You don’t have to be an athlete, but if you’re the type of person that’s coordinated, moves gracefully, maybe has an interest in dance, a career working behind the scenes as a Steadicam operator in movies, tv, videos, and documentaries could be in the cards for you. Balancing a Steadicam is only part of the magic and art of Steadicam. Practice is the key, Steadicam operators, both men and women, have to do a certain amount of prep work before shooting a scene. There is much choreography, or blocking that the operator must go through in coordination with the lighting situations, obstacles like cables on the ground, etc.
Before 1976, to reduce camera shake video cameras for filmmaking had to be mounted on wheels and pushed on dollies or rolled on tracks that were built for a particular scene, even raised by cranes. These behind the scenes filmmaking techniques were bulky and time consuming, but gave steady shots. Filmmaking cameras weren’t often handheld unless they wanted that unstable effect. Garrett Brown was one of those camera operators, he was frustrated by the limitations of video stabilization and developed the first Steadicam vest, arm and 3 axis gimbal technology needed to make the camera “float” or “fly”. Since the invention of the first Steadicam, a Steadicam operator can shoot a long scene or “tracking shot” (experienced Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, gained fame as the Goodfellas Steadicam Operator who took the Copacabana Steadicam walkthrough shot in the movie “Goodfellas”) in one take, while going up and down steps, over rough terrain, gravel roads, walking, running, going through doorways and even cars, shots that were previously impossible for camera operators in a single take before 1976.
Garrett’s first use of Steadicam as a camera stabilizer was the during the 1976 movie Bound for Glory, which was quickly noticed by the Hollywood film industry. Shortly after, Garrett’s test film of his girlfriend (filmed while he was running with her) running down and up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps (the now famous Rocky Steps) caught the eye of Director John G. Avildsen, who happened to be scouting out filming locations for “Rocky”, also in Philadelphia, led to the now iconic scene of Rocky running up it’s steps. Garrett earned an Oscar for inventing the Steadicam, he filmed nearly 100 other movies including “Return of the Jedi” and “The Shining” all the while refining what became the iso-elastic™ arm, different vests and 3 axis gimbals to keep up with the changing camera technologies. For more insightful stories from Garrett about the History of Steadicam, click here.
The run and gun style of filmmaking had it’s roots in the invention of the first Steadicam. Hollywood movie making techniques and video production has evolved from the Steadicam big rigs such as the M-1, the first modular Steadicam to the economical feature rich Aero and Shadow Series of Steadicams to the Steadimate which is an adapter to connect a movi or ronin stabilizer to a Steadicam arm and vest to reduce stress on the camera operator for extended periods of shooting.
Speaking of changing camera technologies, smartphone video has gotten to the point where documentary filmmakers and videographers have been using the handheld Steadicam Smoothee for years now. The Smoothee is a handheld stabilizer for shooting smartphone video. The movie “Tangerine” was totally shot as iPhone video using only Steadicam Smoothee’s. Steadicam‘s latest handheld stabilizer is the Steadicam Volt, their first electronic gimbal stabilizer, with gyroscopic stabilization. The Volt is sure to be the next behind the scenes stabilizer of choice for videographers and filmmakers. There are plenty of handheld electronic gimbals for smartphones and iphone video, but once the Volt is balanced, it can also be used manually like a traditional steadicam if the batteries run out. The Volt also comes with a GOPRO mount which makes it a great GOPRO accessory.
Shortly after inventing the Steadicam, Garrett Brown realized that training was needed for camera operators to become Steadicam operators and started giving lessons. The best way to learn about how to use a Steadicam Stabilizer is from the beginning, reading The Steadicam Operator’s Handbook and taking a Steadicam Workshop is a great introduction to the different Steadicam models and techniques from balancing to hands on training with a certified Steadicam professional. Training is essential until using a Steadicam Stabilizer becomes second nature, an experienced Steadicam operator becomes an essential part of the scene.
Today, all sorts of Steadicam camera stabilizers, are now used by professionals for movies, television, videos, documentaries and sports venues. Steadicam systems are usually behind the scenes, but sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of a Steadicam operator, usually during a sporting event, like along the sidelines of an NFL game or on the field after the Super Bowl or World Series. There are plenty of stories that can be found online about Steadicam operators that find themselves in uncomfortable situations, of doing tiring shots but still get stable shots, like doing numerous takes while walking backwards in the cold over and over again, being near loud speakers, where they feel their bodies rattling but don’t get any vibrations in the video and so on. The Steadicam video stabilizing system, designed to reduce shake, created a new and evolving technology in film industry.
A walkthrough take with a Steadimate Adapter, Arm and Vest attached to a Ronin.
A behind the scenes Steadicam walkthrough sequence with a GOPRO camera mounted on the camera the Steadicam operator is filming with.
Garrett discusses the history of Steadicam and his other related inventions.