This DIY project was developed in 2010 by Tobias Deml and Hiroki Kamada in a small Motel room in Ludlow, on the border to the Mojave Desert while shooting a fake commercial for the Pontiac Firebird 1992 – you can watch the final Commercials here and here.
Tutorial written by Tobias Deml, Photos by Hiroki Kamada.
See the crane in Action in our fake Pontiac Firebird 1992 Commercial:
Considerations before you start
This self built, Do-it-yourself, worse-than-ultra-cheap-indie camera crane (German: Kamerakran) is relying on a wooden pole – so you have to use a relatively light-weight camera. We used the Canon 7D which weighs 1.5kg (3.3lbs) together with a lens – this weight bent the wooden pole considerably but could be carried without problems.
- Time: About 2 hours if you play around, 30 minutes if you know what you are doing. It took me actually longer to write this tutorial than it took us to build the crane…
- A wooden pole (rectangular profile), approximately 3 meters (9 feet) long and measuring rougly 5cm x 2.5cm (2″ x 1″) in the profile. (All these numbers are just guidelines, buy whatever your hardware store has to offer) – will cost anywhere between 5$ and 10$.
- A lightweight tripod (you know those things for 15$ on ebay, made in China and out of plastic? Exactly these. You as a filmmaker probably already have one, so it’s free)
- Duct Tape (the handiest tool on a film set) – between 5$ and 10$
- A piece of paper – get it from the recycle trash if you don’t posess it
- Wire or strong string/fishing line, a little longer than the pole
- A Towel – free if you steal it from the motel like we did
- Something slightly longer than your lens, e.g. a knife, thick pen, fork etc.) – free, you have that already
- A little weight (e.g. fist-sized rock, glass cup) – also no cost
- Attach the tripod to the wooden pole. Make sure it lies on the flat side of the pole, sticking out a bit over the pole’s end. Take Duct Tape and wrap it tightly around the pole and tripod, securing the tripod on the pole. Make three separate wraps so that the legs of the tripod are tightly attached to the pole.
- Fold the towel a few times until it creates a thick cushion. Wrap it around the bottom of the pole and secure it with duct tape. This will serve you as a soft contact point when you lateron maneuver the camera crane.
- Tilt Constraints: Now mount the camera on the tripod, with all rotationary constraints loosened. Lift the tripod together with the pole and observe the behavior of the camera. It will rotate too far down, and also fall too far back. The solution to this is – as usual – duct tape. Put a piece of tape between the extendable neck of the tripod and the handle that you use to swivel the camera around; this will keep the handle flexible but at the same time prevent the camera from tipping forward too far.
Now tape something (practically anything) onto the top of the tripod legs so when the handle would fall backwards, it is stopped.
- Connection along the pole: Now that you camera is constrained in both falling forwards and backwards, you want to gain control over its tilt. Take a piece of wire or strong string, cut it a little longer than the crane itself and lay it on the pole.
- Holding the camera: For the end at the camera, construct a loop out of duct tape – make it non-sticky by folding it in half– and put it around the neck/ Lens of the camera itself. Attach the loop to the string/wire. The higher this point of attachment lies, the easier it will be later to tilt the camera up and down; the flatter the wire attaches to the camera, the harder it will be.
- Fishing Rod principle: Make a few loops in the middle of the pole so the string doesn’t fall off; simply fold a small piece of paper in half (creating a loop with it), put the wire inside the loop, and tape it to the pole. That way the smooth paper lets the tape glide back and forth, while the tape protects the paper from ripping. There should be two or three loops along the pole, leading the wire from the towel end to the camera like on a fishing rod.
- Final touch: On the end of the pole that you will be standing at (the towel end), create another non-sticky loop with tape and attach it to the wire. When you now pull on your loop, the camera will tilt up and down. Total Success!
Using the Camera Crane
Now that you builta working crane, it’s time to practice. Get a feeling for how it behaves when you swing it aound, when you move with it, when you put it up high or when you tilt it down low. Before you utilize the crane your ultra-low-budget student film or independent project, a few tips:
- Find something soft like a pillow or sweater that you can put the camera down on once your arms start feeling weak. You don’t want to trash your camera, so you need a soft pickup/dropoff base.
- Get a feel for the stability of the pole. Remember, it’s wood, and wood can theoretically break – so be careful.
- If you don’t have a cable that would connect the camera to a TV screen, try to set up the LCD screen of the camera in a way so you can see what the camera is seeing when it’s “up there”.
- In cases where there needs to be no tilt change throughout the recording, just put the wire control out of business, fix all rotationary controls and render the camera immovable.
The Real Final Touch
After using the cameracrane for a little, you will notice that when it’s up high enough, the camera will simply lean backwards/downwards and there is no way to push it up. Solve this priblem with the last two items on the inventory list:
- Mount the long thing you got parallel to the lens. Probably not ON the lens itself, since you don;t want it to interfere with zoom, frame or focus. Mount it on the body of the camera so it sticks out parallel to the lens.
- At the end point of this long thing, mount the weight. The weight should not be in the camera frame but far enough in front of the body so the camera gets pulled downy. Now, when the camera is up high in the air, it will not fall backwards any more.
For any further questions, please make use of the comments section.