How to Make Your Own Portable DIY Bullet Time Rig
When you hear the term “bullet time,” you probably can’t help but think of The Matrix. And if you’ve taken a gander at the behind the scenes footage from that film or similar productions, then you know that’s it’s an effect usually done in large warehouse studios, with a multitude of cameras on a huge rig, and run by a sizable crew, which all adds up to being quite expensive. Even renting a bullet time rig will more than likely be cost prohibitive, but with some elbow grease you can put together your own portable rig at a more indie friendly price:
Here’s the rig the people at Indy Mogul put together for a music video they worked on:
And here’s an example of what can be accomplished on a somewhat similar rig with 24 DSLR’s:
What I like about Indy Mogul’s setup, is that they bypass the common problem of triggering each of the cameras simultaneously using a fairly simple method. For those cameras that don’t record audio when shooting slow motion you could ostensibly sync them manually, using the clapper as a guide to sync your shots visually. However, if you want to do a long exposure to add light painting effects as in the above video -or just want the latitude that working with a series of RAW images would give you in post- you won’t be able to avoid building a trigger system. For instructions on how to accomplish this, and for more details on putting together the rig itself, I suggest checking out “How to Enter the Ghetto Matrix (DIY Bullet Time)” on Instructables. The tutorial is a bit dated (circa 2007), but all the construction information is still relevant, and the instructions for assembling the shutter control switch box could be adapted for remote shutter releases on more current cameras.
As for the expenses involved, the cost of the parts in the Indy Mogul rig would run about $300 (assuming you have all the necessary tools already). Of course the biggest cost is going to be renting cameras. Assuming you’re going to rent the same number of cameras as Indy Mogul (27) for a few days, you’re looking at a little over $1,000 to about $1700 for renting GoPro 3‘s (not including shipping). If you’re looking to go with DSLR‘s instead, this number balloons to about $3,000 to $4,000 and possibly more, all depending on where you rent from, and which model of DSLR and lens you decide to go with.
The speed of your bullet time shot is also a factor that will affect your cost, as it will take more cameras to achieve smooth motion in a shot that rotates around the subject more slowly. There is the possibility of using After Effects or Final Cut Pro to squeeze out some extra frames from your bullet time footage to make it smoother -but depending on the number of cameras used- this could result in unwanted visual artifacts being introduced into the resulting footage.
Granted, this setup isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s substantially less than renting a bullet time rig and/or studio space. However, if you want to take this a step further, Peta Pixel has a nice overview of how to build a 50 camera bullet time rig in a small space. Have you ever built/used a rig like this, or used frame interpolation on bullet time footage? If so, what was your experience?
- Indy Mogul
- Instructables: How to Enter the Ghetto Matrix (DIY Bullet Time)
- PetaPixel: Project Uses a “Bullet Time” Camera Rig for 360-Degree Light Painting Portraits
- PetaPixel: How I Created a Matrix Bullet Time-Style Rig With 50 DSLRs