November 1, 2014

How the Technocrane Can Save Time & Money, Plus 3 Examples of Technocrane Moves

Technocrane Model
Last week, we took a look at some technocrane basics. But did you know technocranes can actually save time and money on set? Bonus: a look at a few quintessential technocrane moves.

To recap, the technocrane is an extremely versatile - and extremely large - piece of camera movement machinery. Like all cranes and jibs, the technocrane has the ability to boom up and down, swing left and right, pan and tilt (with a remote head), and slide back and forth given that it is placed on a dolly track. What sets the technocrane apart from ordinary cranes and jibs, however, is the telescoping arm, which offers anywhere between 15 and 100 feet of additional z-axis movement beyond what is provided by the dolly track.

The number and specific nomenclature of crew members required to operate a technocrane vary depending on the size and budget of the production. Dolly movement is controlled by the dolly grip. The swinging and booming of the crane is handled by the technocrane grip, or "crane grip" for short. The telescoping arm can be controlled by any number of crew positions on lower budget films, including the crane grip, but that role is usually handled by the technocrane operator, who is sometimes also called the "pickle operator." Lastly, the remote head can either be operated by a dedicated remote head operator, but it often falls into the hands of the camera operator or DP.

With the basics out of the way, here's LA-based cinematographer and pre-vis artist Matt Workman once again to explain how technocranes can actually save time and mone, and to demonstrate a few technocrane moves.

One of the biggest misconceptions about technocranes is that they're almost always an additional and unnecessary expense for a production, and that they're really just a fun toy for productions with large budgets. However, despite the up-front cost of technocrane rental and the cost of labor to operate the machine correctly, once it's all set up and ready to shoot, it's usually far quicker and more efficient than any other method of moving the camera around. Because of its extreme versatility, the technocrane is often the only camera movement tool needed to acquire all of the shots on any given location, even for extremely simple camera movements and static shots. Add to that the fact that the technocrane allows for everything between tiny adjustments to the frame to full-on improvisation, and it's no wonder why it's such a ubiquitous tool in filmmaking.

Here's the final video in Workman's technocrane series in which he demonstrates a more complex move, a Hollywood-style establishing shot that utilizes all of the possible axes of motion that the technocrane offers.

Ultimately, the technocrane is an incredibly versatile tool that you're very likely going to encounter if you spend time on professional sets. For that reason, it's important for up and coming filmmakers to understand the basic terminology, capabilities, and limitations of the technocrane even if it's not something that you will use on a regular basis in your own work.

Last, but not least, Matt will be producing more tutorials of this nature in the future, and he's wondering what you guys would like to see next, whether it be a series on operating gimbals such as the MōVi or the ins and outs of using high end dolly systems like the Fisher 10. So let us know down in the comments what you would like to learn about next!     

Your Comment

7 Comments

The day drones are able to repeat moves with complete precision, both flight pattern and gimbal move, will be the day these don't make as much sense.

It's sad but the same is true for full size helicopter aerials. There will ALWAYS be clients, but it will be harder and harder to justify the costs associated with such camera moves. I have heard these sentiments from enough high end manufacturers and engineers (helicopter gimbals and cranes) to know that it's only a matter of time.

Drone technology will put a lot of people out of business and already has cut deep into the pockets of companies like these. The film vs digital debate goes a lot further than just the cameras. As digital cameras get smaller and smaller, the required size for everything else goes down as well. Less weight=less manual labor=less people required for the job.

November 1, 2014 at 3:52PM, Edited November 1, 3:52PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2906

Drones will have a hard time doing precision moves due to the fact that they fly in the air. Slower, low accuracy moves that don't require precision will be possible, however for accurate moves, more sophisticated sensors and software are needed to keep track of absolute position (GPS is not very accurate). Additional sensors such as time of flight cameras which create 3D-depth maps (to about 1cm of accurate resolution currently) or multiple fixed-point sensors on the ground which the drone can use to accurately determine its position in 3D space are needed. Additional propellers for left/right/front/back can help with faster reaction control. This makes for a very complex machine- we'll see it someday however a jib is a much simpler machine. A carbon fiber jib with a tiny camera with manual or servo control would be a simpler, lower-cost solution.

November 1, 2014 at 6:42PM

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John Schultz
CEO/CTO & Filmmaker
86

I'm talking about Technocranes, not small jibs with small cameras. The ability to create a photo realistic depth map from a single drone is already here. Good point though, that stuff represents a much bigger threat to the traditional crew.

November 2, 2014 at 12:41AM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2906

Your comments are oversimplified. Drones have their place, but they'll never replace a crane or a helicopter.

Cranes are MUCH more stable. An experienced DP would never fly a $50,000 camera with a $60,000 lens weighing in over 45lbs. You simply can't do it.

Also, we use cranes all the time to go from a high angle sweeping all the way to an actor's face for a close up in one move. You'll be hard pressed to find an actor to allow a cluster of blades get that close to them.

Then there's sound...despite all those motors, Technocranes are quiet!

November 2, 2014 at 12:58AM

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Jeremy Parsons
Director of Photography / 1st Assistant Camera / Crane Tech
171

I believe Luke is looking towards the future. Some jobs performed by humans will be taken over by machines.

I've been in a photo studio with robotically positioned strobes. Any lighting setup the photographer selects on an iPad gets set in one minute without a lighting crew. The more lighting setups in a shoot, the more time saved.

Jeremy and John listed some issues drones need to overcome:
- The blades need guards and silencers.
- The wireless systems need far greater range.
- Aerial camera systems need to be lighter.

Precise guidance systems exist, and are being advanced. Watch someone play catch with a single drone, then three, throwing and catching with a net suspended among three drones! No, this isn't making camera moves, but it illustrates how sophisticated unmanned drone guidance is today. And this technology is in its infancy. http://www.ted.com/talks/raffaello_d_andrea_the_astounding_athletic_powe...

It's possible to get spectacular aerials today with a drone package that costs about the same as hiring a helicopter for two or three hours. A producer won't spend much time on that decision.
http://vimeo.com/109244789

Some shots that will always work better with a Technocrane or a full sized helicopter. But, unfortunately, many of those tasks will be handled by drones before we know it.

November 2, 2014 at 5:15AM

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Charlie K
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Drone tech is amazing today. We have been using a DJI S1000 with a dual set up for separate operator controls and I have to be honest...the stability and possible shot types are bordering on Cineflex Elite stuff. You obviously don't have the reach of a full size heli or the ability to use a really long lens but that stuff WILL come and when it does the full size helicopter option (like you said) just won't make much sense...to anyone. It sucks because I have become friends with a lot of guys that will be heavily affected by it.

November 2, 2014 at 11:40PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2906

And your reply is uninformed. :) You might have experience with cranes (one side of this debate) but your remarks illustrate a complete misunderstanding of drone tech. I personally operate both so I have a bit of experience. I also have close relationships with companies that make this stuff, they know theirs markets, what their clients are asking for, and where the tech is going. They only deal with the largest of productions, so I'm not just talking about my "indie" point of view either. Top to bottom shift.

Per your drone comments:

Cranes are not "much more stable". That's simply not true. Also, your comment about the camera/lens combo is completely off. Where are you getting this information? Plenty of people are flying Carbon Fiber Dragons with nice glass.

You're 100% correct on the type of shot that is possible though. That's why I said there will always be clients. That's because there will always be situations where a crane or full size heli are the ONLY option. Sometimes a drone simply can't get the job done.

My point is that it will eventually take over the bulk of the market. It will stay on life support for a while with loyal customers continuing to use the tried and true.

Eventually though...it just won't make financial or creative sense.

Again, I'm talking the bulk of the work, it will always be a tool that will have a use and it will never be 100% obsolete.

November 2, 2014 at 11:35PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2906