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Steping off the crane...


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#1 Frederic Chamberland

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 01:07 PM

Hi everyone,

Last week, I did my first "crane and walk" shot and everything went great. My big question was what do you guys do to secure you to the crane while you are up there? We had a Giraffe crane set at 18' and the grips built a nice railing with aluminum tubing so I could rest my lower back while on the crane. I am not afraid of heights (as a camera assistant, they always put me in the highest cranes and roof edges and just love it) but I felt "uncomfortable" having a full rig with a 535 on at 15' in the air with no safety so I asked the grips to put their lighest technician with me on the crane so he could be attached securely and hold on to my vest while I was operating. The crane technician told me I was lucky to have just the shortest version of the crane so he could easily put 500lbs on it (me, the rig and the other grip) . As soon as we hit the ground, I was stepping off and start walking towards the actors. Of course, someone else was taking my spot on the crane while stepping off, but I was wondering if I could have done it another way. They offered a safety harness that they would have unclipped at the bottom of the crane but I said to myself this option would be too complicated and I had to step off the crane relativly fast.

So there, how do you guys do it in LA?
Many thanks!
(by the way, I felt VERY comfortable having someone with me in the air and felt that was the best option at the time, the shot is great, can't wait to see it on my website, wich is under construction, I'll keep you posted...)

Frederic Chamberland
steadicam@videotron.ca
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#2 Ari Gertler

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 01:56 PM

My feeling is that you should always use a harness. The worst that could happen is that by some unlikely chance the dolly grip will not be able to release me in time, the shot will be blown and we will have to do it again. Now think of what the worst case scenerio would be if you were not securely fastned to the crane. I don't think I need to elaberate here.
Whenever I do a step off/on, I make sure that my safety person and I have clearly communicated what needs to be done and said. I usually have my harness released a couple of feet before the crane touches down, the grip will tell me "unlocked" and then about 9-12" before the bottom he will say "clear" . I also like to have someone spot me on the ground for my step off, this saves the grip in the crane from spotting my movement off while he is worried about were he will be stepping down (not to mention that the grip in the crane should be harnessed). This has worked well for me, I look forward to hearing how other Ops may do it differently, especially if they have a safer method.

Ari Gertler
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#3 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 03:36 PM

Larry McConkey did some elaborate crane step off/ons in both kill bill films. i remember him speaking on that in the old forum but it would be a great refresher for this subject...
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#4 IanMcMillan

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 04:53 PM

Dear Fredrich,
I'm glad your around to post the question. Never do a crane without a harness. As Ari said, the worst that cane happen is another take. Trust me there are plenty of other departments out there who will have an issue that will reqire another one so don't be concerned if you need one. Ari's system works. What I would add is that I reherse with the grips in small bits. I start with the crane just off the deck and practice the change over between me and the grip. We then take it higher and practice unclipping the harness so we can resolve any access issues ect. Then we put those two parts together and reherse. After that we begin rehersing the shot. This is a dangerouse monouvre, not just for you but any body that has to be in the area of the crane, so don't be rushed by a jumpy first or producer. Believe me they won't be rushing at the inquest into injury or worse.
Secondly, make sure your railing is not to low. If you have to back on quickly you can over balance. I prefer somthing around middle back.
Its exciting and fun. Just make sure you stay around to tell people how exciting it is.
All the best
Macca
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#5 Larry McConkey

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 06:15 PM

On Kill Bill I did several crane shots, including the shot in the House Of Blue Leaves set that involved stepping on and off of first the overhead crane system and then a crane. Starting with this shot I have adopted a new technique as my standard procedure. In the past I almost always had a Titan for these shots, and that permitted a grip to ride with me, and the luxury of a 4? x 8? platform. This allowed me to back into my riding position, and start to walk away from it as the crane was still moving, which made it much easier to feather the crane movement and the ground-bound Steadicam only movement.

These days it is much more common to have a lightweight crane and I have to go it alone, and use about a 4? x 4? platform, sometimes modified for the shot with a ramp down to the ground level, or cut as a circle, etc. I now place a seat with a small lumbar support positioned low enough that it just clears the carbon fibre?arm? of my DSD Harness. The seat is pitched slightly forward and at a height that allows me to lean/sit on it, that is, I am nearly at a standing height, but feel much more secure than just leaning against speedrails. The slight pitch forward lets me get in and out without any lurching or effort, and the lumbar supports actually are spread out wide enough to help guide me into the seat if I am slightly off track. I used two sets of identical old fashioned seat belts with a simple push button release as a safety so the grips could lock me in and unlock me in very short order on either ?crane?. We made up one of the seat supports from grip stuff, and the other one is what I carry with me now which is an adaptation of my pneumatic bazooka mount that lets me dial in the height and angle of the seat quickly and easily. I think I could make a lighter single height tube much lighter now that I know what I like, but I haven?t had time for that yet.

The most important aspect besides safety is trying to choreograph the transitions with the action to blend the two movements (Steadicam and Crane) into one organic entity. I often ask the actors to do something with the blocking to justify a slight hesitation, or change in direction of the camera if that is unavoidable. Getting off is usually best finessed by arranging for the crane to be swinging into the direction you want to go as you step off, and I plead for the grips to make the landing hard with as little deceleration as possible. A gentle landing usually means the shot stops while you wait for the time you can safely step off. I am normally starting to move from my seat when the crane is still a foot or two in the air. This requires a little slack in the safety cable and a very adept grip to release me in time.

Rehearsal of the basic procedures is the next most important element ? allow plenty of time to work out the moves without the gear first. I often use a Mini-DV camera or some other form of video finder to demonstrate the shot before getting the rig on. I also install a docking bracket on the crane, and almost always as much wind protection as the weather will allow. This is usually my 6? high, 8? wide windscreen folded around the back and sides of the platform. Occasionally it is even more elaborate. Gyros are almost always a requirement as well to insure the wind doesn?t ruin an otherwise perfect take.

A crane/Steadicam shot is always an ambitious undertaking. An experienced grip crew will answer most of the safety questions. The rest is a combination of careful planning of the geometry of the move and rehearsing the on/off dance enough times so you almost don't even think about it.

Larry
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#6 pbalsdon

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 06:41 PM

A little trick to help blend the step off (or on) is to incorporate a panning move at the transition. This allows a little breathing time whilst your safety is ensured but keeps a flow to the camera movement during the transition. I have an example of this on my website at http://www.steadi-on...atofactory.html. The step off occurs when the actress enters the frame as crane reaches the bottom of it's boom down, the panning move occurs while I'm still on the crane allows the grip time to step onto the crane platform to replace my weight, unclip me from the harness and tell me I'm safe to go. All unhurried, very simple and extremely safe. Also try putting something like shot bags on the ground at point of landing or attaching some really dense foam under crane to absorb that bone jarring impact as the crane impacts with ground.

I suggested a crane step off for a quick shot on a film I was working on last month, there was a 'suitable' crane on set very close to the set up. The grip however told me we couldn't do it as Australian regulations now require cranes to be certified as safe to do this type of shot and this particular crane hadn't been certified. You heard this one yet Macca?
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#7 MichaelStewart

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Posted 30 April 2004 - 11:27 PM

That was a really nice shot Phil, enjoyed watching it!


Mike
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#8 PaulEdwards

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Posted 01 May 2004 - 09:57 AM

Frederic,

I would also say always use a harness. It's not worth risking your life and you never know when that freek gust of wind (or similar) is going to come out of the blue! The clip-on / clip-off regime should be well rehearsed. My harness tether always has enough slack to let me start the move but not enough to get me too close to the edge. This gives enough time for the counter balance guy to get on board before you reach the edge and need to be free.

If you're interested, I've got three crane shots on the web site (www.steadicam-op.com) - under 'showreel'. The 'Love Actually' one is a straight forward step off, using the last police escort bike to try to hide the step off point. Clip 1 of 'The Actors' is an interior crane shot using a pan to hide the step off and there's also the 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' shot, which was arkward as I had to move round the platform during the shot; something I find very unsettling and try to avoid.

Safety first......don't let them try to rush you. Don't think that the clip-off procedure will delay things, in effect it all happens as you're starting the move to the step off and you can be oblivious to it unless you are suddenly prevented from stepping off...in which case it might have just saved an accident.

Paul
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#9 IanMcMillan

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Posted 01 May 2004 - 04:55 PM

Hi Phil,
Haven't heard that one yet, but I haven't done a crane in some tie.
Paul, watch Loe A again last night, and there are some great moves in it.
All the best
Macca
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#10 pbalsdon

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Posted 02 May 2004 - 08:03 AM

It's probably also worth mentioning it's dangerous for the grips operating the crane too if you come off.
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#11 Frederic Chamberland

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Posted 02 May 2004 - 11:02 AM

Thank you all for the great advice. Details like having something in the frame catching attention while getting off or the simple "rest seat" of Larry are just as simple and efficient to achieve and I will surely apply these tricks next time.

And I will surely get a safety belt of my own that can be unlocked fast enough by the grips.

Frederic "flying safer already" Chamberland

steadicam@videotron.ca
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