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Watch: 'The Art of Steadicam' Pays Tribute to Film's Great Gliding Shots, Operators, and Pioneers

03.8.13 @ 11:41AM Tags : , , , , , ,

While hand-held shooting has basically been around since there was a camera light enough to do so, it’s safe to say that the Steadicam (which is technically a Tiffen name) constitutes a cinematographical revolution all its own. Hand-holding dates back as early as 1911, but it was a long time before cinema gained the dolly’s fluidity of motion coupled with the hand-held operator’s freedom of travel. Audiences would first meet the ‘Steadicam shot’ in 1976′s Bound for Glory, and the first impressions were enough to earn the film an Academy Award for Cinematography. Larry Wright of Refocused Media recently created a supercut called The Art of Steadicam, paying homage to the ground-breaking invention and the artists who helped reshape the possibilities of cinematic movement — check it out below.

This comes to us from Mentorless via /Film, who point to Larry Wright and Refocused Media‘s original presentation of the edit. Here’s Larry himself on why he chose to put the piece together, followed by The Art of Steadicam. The full list of films, in edit-order, is available from Larry’s full write-up.

I was inspired to make this homage to the art of steadicam cinematography when browsing the database of “top” clips over at, which are rated by the community. After locating what sources I could from the top 50 or so, I decided to stick with the order presented on the site (accurate as of March 1, 2013). While I do hope you enjoy my video, there are many other clips that I was not able to source as well as many great clips that have yet to be rated into the “top” ranks, so please head over to steadishots and show your appreciation for the great service they provide.

Those of us who are, experientially, more of the shoulder rig-type may sometimes forget just how physically demanding being a Steadicam operator can truly be. For one thing, the nature of the system means the amount of weight (in many cases) and its distribution upon the operator’s body is a far removed from the likes of shoulder mounting. The shoulder-mounted camera pushes downward on the back (via the shoulder, of course) — which means it’s effectively supported by the strongest weight-bearing column the body possess, give or take some arm stress. The Steadicam contrasts to this because instead of pushing down upon the back of the operator, it’s basically pulling forward against it. And while most professional Steadicam ops agree that proper technique (and no prior back problems or susceptibility thereof) results in injury-free operation, there are others that have apparently told would-be career operators to be ready to befriend their chiropractors.

How has the advent of the Steadicam come to affect your work directly? What have you been able to accomplish that would’ve been impossible without the Steadicam system?

Link: The Art of Steadicam — Refocused Media

[via Mentorless & /Film]


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  • This is awesome, but where is the super long steadicam shot from ‘Children of Men’? That is probably one of my favorite shots of all time! Its like 2-3 minutes long, the blood splatter on the lens! This montage is really missing that shot.

    • Refocused Media on 03.8.13 @ 12:17PM

      Surprisingly all traditional handheld in that brilliant film, save for the vehicular rig of course.

      • I think they might have used an Easyrig, but yes, pretty far from steadicam.

        • Refocused Media on 03.8.13 @ 11:08PM

          Still captured on Steadicam though. Here is some more info:

          • Check imdb, there is no Steadicam operator listed nor did I ever see a shot in the movie itself. George Richmond was the show`s main camera operator and he did this hand held, no Easyrig because (if you ever used one, like me) you would know that it`s not really meant as a dynamic stabilizing device but rather one to take the load off your shoulders. The moment you walk with the easyrig it actually makes the image even more unsteady than hand held because the pole the kevlar string and subsequently the camera is attached to, then tends to amplify all movements like a pendulum. George Richmond did the long shot close to the end of the movie with an Arri 235 without viewfinder system and anything else unnecessary to make it very light weight.

          • Refocused Media on 03.9.13 @ 10:36AM

            Larry McConkey is indeed listed as the Steadicam op for Kill Bill Vol. 1 on IMDb, not sure what you mean. Also, the link I posted above provides his first-hand account of shooting that scene with a Steadicam and crane lift. I’m not sure what else can be said at this point, but I hope you guys enjoyed the video otherwise.

          • What the hell are you babbling about “Kill Bill”??? Read the first posting, it`s about “Children of Men”!!!

          • Refocused Media on 03.9.13 @ 8:27PM

            Haha! Not sure how I got my replies mixed up. Sorry for the confusion!

          • And you confused me, dude :D

  • I have a beginner’s question about this. How do camera operators pull focus while flying a Steadicam? It’s something I have never really understood. They can’t be using autofocus, right? So how is the focus puller maintaining critical focus while the camera is balanced like that?

  • I overemphasized Steadicam personally for a long time until I found a proper balance, I even thought about becoming an operator but then I changed my mind.
    I operated the smaller, hand held ones and the bigger rigs myself anyways and would like to continue that. Only the very big and heavy ones like the Pro system look and feel quite a bit “frightening”, especially after having taken part in a two week feature shoot where the movie was 95% Steadicam. The operator is a very tough bastard and one of the best worlwide, but the pressure and work load is very tough, too…

  • Patrick Masters on 03.8.13 @ 1:32PM

    I still think my favorite Steadicam shot has to be the opening shot of Boogie Nights as they made their way through the entire club and introduced the characters. It was so long and they didn’t miss a single beat.

  • What’s funny to me is how few people really appreciate the challenge involved in successfully flying a Steadi. I work with Film students, and they are constantly saying, “Oh, yeah, we’ll do this with Steadi”, thinking they will operate. It’s always fun to watch them spend hours building and balancing a rig, only to then realize what an actual art operating the thing is. The real eye opener is watching their reactions to shots they thought were awesome when they were being shot projected on a big screen. The inevitable reaction is “oh, wow, that looks like crap, and I’m getting queasy…” So mad kudos to the great Steadi operators!

    • yeah, it’s like playing a musical instrument well.

      “Oh, I’ll play that violin solo for the sound track”.
      “So I guess you’ve been playing for a couple of years, huh.”
      “I play guitar. You can get ones with frets, right?”

  • Guys,

    While not cinema related Please take a minute watch the youtube video below.
    It’s a steadicam shot they made at the Eurovision song contest in 2009. It includes a segway and some incredible feet work.
    Also good to see how they use zoom to enhance the effect. Some think this the best sc shot ever made. Well, you can be your own judge.

    My favorite in cinema is the very long sc shot in Saving Private Ryan. Incredible synchronisation and timing performance between all the actors.

    • I know, Karsten is crazy! xD

    • This shot was far from being the best Steadicam shot ever but additionally the zoom in totally sucked and ruined the shot. And to add to: only the slightest error during the transition and we would probably have the first live coverage of a killed or heavily injured operator. Garrett Brown himself stated that the Steadicam actually is not meant to do running shots. I`m not sure if it`s worth ruining your health, life or career for a single shot by running around with 60-70 lbs of equipment. Anyone thinking to have a career in Steadicam operating should first be very aware of the do`s and dont`s – and there are plenty of don`ts!!

      BTW – My personal best Steadicam shots ever were made by Garrett Brown in “Shining”, Chris Haarhoff in Fight Club, Jörg Widmer in “The Promise” or “Faraway so close”, Jimmy Muro in “The Abyss”,”Terminator 2″,”Falling Down” and “Dances with Wolves”.

      • Yeah, it’s far from the best, but it’s kind of a different level and style when it’s live TV. I know an operator who said others tried to talk Karsten out of it, but again: he is really crazy. Some people feel that they need to push it to the very limit. I would never even get on a segway with my rig to be honest. I heard some really horrible stories when getting my certificate and some really funny ones, that could have ended really bad but fortunately didn’t.

        Nice list BTW, my top 3 is Boogie Nights, Kill Bill and Atonement.

        • Thanks! To me it`s more about the slower moves with precise framing choreography and the “dance” with the actors and set. Jörg Widmer is a true master in this sense to me.

          Regarding the accident thing: I saw a very experienced operator (one of the top guys from Germany, getting most of the A-List Hollywood gigs that happen here) fall backwards off a rickshaw with his Pro strapped on and a fully equipped Alexa on top – the whole crew was in shock for seconds. Fortunately nothing happened and nothing broke. But the sight of an operator being down on the floor is something I would rather not like to see again.

    • That was pretty awesome ! This is my favorite steadicam shot! Check out 2:01 . Shot handheld (without arm and vest ) on a steadicam pilot.

  • Do you remember music video “Spice Girls – Wannabe”?? i think they became famous because of the 4 minutes long steadicam shot!! I tried to operate a steadicam my self and it was painful and difficutl :) so…long live to Steadicam!!!

  • There is nothing so cool as this old 30 second ad that lets the world know that running a Steadicam is a tough job….Also great when clients think their logos and message have to be in every frame. For 3/4s of this commercial, you think it is advertising a competing brand. Just great.

  • Amazed no one has mentioned the 5min steadicam shot from Atonement!!

  • Is it me or does the famous “Rocky” Stair Climb Move look awful! That nasty z-axis rotation looks so bad. But there are some amazing moves in this video that only steadicam operators can truly appreciate. Awesome.

    • It was still early, one of the first movies that used steadicam. And I guess it was the first Garret ran on a climbing surface in a movie.

      • It was before Garrett Brown used the two handed technique, in the first years of Steadicam he controlled the rig with just one hand at the gimbal. Interesting fact, though, is that it was not him, who invented this operating style, but one of the two other operators on Shining, namely Ray Andrew.

    • Daniel Mimura on 03.25.13 @ 1:35PM

      Wow…tough crowd.

      It’s like saying Man with a Movie Camera sucked b/c they didn’t shoot on an Alexa.

    • I saw an interview where Garrett Brown explaining how the guy carrying a battery tethered to his rig couldn’t keep up and at the top he pulled the rig, he cringes every time he sees it too.

  • What about Sokurov’s Russian Ark?

  • Collin Scouten on 03.11.13 @ 7:15PM

    Road to Perdition’s The Assassination is one of my favorites and it didn’t make the list =(

  • Daniel Mimura on 03.25.13 @ 2:31PM

    Hi, Dave, thanks for this article…I always enjoy your writing and I’m sorry I’m writing so late (I’ve been working a lot so I’m catching up on nfs.)

    There are a couple things about steadicam that people bring up and they’ve been repeated so much, people think it’s true. Steadicam is not bad for your back. Bad form can be, yes…and there are moments where to get a particular shot, (either handheld or with steadicam) that you have to put your body in a position that may overwork certain muscles b/c you can’t reach it any other way, but for the most part steadicam is far better for your back than handheld. I’ve been a steadicam operator with a full sized rig for about two years now. Handheld is the one that kills my back. There are several reasons for this…1, with steadicam…you’re wearing a back brace! It makes it harder to go too far…and the reason for the arm is to physically lift the camera so even though it isn’t on top of your shoulders, you can physically carry it with minimal effort—you just set the springs to be equal to the weight of the camera (much the way a Luxo lamp—the Pixar logo—hovers in space wherever you put it—b/c the lamp’s springs are balanced to handle the weight of the lightbulb and hood—in fact the Luxo lamp is quoted in the patent for Steadicam). It’s like wearing a backpack—the kind you hike with and live out of—not the kind to take books to class—the majority of the weight is being supported by your legs, not your back.

    On a commercial I operated on they didn’t want to pay for my rig and we had to use a Steadicam Pilot (it was ridiculous, but I operated a commercial on network TV with an FS700 on a Pilot)…with a follow focus (which is necessary for steadicam), as well as a battery plate in order to run the follow focus—which a Pilot doesn’t have power for built in—it made the rig about 3-4 lbs over the weight limit, so I had to physically lift the camera a bit. Besides making my operating a little sloppy (which fortunately didn’t matter on screen too much b/c it was all 120/240fps), it meant that I was super tired at the end of the day. My back was screaming…and it was only from carrying 3-4 pounds of camera! I’ve flown heavy cameras all day long and not been so sore. Flying 35mm makes me tired b/c it’s heavy…my legs are sore, but that’s the sore you get from good healthy exercise, not from damaging your back.

    I vowed that if that same company hires me again, I’m going to refuse the job unless they rent my equipment if their rig is unable to support the chosen camera and AKS that they need b/c my health is more important than them saving a few dimes.

    There’s another fallacy about handheld being better b/c your whole body is supporting the camera, so it’s centered, and therefore your back is straight, so it’s better for you. Yes, your back is straight…but you’re also compressing your spine! It is no big deal on a lightweight camera, but for heavier cameras, this is very painful. I’m always beat up after a full day of shooting handheld.

    Steadicam operator Chris Fawcett has a great essay on steadicam and posture and everyone who wants to try out steadicam should read it, as well as everyone who repeats the whole, “steadicam is bad for your back” wive’s tale.

  • AS IF he didn’t put the Children of Men Steadicam shots in the montage… Probably one of the best out there…