One of the next big challenges for product makers is to invent a better follow focus. While autofocus technology is getting better all the time, it still has to be gamed in a way to work in your favor. It works best with a single subject, but if you've got multiple people moving all around the frame it can get tricky, even with an AF lock button. Cinema Control Laboratories thinks they have the answer for nearly perfect focus technology: the Andra Motion Focus system.
Here is the intro video:
Thanks to Newsshooter and Matt Allard, here's how this system works:
Q. How does the Andra system work?
A: The system is essentially a hybridization of a motion capture system and a remote focus pulling system. Using a portable and easy to set up magnetic mo-cap system we’re able to very accurately track subjects and cameras in real time and use that data to drive a lens control motor. The mo-cap side of the system uses very small sensors which can be mounted to the performer beneath clothing, just like a lavalier microphone. The user can then decide where they want the focal point, relative to that sensor, and the system does the rest. We are able to get very impressive accuracy which, most importantly allows you to get really crisp eye focus. We don’t just target the general area of a person, we get the focus right where you want it.
There are two ways to interface with the system. The basic approach to use an iPad, which opens up a whole new world of creative options. Another option is to use the hand unit (The Arc) which is similar to hand units currently on the market except that it has a touch screen interface and offers an incredible range of new features, like the ability to simply sequence between desired focal points by simply hitting a button or turning the dial back and forth.
While the system can use an iPad as its main control surface, they are also developing a hand control unit called the Arc:
Some more interesting tidbits from their FAQ:
Can it be used for all types of lenses?
Yes. Our system is compatible with any lens with a focus gear. From inexpensive lenses such as Rockinon through to high end lenses such as Carl Zeiss and Cooke lenses.
Does this system work 100% of the time?
No tool works or is appropriate for 100% of situations. The Andra Motion Focus system is a new tool that will expand your creative and practical horizons. The more you work with the system, the more you discover about its capabilities. It will definitely allow you to do some things very easily that without The Andra motion focus system are difficult to achieve. It will also allow you to do things that you simply cannot do without lengthy rehearsals and multiple takes. However, there will be times when you’ll just want to pull focus the way you always have done, which is why the Arc remote hand unit is being designed to give you all the familiar responsive manual controls you’ve come to expect from a high end wireless systems.
A lot of focus pulling is intuitive as the actors move – can you make a change in a split second / flick of a switch?
The system is designed to allow you to set up as many potential fixed focal points or performers as you need before the shot. (1 hub required for each performer.) Once you’re in the shot, you can rapidly switch to any other performer or fixed node at the tap of a button. You can also override the focus control with a fine or coarse adjustment whenever you please.
Can Andra be used to make the shot more organic, or does it feel automated?
Andra has infinitely adjustable parameters and has been designed to give you full control over focus, without having to worry about distances. Speed of pulls, composition and any other nuance of focus control is still at your finger tips.
What range could you use this for?
The range of the system is scalable depending on your usage and should be thought more of as area coverage than range. The Standard Package uses two sources on a boom pole mount which gives a 24 ft x 16 ft area of coverage. This means that subjects can get up to 24 feet from camera. However, it is possible to use fixed nodes at longer distances, where depth of field is more forgiving, which allows performers to move in and out of the capture range. For the simplest setups, using camera mounted source with the DSLR package, the system is best used for wide lenses and close up work. This setup has a range of approximately ten feet.
The Andra looks to have tons of customization options for fine-tuning how the focus will actually look, so it's not just a matter of quick pulls directly to the selected mark. This is a complete FIZ (Focus Iris Zoom) system, and would replace whatever you are currently using. I think the idea of putting tiny sensors where you want the system to focus is pretty ingenious. This way you can have as many points as you need, and there is never anything "blocking" a sensor that is trying to "see" your subjects. Being able to override the system at a moment's notice is also a huge plus.
This isn't a system most people would buy, so while pricing is very high ($8,000 to $12,000 for a complete starter system depending on the options selected), it's actually in line with other professional follow focus systems -- and cheaper in some cases. As it is right now, it's not going to be a solution right away for many productions, but when it's set up correctly and used in the right environment, it's a system that looks like it may allow you to do some really, really complicated setups with perfect focus. Even if talent misses their mark completely -- the system is still tracking a point on the talent. The only issue is that range is somewhat limited with the way the sensors work, as mentioned in the last FAQ question above.
While I don't think the AC with a traditional follow focus is going anywhere anytime soon, this is one of those systems that opens your eyes to the possibilities of new follow focus technology, and where we could be headed in the future.
If you want to know when pre-orders are going live, sign up for an email notification here. We'll definitely be stopping by their booth at NAB, so you'll here a little more about how the system works in person next week.