- This camera stabilization system, invented and operated by Garrett Brown and distributed by Cinema Services Corporation, is used extensively in THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET, and EYES WIDE SHUT.The Steadicam was the first practical bodymounted motion stabilization platform for achieving nearly jiggle-free cinematography. Developed and perfected over several years in the mid-1970s, the Steadicam was the brainchild of Philadelphia-based filmmaker Garrett Brown. In his work producing commercials, Brown sensed the need for smoother handheld camera shots and set forth to construct a mounting platform that used the camera operator’s body to stabilize the camera.By the early 1970s, the film industry almost exclusively relied on tripods, dollies, crabs (specialized dollies whose wheels could rotate 90 degrees), and cranes to provide camera stabilization. Because these devices required either flat surfaces or the construction of smooth tracks to accommodate tracking shots, it meant that camera mobility was often limited by location and shot construction. With the introduction of lightweight 35 mm handheld cameras, such as the Arriflex 35 BL in 1972 and Panavision’s Panaflex in 1974, it became possible to film in tight locations and to follow actors through increasingly complicated shot setups. Unfortunately, what was gained in freedom of motion was often lost in stability, as the handheld cameras suffered from the unavoidable shake and jitter of the cameraperson’s movement.Brown’s earliest experiments began, simply enough, with a pole—the camera mounted on top and a set of weights as counterbalance on the bottom. While the “pole rig” did provide stability, it relied entirely on the camera operator for support. Not only did the operator have to hold the entire apparatus at arm’s length, but also there was no way to observe the scene through the viewfinder. In 1973, the next model included a body support for the craning apparatus and a fiber-optic eyepiece that allowed the operator to view through the lens, even at a distance. But the increased weight of the system meant that only lightweight 16 mm cameras could be used, and then only by the strongest of operators. Brown was able to dramatically reduce the weight of the crane and greatly increase camera mobility in his third prototype, the Brown Stabilizer. Still somewhat bulky and unable to crane up and down, the camera mount had several advantages that paid off almost immediately. A series of tests were performed, and a demonstration film was put together outlining all of the Brown Stabilizer’s capabilities; in October of 1974, it secured Brown a marketing deal with ED DIGIULIO’s Cinema Products Corporation.Cinema Products was well known in the film industry for its work improving the design on 35 mm cameras and for its custom manufacturing of lenses and lens mounts. But camera stabilization devices were new to the company, and despite Brown’s relative degree of success with his unit, it required extensive refinement to function over a wide range of filming circumstances. Cinema Products spent two years and an estimated $700,000 redesigning the stabilizer, renaming it the Steadicam in the process. Director John G. Avildsen had seen the Steadicam demo film while he was in the planning stages for Rocky (1976), and he was particularly taken with a shot in which Brown runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The shot was replicated in Avildsen’s film, and the Steadicam figured prominently in many of the boxing scenes.On John Schlesinger’s film Marathon Man (1976), cinematographer Conrad Hall valued the discreet quality of the Steadicam, as he was able to shoot on location without the device attracting the attention of passersby. In March 1978, Garrett Brown and Cinema Products Corporation won a Class I Scientific/ Technical Academy Award, the highest technical award given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.STANLEY KUBRICK had been interested in the artistic potential of the Steadicam from the time of Brown’s demo. Kubrick telexed DiGiulio in November of 1974 pledging his commitment to the product and demonstrating a curiosity about whether there was a minimum height at which it could be used. Each film that had utilized the Steadicam relied on it to film tracking shots that would have required extensive dolly or crane work. However, when Kubrick was planning The Shining, all aspects of the film were designed with the Steadicam in mind. This resulted in the most rigorous test of the device and its capabilities, in what Garrett Brown has affectionately called the “Steadicam Olympics. ”One of the advances of the newest Steadicam model, the Universal II, was the ability to place the camera in the underslung position, making it possible for the lens to ride as low as 18 inches above the ground—a design change based on Kubrick’s request. Another change made at his request was the addition of a simple video transmitter, to send the video signal to a set that was monitored by Kubrick and his cinematographer, JOHN ALCOTT. The Shining would push the Steadicam to its limits, and according to Brown: “Kubrick wasn’t just talking of stunt shots and staircases. He would use the Steadicam as it was intended to be used—as a tool which can help get the lens where it’s wanted in space and time without the classic limitations of the dolly and crane. ”Most of Kubrick’s films made extensive use of the long reverse-tracking shot; however, in The Shining it would be taken to a new level of complexity. Several sets, particularly the hotel kitchen and the hedge maze, were designed specially for the Steadicam. Because Kubrick’s primary demand was the repeatability of each shot, the Steadicam was mounted to a number of dolly devices to ensure exact speed and free Brown from having to navigate. One such device was the wheelchair camera mount, designed by Ron Ford a decade earlier for use on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). The wheelchair could be pushed with Brown operating the camera and Steadicam, while focus-puller DOUGLAS MILSOME and the sound person rode along on the back of the chair. On The Shining, this setup enabled Brown to lower the camera to within a few inches of the floor, creating the extraordinary shots of Danny riding his Big Wheel tricycle around the hotel’s hallways. British camera operator Ray Andrews also used the wheelchair mount to provide the dramatic low-camera shots of Wendy dragging the unconscious Jack into the pantry.Perhaps the most dramatic use of the Steadicam in The Shining occurs in the gigantic hedge maze, seen twice in the film. The first time Wendy and Danny explore the maze, the Steadicam is very close to the actors, either behind or in front. This results in complicated movements and camera reversal whenever the actors change direction. But the true challenge for Brown came when the set was “snowed” in, as the Styrofoam “snow” proved a monumental challenge for shooting. The speeds required to film Danny fleeing from Jack meant that Brown often had to maneuver through the maze while running in reverse, with the sound recordist and focus-puller leading the way. A final complication occurred when a shot required Danny to double back on his own footprints to leave a false trail. To achieve the shot, Brown had to wear modified miniature stilts that were outfitted with a child’s shoes on the bottom, allowing him to walk in the same footprints as Danny.Ultimately, despite the rigors imposed on the production crew and the equipment, the Steadicam exceeded the expectations of both Kubrick and Cinema Products Corporation. The camera effects from The Shining set a new mark for cinematic excellence, and the Steadicam rapidly found a place in mainstream filmmaking during the 1980s and ’90s. Today, the device is used regularly in both films and television and continues to be redesigned to allow for more dramatic shots. In 1999, Garrett Brown won his second Academy Award, for the Skyman flying platform for the Steadicam, and he continues to work as a Steadicam operator for such directors as Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme.References■ Brown, Garrett,“The Steadicam and ‘The Shining,’” American Cinematographer 61, no. 8, August 1980: 786–789, 826–827, 850–854;■ Cook, David A. ,“Chapter 9-Technological Innovation and Aesthetic Response,” Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam: 1970–1979,Vol. 9, History of the American Cinema series, Charles Harpole, general editor (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2000);■ DiGiulio, Ed,“Steadicam-35—A Revolutionary New Concept in Camera Stabilization,” American Cinematographer 58, no. 7 (July 1977): 786–787, 802–803;■ “The First Use of Steadicam-35 on ‘Bound for Glory,’” American Cinematographer 58, no. 7, (July 1977): 788–791, 778–779;■ Jurgens, John, “Steadicam as a Design Problem,” SMPTE Journal 87, no. 9 (September 1978): 587–591;■ Lightman, Herb,“Photographing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ American Cinematographer 61, no. 8 (August 1980): 780–785, 840–845;■ Salt, Barry, Film Style & Technology: History & Analysis, 2nd Expanded Edition (London: Starword, 1992).J. S. B.
The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. Gene D. Phillips Rodney Hill. 2002.
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Steadicam — noun A stabilizing camera mount for hand held film or video shooting; a camera mounted thus. Steadicam, a revolutionary camera stabilizing device, was not shown, but CP did screen a sample film shot with a Steadicam … Wiktionary
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