we also didn't have) push the dolly while observing the progress on a monitor clamped to an arm on the dolly. But this was classic, one man movie making so I did what most freelancers learn to do early on: I improvised.
I grabbed my Multi-cart (with brand new, softer wheels), pulled a Magic Arm out of a bag along with a Super Clamp and a camera plate. In sixty seconds I had the Magic Arm mounted to a rail on the dolly with a Sony a6300 securely mounted at the other end. I put a sandbag on the cart to help quell any small vibrations and then I took a couple of runs down the hall to get the general feel of the rig.
I had my model/talent do a few runs beside the faux dolly to make sure we both were on the same page for tempo and relative distance, and then we did three very clean takes, got the shot the client was looking for and moved on to the next thing on the shot list. I used the makeshift cart/dolly on one interior shot and two exterior shots, yesterday and each shot was successful. Tracking shots add a big budget feel to small budget operations.
I shot all three of the scenes in 4K and used a wider composition than the one I would eventually end up with. I did this in order to be able to make full use of image stabilization within Final Cut Pro X. If you need industrial strength image stabilization then you lose some of your image (tops, bottom, sides) to the process. If you start both wide and with tons of resolution it's easier to lay on really effective I.S. and still have real estate to crop in on to get a perfectly composed 1080p frame.
I have done productions both ways. For a quick dolly shot with no muss and fuss a smooth concrete floor, soft wheels and a sandbagged luggage cart will save you at least an hour of track set up, the cost of two or three additional crew members, and a bunch of truck and gear rental. For big budget movies the techniques we learned last century might be worth the time and expense but for corporate projects you'll hardly ever have the time and budget. This rig will get a careful operator 95% of the way there and the I.S. in post production will toss you the other 5%. The shot will run about 5-7 seconds as B-roll, in the finished edit. Plus, it's fun to play "Legos" with your grip gear....
A quick word or two about cameras from yesterday's shoot. The project I am putting together will go on the client's YouTube channel, their website and into some social media. With the final uses in mind I decided to forgo renting or buying an Arriflex Alexa 65 and a case of Zeiss Speed Primes and to use one or two of the very decent cameras that I actually own and know how to use. The one that is significantly fun to shoot video with is the Sony a6300. It's easy to focus, works well with the 18-105mm lens and outputs really, really good files; even at ISO 1600. With its new metal cage it looked like the perfect tool to bolt to a cart. I used Picture Profile one which is not a log profile but a nice and very usable profile with a "softer and gentler curve" than still profiles.
As per my usual practice I metered with an incident meter, set the camera manually, and also took a few moments to make a custom white balance in the actual shooting environment. I reviewed the footage this morning, did a little bit of color correct, applied a judicious amount of I.S. in Final Cut Pro X and sent along some proxy files to the client. It all looked good to me.
I used the a6300 for every shot that didn't need audio. We had one scene in which we needed to have a technician show us the product and show (and tell) us where to find the serial number. Since the a6300 doesn't have a headphone jack for audio monitoring I used an RX10 iii with a Sennheiser shotgun microphone and got in fairly close with a semi-wide lens. The audio was perfect. It helped that we were working in an empty hallway.
I'm still considering getting a dedicated video camera for this kind of "run and gun" stuff. I've been zero-ing in on two Sony cameras. One if the pxw-x70 and the other is the pxw-x150. They use the same sensor and I'm betting a lot of the guts are similar but the 150 comes 4K ready and has more dedicated, external buttons. I'm looking for a par focal lens and XLR connectors as a primary reason to buy. A bonus is that both these models output 1080p as 10 bit, 4:2:2. I'm led to believe that it's easier to color correct the higher bit depth and color sampling codecs. There are more capable cameras on the market with bigger sensors but they all have bigger budgets and bigger learning curves. I thought I'd buy something straightforward and practical. After all, I can always whip out one of these still cameras if I want to put a big, fat, fast prime lens on the front and play auteur...
Two tips for the cart: The sandbag works well to dampen slight jitters. Next time I'll bring two more bags. Start three feet back from your talent's "start" mark to get use to the speed and smoothness need by the time you hit their mark. And, maybe do a couple of rehearsals; just for the hell of it.