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Does it make sense to make your own Steadicam?

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#1 Alex Olszewski

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 06:17 PM

If you're an aspiring steadicam operator, will making your own rig help you learn basic skills that can be transferred to real steadicams?

Some home made rigs look really good, like this one. However, I'm worried that it will take a lot of time to get it working right, consume more money than it's worth, and won't be good preparation for a real steadicam.

What do you think?
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#2 Afton Grant

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 07:33 PM

Hi Alex,

That's certainly one of the more well built, DIY rigs I've seen. I'd be very curious to know how much it cost to complete. Once you begin machining complicated parts like that, you quickly realize this stuff isn't so ridiculously priced after all.

If you are serious about operating, you will inevitably end up buying a rig made by a reputable name. However, building your own rig now will be a great exercise to teach you WHY you will eventually own one made by someone else. You'll learn what design elements work and what don't. You'll begin to be able to recognize the differences between the other types of rigs out there and you'll hopefully be able to identify the pros and cons of each. This will make you better educated when you finally make that purchase.

Try to do yourself a favor and play around with a "pro" rig for a day or two if you can get your hands on one. That will give you a good benchmark by which to gauge your own designs. Most will have decades of R&D behind them, and you'll quickly see there is great value to that. Garrett will say to invent what you need. If you can build something yourself that does exactly what you need it to and nothing more and save yourself a ton of money in the process, giddyup.

Best of luck to you,
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#3 Tom Wills

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 07:46 PM

I know I'm no pro, I'm not even really an op, so take my post with a grain of salt. But, here goes.

I've built a few rigs myself. I started out building out of want. I wanted something that was completely unrealistic for someone of my age (I was around 13 years old at the time), and my proficiency level to have. So, I built, and I built, and I built, spending probably at least $200 making little handheld rigs out of whatever I could find. I eventually wanted more, and began to build some bigger rigs. Rig after rig followed, just building from pictures and general ideas. I eventually sat down, and took what was probably over a full year to design a rig that I knew I'd be happy with. I took in all I could, I even was able to (with the true generocity of Jerry Holway and Garrett himself) go and visit the SOA workshop for a day and look at how the "big boys" are doing it. At this point, I was 15. (Only 17 now.) I immersed myself in all things Video and Steadicam, and have worked on 2 designs now, even so much as taking a summer job in a machine shop as a CNC "button pusher" in exchange for a real machinist making me an arm, until where I am now, with a rig that's almost finished, that I truly am happy with (at least for these next few years). I'm pretty sure I'll eventually end up buying a rig, but for now, I'm still in the homebuilder camp. So, that's my background on this issue.

Personally, my experience with homebuilding is that it's a really wonderful experience, but that it's a horrible method for just "getting a Steadicam". I wouldn't recommend that anybody do it who isn't really into knowing how these beauties of engineering work. Homebuilding teaches a lot, but it does require a lot of time, a lot of investment, and a lot of dedication to this piece of equipment. It's also not that cheap. To build the last 2 rigs of mine, the first rig having been litterally sold for scrap, it has cost me over $3000 and years of time and effort. I wouldn't trade all that I've done for a real rig in a million years, but it's certainly not made me an operator, or taught me about all of the fine points of operating.

Well, that's my take on it. I'm sure Charles King will be over here soon enough to talk more about this issue.
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#4 Amando Crespo

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 08:53 PM

Tom... you´ve reason.
Make a home made steadicam... makes you pain at your head. At first..It´s funny...at last... you´re an old man. So many dificult,... But .. ;) Funniest to try it.
weeeellcome to the club (who tryied build a steady.. and get fall)
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#5 JobScholtze


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Posted 12 April 2007 - 01:39 AM

Good post Tom.

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#6 DavidWest


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Posted 12 April 2007 - 03:17 AM


my 2 cents worth is:

the steadicam is as complicated as a car (perhaps much more so).

the physics are simple...

the car is a mass on four wheels with a propulsion, steering and braking mechanism.

that should be easy enough to build, and some people do. lots of people just customize their own.

the steadicam is just sort of an inertial isolation system. just three main parts, the sled, vest and arm.

it too should be easy enough to build and some people do. lots of people just customize their own.

(the hbs site where you found Andreas's Rig has over 1900 members and under 40 full rigs in the showcase. it is tougher than it looks to build one.)

Andrea's Rig that you point out took a great deal of time -just to machine the parts- , let alone the hours and hours of design time that he spent sketching his thoughts. Personally i think that he is rather innovative and brilliant. I have spent years tinkering with a bit of this and a bit of that. for me the end result was an understanding of why a machinist was worth so much per hour, and a HUGE understanding of the difference between a "one off" design and a production run of parts that were placed in jigs and or cnc'ed.

for you i would say to buy what you can afford already built and shoot film (or dv) and do what you think you want to do, ie operate and film.

those who truly get sidetracked find that the home builder vortex is a great time consumer... at the same time i have learned to use a lathe and a mill and have made many parts for my cameras. But i also have learned that all of those steadicam parts that i THOUGHT were so expensive, are really not so bad once you start seeing how long it takes to carve one out of a chunk of metal....
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#7 Alex Olszewski

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 07:52 PM

Thanks Afton, David and Tom! Tom, you?re so lucky to be 17 and know exactly what you want to do with your life. If you stay on this path, you should become a top operator.

Another Question: Do the skills learned on one Steadicam rig translate to other rigs? Or does every rig have to be learned individually to master its nuances and intricacies?
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#8 Lukas Franz

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 08:03 AM

Another Question: Do the skills learned on one Steadicam rig translate to other rigs? Or does every rig have to be learned individually to master its nuances and intricacies?

Hi Alex, all steadicam rigs are based on the same principles. Only how the specific parts are manufactured is the difference between the rigs. So, it shouldn't be any problem to switch from one rig to another. It's like with the bicycle. First you have to learn to ride it. As soon your brain knows how it works, you can ride any bicycle. Of course not each is that good to ride. Maybe you feel uncomfortable or you feel even very strange with. Also, every bike you can adjust for your body height, likewise you do this with the vest of a steadicam. Not every steadicam is made with the same concinnity. And you should find the steadicam which is made for your needs. Do you need a mountain bike for the heavy rocky terrain or do you need a slim and light one for riding faster.

My advice: find any (real) rig to learn what steadicam means and how the principles of it work. Maybe you're ready then to build your own rig. Otherwise you'll know what you need and what's best for you.

Cheers, Lukas
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