Recently on PVC, Matt Jeppsen wrote an article about filming smooth driving footage on a tight budget while Brian Hallett told us what it meant to use the Ronin to capture driving shots. Both pieces explore how gimbals affected the way in which Matt and Brian approached their projects and how these tools opened up creative opportunities on a large and small scale.
On the latest installment of the PVC edition of That Studio Show, host Scott Simmons used those articles as a springboard into a longer conversation about the specifics of these gimbals, steadicams, camera stabilization and plenty more. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation. To listen to the whole thing, subscribe or rate the show in iTunes or listen to the show on Stitcher Radio.
Scott Simmons: Welcome to another edition of That Studio Show, this is the ProVideo Coalition version, That PVC Show, if you’d like to call it that. Today, we are talking with Matt Jeppsen and Brian Hallett, and these guys have done some serious work with a gimbal, doing some driving shots. There’s two articles posted on PVC, one from Brian and one from Matt both, and they talk about using the Ronin to capture a lot of driving shots. So we’re going to do into some deep details on how they used those tools, which is pretty much is going to be a conversation between them because I don’t do anything except sit down and edit. I’ve never used a Ronin in my whole life. But first, Matt, let’s introduce you so everyone knows who you are and where you’re coming from.
Matt Jeppsen: Cool. I’m a director of photography based in northwest Arkansas. I do a variety of projects but mainly concentrate on commercial work, high-end corporates, and music videos as well. I have a local production company here in northwest Arkansas, but most of my work is as a freelance DP, so I do a lot of travel around the U.S., working for different directors. And of course, along the way, I occasionally will write things down and post them at ProVideo Coalition, more often than not, just because you have to get it out of your head.
Scott Simmons: Matt has long been a Twitter user and part of FreshDV, so you’ve probably seen hum around the Internet for many years. His blog has been on PVC for quite a number of years as well. Now Brian Hallett, who’s kind of a new contributor to PVC, has done a lot of Blackmagic coverage and a lot of camera coverage for us. So Brian, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brian Hallett: I’m in Nashville. I’m the Senior Producer of Motions at the NBC affiliate. I have to shoot, write, conceptualize and edit everything we do. I freelance a lot in music videos and documentaries for some other places. It’s not nearly as impressive as Matt, but we use a lot of the same gear and we need it to look as good or better than the commercials that are on TV.
Scott Simmons: You’re in Nashville with me, so automatically we’re better than Matt in that respect.
Matt Jeppsen: You know, every time I tell everyone that I’m from Arkansas they go, “why”? (Laughs)
Scott Simmons: Why not just move to Nashville? So, the first question that I would have to ask is, I think about smooth driving shots or smooth walking shots as being a steadicam thing. So what’s the difference between these new gimbals that seem to be all the rage and plain old steadicam which has been around since the days of The Shining.
Brian Hallett: Matt, do you want to start?
Matt Jeppsen: Nah, go ahead and give us a rundown. Tell us, what is a gimbal?
Brian Hallett: A gimbal is this great device that takes all the bounce and vibrations and every annoying thing when you mount a camera to a car, or a on tripod or run with it in your hands, and takes it all out and is controllable. It’s smooth, and gives you a smooth camera shot, you’re able to lift it high and low, which a steadicam can’t do. You’re able to use a two operator remote, so the guy holding the gimbal can focus on where he’s going and where he needs to be, and the guy with the remote can work on the camera shots and the focus, so for us, it’s this magic thing that makes us look better. Steadicam has a different fit. It works for different things, and is really a different tool. Matt, do you want to take it from there?
Matt Jeppsen: I think you’ve hit on the two key differences. The one is being able to transition from low to high or high to low. With the steadicam, you traditionally have a 2 or 3 or 4 foot range that you can work in, depending on the operator and how it’s setup. Mainly, you set it up for a certain height and you work in that height. The Ronin, or any other gimbal like the MoVI, or Defy or whatever, they allow you to go low to high or high to low in really dynamic ways. That’s something that I think is one of the key differences.
Scott Simmons: Brian mentioned using a steadicam and the gimbal both to take out bumps if you’re running or walking, but aside from range of motion, is that not what a steadicam does? I guess it doesn’t have the range of motion as far as going up and down and as far, but is it not also a tool just to take out bumps and let you run and walk smoothly?
Matt Jeppsen: Yeah. I think primarily that’s what a steadicam is, but I think it also does walking bumps. If you’re going up and down stairs, for instance, a steadicam is going to give you a better result than a gimbal in most scenarios. It really depends on the skill of the operator, obviously. Because the steadicam has an arm that is working to soak up your bumps, with gimbal you have to be that arm. Your skill as an operator is directly related to how smooth that footage ends up being. Now, it handles the horizon, it handles little bitty jiggles and that kind of stuff. The gimbal takes care of that automatically. But that vertical walking bounce, you’ll see that more on a gimbal than you would on a steadicam. So they’re different tools.
Brian Hallett: I’ve shot and had a problem with the bounce. With the Ronin, that bounce is so heavy. You have to have an easy rig and Atlas camera support system to help make it look smoother if you get tired.
Scott Simmons: When you think about steadicam, and a long time ago when I did camera stuff I remember using the steadicam for a short I worked on, steadicams require the vest and you pretty much wear the steadicam, wear as, and correct me if I’m wrong, but with the gimbal you’re holding the thing and not necessarily wearing it. Is that safe to say?
Brian Hallett: Yeah, that’s safe to say. With the Ronin especially, it’s a shoulder workout, whereas the steadicam is on your abdomen and core areas, where a lot of that weight rests. At least the ones I’ve used. The Ronin is a workout on your shoulders and your arms. And that’s why l love mounting it places. That’s much easier.
Matt Jeppsen: Like you said, because you’re not tied in with the vest, you’re carrying all the weight far out from your body so it’s working as a fulcrum against you, so it means your operation can only be 3 and 4 and 5 minutes at a time, whereas with a steadicam, if you’re running a light camera you can run for hours if you’re a skilled operator. That would not be my preference, but you could do it. The cool thing to me that’s really interesting right now is there are solutions for mounting these gimbals on not only just cars and cranes and that kind of stuff, but also on steadicam vests. So you can have the advantage of the arm of the steadicam soaking up this walking bounce, but it’s also automatically handling your horizon and all the other little jiggles. That allows another operator to do some fine tuning of the shot while you can worry about moving the object. That to me is a cool evolution of the tool things and combining them together. There’s a company called Cinemilled, and Pedro Guimaraes, SOC is a steadicam op. He’s very experienced, and he came up with some CNC machine ways to mount the Ronin to standard stuff. Hard mounts, streadicams, and that kind of stuff. They’ve been selling accessories to the Ronin for a couple months now, and that is super exciting.
Scott Simmons: Brian mentioned two operators when you’re working with the gimbal. Do you have to have two operators? Were steadicams traditionally single operators, so just the guy wearing it did everything? How do they differ in the operation and focus with the camera?
Brian Hallett: You don’t have to have two operators. You can use the MoVI or Ronin in solo mode. If you pan left or right, after awhile the gimbal with recognize the pan and turn the camera. In my experience, that is only a short shoot. It is physically taxing to do that for, say, 30 minutes. What I’ve noticed works best is having a two-person team, at least, and then one person operates a couple shots, and then they switch places. They switch out who’s doing the remote controlling and who’s carrying the gimbal. That way everyone is fresh. It’s less of a workout.
Scott Simmons: So, when someone is defining a gimbal, is the Ronin a gimbal and the MoVI a gimbal, or is that part of the whole array itself that makes it work like it does?
Matt Jeppsen: Gimbal is the colloquial term that we’re using for this tool. There are two-axis and three-axis models, but it consists of motors on each axis. The common scenario is the three-axis and they stabilize pan, tilt and…what’s the third?
Brian Hallett: Roll.
Matt Jeppsen: Roll, that’s right.
Scott Simmons: We’ve heard the word gimbal for years on helicopter rigs because that’s what let them mount a camera to the nose of the helicopter and get some good stuff, so I think about the first gimbal which was the MoVI, if I remember correctly, and it came out at NAB a couple years ago. It was going to revolutionize everything, but my understanding was that it was taking the expensive helicopter camera stabilization technology and putting it in this handheld thing, which kind of seems like a no-brainer that it hadn’t happened before.
Matt Jeppsen: But that’s the brilliance. Great inventions are not always groundbreaking. Sometimes they’re just using things in a different way. Taking that from the sky and putting it in someone’s hands, that realization was huge. It allows you to do a lot of really complex things that we couldn’t do before.
Scott Simmons: Was MoVI the first one?
Brian Hallett: MoVI, yeah.
Matt Jeppsen: The first one to be commercially available. I think people had made their own home-brew ones for awhile, and then MOVI kind of broke the market, and then others went, “oh, there’s money here. We can make gimbals.” DJI makes gimbals for their helicopters, so it’s not hard for them to scale it up to the Ronin.
Scott Simmons: Well, when we think of steadicam, steadicam is a brand name like Kleenex or Zerox or something. There’s also the Glidecam, and I’m sure there are plenty of cheap Chinese knockoffs. What are your different buying options these days?
That’s just a preview of what Scott, Matt and Brian discussed during the podcast. Hear the rest about what the guys have to say when it comes to renting a gimbal, how a budget can be impacted by these tools and plenty more via the links below.