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Geared Heads

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#1 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 25 March 2005 - 12:20 PM

For all you A/B Camera / steadicam op's:

Im looking for some advice on using a geared head for my regular operating. Ive been practicing away with a geared head now for a while but i still havent used it in a real world situation. Im just not quite confident enough yet and still find myself "Thinking" about the wheels, instead of just relaxing into the shot. Im very comfortable with a fluid head and i guess i just need to force myself to start using the wheels instead.
So im looking for do's and dont's with a geared head; what geared heads are good for, what they're not good for. When to use them and when to stay with the fluid head. Any advice on physically interacting with the geared head would be helpfull- at the moment im finding a light touch is best.
Im also assuming that anything i learn with a geared head can be applied to operating remote heads, but maybe i shouldnt - any differences i should be aware of?
Other than the usual figure 8's is there anything else i could practice? Ive been following little furry animals around my back yard for a while now and im begining to get bored:)
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#2 Howard J Smith

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Posted 25 March 2005 - 01:15 PM

Hi mate

Getting board is the best thing to do as then it will be second nature - like my "wax on - wax off" training - I used to put my walkman on and follow the crew around the set when ever I could.
It is the same for remote heads - I have both an ARRI head and a HOT-Head and use them all the time.
Regarding when to use one, it is all down to how confident you get with it - but sometimes the action is so fast there is no way and you have to go to a stick head.
The film I did in Pargue I shot the whole picture on the ARRI head (as I didn't have anything else) and it looked great. the best thing about the geared head is the moves look so much better - also on a dolly the 'wheels' really help. - You can also get much more precision with the wheels especailly on the long lenses.

Also worth mentioning if you get used to the ARRI - when you use a Pana head it is a bit odd (or Visa/versa), as you turn the wheel the amount you normally would and the frame is not the same as they have different gear ratios. (small but it makes a difference)

Just keep practicing and then one day - as with steadicam you have to bite the bullet and go for it.

Take care
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#3 Charles Papert

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Posted 26 March 2005 - 08:31 AM


I think you'll find that the geared head is a lot like Steadicam, in that after a while the mechanics become second nature and your hands/brain "know" what to do. Practicing is great but performing actual shots on set requires one to get out of one's head about the whole thing...I used to use a laser pointer and trace squiggles and things around the place ad nauseum (try writing your name or whatever in large cursive letters on a board and tracing it with the pointer).

The bit that is a little trickier to get down since it requires more personnel/hardware than most have access to is backpanning--countering on a dolly or "erasing" the arc of a crane arm is somewhat counter-intuitive; dialing away at the pan wheel just to keep the camera pointed in the same direction, then either cranking faster or slower to effectively pan left or right, and coordinating your efforts so that when the dolly/arm comes to a stop, as do you. My first paid job using the wheels was on a commercial with a short jib arm making full 90 degree swings...positively nerve-wracking at the time! You quickly get the hang of it, though.

Howard's comment about the Pana/Arrihead differential is interesting, although I personally don't find it too disconcerting to bounce back and forth (remote heads usually offer stepless adjustment of gear ratio, which I like). I do agree wholeheartedly about preferring the wheels on a dolly though, especially for push-ins where there is a classic tendency on the fluid head for a little bump in tilt during starts and stops.

Given a choice, I generally opt for the wheels 90% of the time on most shows. The one I'm on currently has been mandated as fluid-head only, and I do find myself missing them (the odd remote-head day gets me all misty!)

Best of luck Stephen, just use every opportunity you can to noodle around on the things!
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#4 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 26 March 2005 - 04:16 PM

Thanks guys!
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#5 Anthony Hardwick

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Posted 27 March 2005 - 10:53 PM


As Howard and Charles have already stated, it is very much about getting to the point where you don't have to think about what your hands need to do. It'll come... just keep practicing, and putting yourself under the pressure of operating the wheels on a real show with real shots. You'll be surprised what you can do, and how quickly you'll get comfortable.

I choose based on what the shot requirements are. The last movie I operated and the current one are both pictures with considerable sports sequences: basketball and gymnastics. I tend to use fluid heads (particularly O'Connor 2575's) for fast sports work, and geared heads for all else. This movie (for budgetary reasons) is only carrying fluid heads (other than remote heads for cranes, etc.). I'm in the same boat as you Chas, I miss the geared heads, but we've got enough remote head work with Technocranes and regular cranes to keep me from jonesin'.

One other piece of advice I have for you is to make sure you use headsets to communicate with your grips when doing crane work. This is usually something that is a given, but every now and then a crane set up will not have headsets for whatever reason, and it's a pain in the arse to coordinate the stops as Chas indicated above. You don't realise how much you rely on this communication link until you don't have it.

Best of luck with the confidence building. It'll come quickly.
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#6 JamieSilverstein


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Posted 28 March 2005 - 04:54 AM

Given my choice I would always use a geared head. I like both Arri and Panavision, and I don't really have a problem switching from one to another. My advice to you is to just use the head whenever you can. Have a fluid head available and if you find a shot that you cannot operate with the geared head, just have the assistants bring you the fluid head. My advice is to do this quietly so that you don't bring attention to yourself, and don't do it too often. Try to make the geared head work and it will work in just about every situation. Your operating can only improve by learning another tool.
good luck.
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#7 Tom Schnaidt

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Posted 28 March 2005 - 02:15 PM

I like you Stephen have a real strong background on the fluid heads, but really understand the need to have your skills on the wheels be strong. Primary famong the things I might add to what the rest of the guys have offered in the way of Wheels/fluid choices is the situations where your body needs to change postition drastically, from bending over to standing of Vice versa, Its really helpful to have the wheels then because the smoothness of your shot doesn't rely on your ability to directly apply pressure. Its easier to keep your wheel rotation at an appropriate speed than it is to make sure your changing body position isnt interfering with your
panning/tilting ability.... I think you get it. sorry for the verbose nature.

Also consistency/repeatability is much easier here, you feel the number of turns for quick moves that need to be spot on, etc.

best to all,

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#8 WillArnot


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Posted 29 March 2005 - 02:20 AM

Whip pans: usually best on a fluid head with a short eyepiece and your body hugging the camera. Here's a great way to do them on a geared head.

Put the pan gear in 3rd (fastest) gear. The tilt hand then holds the whole top or bottom of the tilt wheel with entire hand palm down, so you are really gripping the wheel, no fingertip action here. Select the right gear for the amount of tilt you need as the subject drives by, b/c it is usually just a qiuck up-down at the apex of the pan. Your hand in the palm-down position will be very limited in the amount of tilt it applies, hence correct gear selection. This hand will also actually be yanking the head around. The Pan hand simply initiates the pan and then brakes the pan to land on a perfect end frame. Voila!

Having done a ton of long lens work on B-camera, I find that once i'm at the long end of the 11:1 or especially the 3:1 imperfections in the geared head start to become apparent. This is especially true when panning on a flat horizon say on a 600mm. There are inherent dead spots in the gearing that are heavily magnified at these kinds of mm. It is much better to be on a fluid head at this point where you simply apply a constant pressure to assure smooth panning. It is hard to get a geared head to look smooth at this point, it is very easy to overcompensate. If you must use a geared head with very long mm, and you have an arri head, you can use the reduction gears.

Dolly work - geared head like Charles said. Stand ups and sit downs - Geared head.

'Use the force Luke...'

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#9 Charles Papert

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Posted 29 March 2005 - 08:55 AM

There's a great trick for stand ups on the wheels that I use on the odd occasion, but it can make you look like a champ. Start with the actor in standing position and find the proper headroom. Slip the head into neutral gear, and orient the handwheel so that the pin is at the 12 o'clock position. Go back into your gear of choice. Then have the actor sit down, and tilt down to the proper frame, counting the number of rotations that the wheel goes through. Now, when the actor stands up in the shot, you simply spin the wheel that same number of rotations and land at the 12 o'clock position (your hand will easily "find" that). It's pretty foolproof, and even works if you have a simultaneous boom happening on the dolly.
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