August 13, 2014

Get Pro Quality Camera Moves with These Household DIY Dolly Hacks

Dolly HacksCamera movement is one of those aspects of filmmaking that, if done well, can make your film look like a million bucks. If you're on a tight budget, however, you're probably not going to be able to drop the necessary cash on pricey sliders, dollies, jibs, etc., but that doesn't mean you can't get your footage to look like you did. In yet another excellent video from our buddies at Film Riot, we're given a bunch of  ideas on how to pull off buttery smooth dolly, tracking, and crane shots using everyday household items.

A few of these ideas are probably things you've already tried before, like using an office chair for dolly moves. However, there are definitely a couple of techniques in the video that you might not have thought of yet. Check them out below:

Repurposing stuff with wheels

Office chairs and wheelchairs are great, especially for indoor camera moves, as long as you can manage to keep your camera stabilized as you hold it. In my experience, office chairs are tricky, because the wheels don't always allow you to go in the direction you want at the speed you want. And the wheels are so small that they tend to pick up a lot of shock, which is why wheelchairs are a better option in my book.

Rollerblades and skateboards are also a good option, though I'd suggest longboards over skateboards, since they provide a smoother ride. Oh, and make sure you know how to rollerblade/skate. If you don't, you will fall, and no one wants that (especially your elbows, knees, and camera).

Cars

Putting your camera on a car is one of the best cheap, DIY ways to get smooth shots outdoors. The key to this is, of course, to make sure that 1.) you've got a shock absorber (sandbag/pillow/blanket/etc.) on which to set your camera, and 2.) you've got a spotter next to (or with one hand on) the camera just in case it wants to take a nasty spill. If you want to get a tracking shot at a higher speed, try to get your hands on a truck. You can sit in the bed and have a 180˚ view of your surroundings.

Cardboard

This suggestion is pretty nifty, especially since getting your hands on a large piece of cardboard is relatively easy and, more often than not, free. One alternative you can try is using a blanket -- a thick one -- no throws. For smaller camera moves, which would probably only really work for DSLRs, you could use paper plates, pizza boxes, or similar items.

(Bonus: You could also use pretty much any object with a flat surface as long as you have wooden dowels -- or anything that rolls. Just make sure that the object -- I'm thinking a piece of wood -- is long enough to cover the distance you want as you roll it over the dowels.)

Do you have any suggestions on some inexpensive DIY dolly hacks?

[via Film Riot]

Your Comment

41 Comments

I've made a dolly out of an old baby carriage. It works quite well, especially after I got some open drainage pipes that serve as rails. I call it my dolly carriage.

August 13, 2014 at 8:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Filmriot is awesome!!!!! they have grown into a great resource and community of DIY and hobbiest filmmakers.

It will be interested to see directors coming out in 20 years or so who started learning in this generation talk about how they were influenced by sites like nofilmschool and film riot :D I promise you it will happen!

August 13, 2014 at 8:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kevin

Yeah..!! cool stuff i use to do camera movement by putting powder on floor and sliding tripod on that..!! that worked best for me..!! it make floor surface smoother..!!

August 13, 2014 at 10:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Manprit Shergill

Pro shouldn't be in the title of the article, the video never mentioned it and I didn't see anything that mimicked a fisher. Rhetoric like this is what riles people up to believe that their dslr short is going to bring down hollywood.

August 13, 2014 at 10:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ryan

Garrett Brown sat in a wheelchair for the famous 'boy on a bike" sequence in "Shining" (he was also holding a Steadicam), so that would qualify it as a "pro" move. I like the 2x4 across the handles that allow for a higher camera placement.
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I'll add various garden or shopping carts would do too. The cheapest deal I have found after reading this article is a bunch of used "little tykes shopping carts" on Craigslist for $10. All would need some dampening obviously - a sandbag type on which to place the camera and/or some cardboard or Astroturf underneath the wheels but all should do the trick.

August 13, 2014 at 11:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

DLD your a good example of what I'm talking about, do you have 1000 other examples? because thats tip of the iceberg for commercials and films that use industry standard dollies. Filmmakers should be focused being knowledgable about industry standard tools, instead of immutably going against the grain to feel better about their lack of success. I just don't understand the career plan for the anti-hollywood DIY rebels, success and pro crews go hand in hand. So sooner or later, you'll be responsible for operating the "overpriced" "unnecessary" gear that you hate on and refuse to learn right now. You can spend the time mastering the cardboard carpet slide, but that knowledge will be useless when you get on a real set and have to use a fisher.

August 13, 2014 at 12:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ryan

Using a dolly is not hard and requires about the same amount of skill as assembling a piece of ikea furniture. People should be learning to craft films, who gives a crap how they they make it. Most folks here aren't hoping to have a career as a grip, whatever gets the film made. If a filmmaker moves on to bigger budget productions with "industry standard" "pro" tools it's his/her FILMS that will do that, not his knowledge of how to lay dolly track, people like you can do that for him/her!

August 13, 2014 at 1:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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TruthNuggets

Dude if your films are dope, then I'll gladly lay down some track for you, if they aren't, the industry will eventually tell you, and if you want to stay in the industry, you'll be looking for a job in a department in which you won't have an ounce of industry experience in. So yea if your successful, you couldn't be more right, if your not then you couldn't be more wrong. Place your bets.

August 13, 2014 at 2:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ryan

Your argument is pointless here. This is not about refusing to work with a fisher this is about not letting a tool get in your way of achieving a certain shot. I never understood why people with access to good equipment look down on those who dont have the money or connections to use expensive gear. I'm sorry but if it gets the shot then no matter how stupid you look doing it, it doesn't matter especially if you want yo focus on directing. No one is saying boycott professional gear they are merely saying here are some alternatives for those of you who dont have the budget.

August 13, 2014 at 3:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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stephen

Indeed, perhaps you're comments would be more at home on forum aimed at folks hoping for long stable careers in crew positions.

August 13, 2014 at 8:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DG

Hollywood crews are full of creative people wanting to be the next Spielberg or Tarantino. If you are just playing around, or experimenting, then go ahead and make do with whatever. But if you want quality results, then you need quality gear (and talent). Great stories shot with DSLR's on longboards lose their greatness because they look just the same as crappy stories shot with DLSRs on longboards.

August 14, 2014 at 6:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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deano32

Not true, hollywood crews are full of folks who talk but never actually sit down and do the work.

August 14, 2014 at 11:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ekel

ekel,

The Hollywood crew workers you know must be from different circles than those I personally know.

August 15, 2014 at 11:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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deano32

The history books are full of people who just went for it and did it. Christopher Doyle had little to no training and and pretty much re-wrote the rules on cinematography by winging it, he did of course go on to study in france but not before making feature films. Eraserhead was shot with friends for crew and actors. The list goes on and on. Keep telling yourself you can't make a film without a kessler crane and 12 best boys though.

I can't think of any gear forum junkies who went on to do much though...

August 15, 2014 at 3:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DG

Ryan, let me tell you why you're full of crap (no personal offense intended). Early Beatles recording were done on cheap-ass British made equipment - largely because of import taxes on the higher grade American amps and guitars - and it still was the Beatles, the greatest popular music group of all time. Led Zeppelin's 1969 Albert Hall performance was heard over one of the worst speaker systems ever made in WEM Towers. But it was still Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple's "Machine Head" was recorded in a vacant Swiss hotel with corridors used as the impromptu studios. And it ws still one of the top ten hard rock albums made,. You want film examples? Pretty much every Soviet motion picture and TV series made up until 1991 was shot on the Soviet knock-off of the captured WWII German film and cameras and most of it was utter garbage (there's also a site dedicated to the East European musical instruments, most of whom were a lot worse than anything imported from China these days) but that didn't stop Tarkovsky or Kalatozov from making masterpieces. In any case, the topic of conversation here isn't, "What would you do if you had Michael Bay's budget?" but "What would you do if you had no budget?" And that's the answer. You invent and improvise because that will say more about the stuffing in your head than whether you load a $3,000 media drive into your Alexa.
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BTW, if anyone is into military history, the ability to come up with a quick solution is part of the battlefield. During the 1940 German armored drive into France, the 7th Panzer division stumbled into a numerically superior French force. The division's commander, one Erwin Rommel, decided to trick the enemy a little. He split his forces and ordered them to drive around in circles for the sake of creating an impression of a much larger German presence than was actually available. The French, cut off from the quality recon, fell for the trick and retreated.

August 13, 2014 at 8:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Nothing will ground your career faster than a demo reel with crappy sound and/or amateur looking video shot with "improvised" equipment. If you are as talented (and already established) as The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, then people will surely pay to see your work no matter what equipment you use. But your paying fans will still be disappointed if poor equipment makes your performance suck. (I have attended several concerts where the acoustics were bad, and all I remember is how bad the sounds was.)

If you are someone trying to distinguish yourself from the quagmire of other wannabe's, you better show up on set with more than a longboard and a rug.

August 15, 2014 at 12:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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deano32

I agree that IF and when there comes a time to use pro gear, these FILM MAKERS, (NOT CREW) will learn from a pro as part of the deal. Of course...that's blatantly obvious. Yeah because I'm sure Tarantino knew how to work a crane as good as DePalma's DP, right? Save it, buddy. It's whatever works for the shot. At the end of the day, if I have to pull my pants down and look like a buffoon getting a shot, I know 9 times out of 10, the shot will look incredible in post and when I watch it back, I will have reached the level, in some small way, of a financially endowed Auteur. You really can't win this argument because it's apples and oranges. You're barking up the wrong tree. Now go get me a coffee.

August 17, 2014 at 3:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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joel

Garret Brown in a wheelchair with a steadicam... is not "you" in a wheelchair with no steadicam.

August 13, 2014 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Fabdex

This isn't a piece about Garrett Brown vs. DLD as camera operators. This is about wheel chairs - and other ad hoc inventions - as moving platforms. Pay attention, young man. At ease.

August 13, 2014 at 8:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Jesus Christ. Hahahahahahaha.

August 13, 2014 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dave N.

The name on the gear doesn't make it "pro". It's what you do with the tools you have.

August 13, 2014 at 12:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Pat

I'm with you Ryan: I don't see myself on a serious shoot attended by one of my clents using a wheelchair or shopping cart. Acceptable quality gear can be purchased at very competitive prices, so using a piece of carboard to slide a cam qualifies as a "no budget" solution. And if you have no budget... well you're probably just an amateur. So I have my doubts about "pro quality".

August 13, 2014 at 2:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Fabdex

That's the difference, you are talking about working for clients. The rest of us don't give a shit about your corporate event video.

August 13, 2014 at 8:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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TruthNuggets

an anecdote from jj Abrams' star trek set. After hours of trying to film their actor hanging from cables for a flying scene and having numerous problems, they ended just getting him to stand on a mirror and shooting it from above, the director is whacking the camera while the dp shoots to mimic camera shake.

Sorry but it's just a matter of getting the shot anyway you can and moving on. The bigger your budget the more likely you are making something of little artistic merit. Sure ya gotta eat, but this site is not really geared towards people hoping to for a gig as below the line crew.

August 13, 2014 at 8:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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FRp

Just look at the dolly shot into Jennifer Grey in the school hallway for Ferris Bueller. Hughes says himself that the dolly was old and ricketty. But does anyone really care? The movie hit its marks. Ryan, did that pro shakey dolly movement offend you? I'm curious. Because my home made dolly would've worked better haha! jk

August 17, 2014 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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joel

Beautifully stated!

August 17, 2014 at 3:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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joel

I believe Joss Whedon, in his "Much Ado About Nothing," had at least one shot that was done on a piece of cloth slid across a kitchen floor. Of course, that was filmed very much in the low/no budget movie style. He just happened to have top talent working on it - starting with himself, of course. So that would be the case of a professional movie led by an A-list pro using a low/no budget solution.

August 13, 2014 at 3:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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And, of course, (used) baby strollers.

August 13, 2014 at 11:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Don't be silly, babies have a terrible record for hand-holding cameras. ; )

August 17, 2014 at 1:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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i use this dolly i got on ebay that is prebuilt.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Camera-Dolly-with-12-ft-of-Dolly-Track-New-/301273603404?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item46254e5d4c

is is very well built and comes with dolly track and is much better than diy options and doesnt break the bank either too much.

August 13, 2014 at 1:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark K

I just don't get why you would shell out 400 bucks for that, I made one of these by myself for a lot less and use it on almost every shoot

August 13, 2014 at 3:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Raul

im not a handy man and dont have time to learn how to be one so it was quick purchase and is a good product. wish i could make one though im sure it saved you a few hundred dollars.

August 13, 2014 at 4:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mark K

I bought some time ago a Cine Saddle from http://www.cinekinetic.com. It is a very good shock and vibration absorber. In this video I put the camera embedded in the Cine Saddle on the roof of the car: http://youtu.be/ZNfvvvaw-v4

Or here on my bicycle: http://youtu.be/QBLcxP3czCE

August 14, 2014 at 2:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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These looks like some polyester/packing beans inside a canvas bag that is strapped to a surface with Velcro. Probably about $4 worth of "parts" ... brilliant if you can get $80 for it.

August 14, 2014 at 11:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I bought the Cine Saddle in Switzerland from a local reseller for nearly 600 swiss francs. When I remember correctly the Cine Saddle is filled with small balls made from polyurethane. So, I think there must be some R&D behind this product. It is very well crafted and has many pockets for your gear. It is shipped with ropes etc. and a manual for mounting it on a car, bicycle etc. It is worth every swiss franc, IMHO.

August 14, 2014 at 4:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I think the key to the premade pieces is probably in the internal compartment calculations, so there is only a subtle shift during a moment of external impact. A trial&error home built should duplicate this. Whether or not it's worth a bother is a different matter.
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BTW, I'll also bring up a rubber track dolly. The hoses aren't expensive - well, they are, if they're called "track" - and one could adapt several tripods for them. And they can be used indoors or out.

August 14, 2014 at 7:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

If you need top equipment for a shoot that a client attends then hire it. Being a pro is about achieving quality results with the kit you have available. Hate to think how often a simple roll of gaffer tape has saved the day when a piece of 'pro' kit needed a little attention. Whilst it is always a good idea to buy the best you can afford, a little ingenuity goes a long way to a: saving a customer money, and b: (sometimes) surprising them with your improvisation. I personally am a big fan of home builds.

August 14, 2014 at 3:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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S Matthews

It's all about getting the shot that you want not what you use to get it. There are some great tools out there that make it easier and if you can't afford to but them you can always make them yourself. Check out this video of how to make a pro slider for cheap: http://youtu.be/t2YjBpEQYzg

August 14, 2014 at 3:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mike Smit

Great hacks! Using the wheel chair with large rear wheels really smooths out the roughness. Didn't know Rodiguez did that, awesome!

August 14, 2014 at 11:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert Rodriguez had to use less-than-stellar equipment when he shot El Mariachi, and his film is great.

On later films, he was able to use some of the fancier gear. But, in the beginning of his career, he made do with what he could get. Ultimately, his ingenuity and ability to tell a great story are the elements that have contributed to his success.

August 15, 2014 at 11:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Glenn

We had a shoot one time where we needed an absolute floor-level shot. We didn't have cardboard but we did have towels... I don't recommend them. We kept getting a yawing motion of the camera (twisting along the vertical axis). In order to carefully control the direction of the movement I had to pull on two adjacent corners of the towel, but that spacing also meant that if I wasn't very careful I'd be pulling at two slightly different speeds.

However, now that I think about it, if I'd been able to tape a dowel or some other stick to the two "pulling" corners of the towel, I could have pulled on the middle of the stick, ensuring even distribution of pulling power. I'll have to give that a shot... (no pun intended).

August 17, 2014 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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