Motion Control: A Brief History

Posted by Andrew Collings on 

Motion controlled photography has a long and storied history, originating with model photography for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and achieving full-scale realization in Star Wars (1977). The essence of motion control in these days was repeatable motion. The filmmakers needed to be able to move three X-Wing starfighters, a trench on the Death Star, and a star field background across the frame as if they were all in the same space. In reality, they were all shot on separate blue screens by advanced computer-controlled cameras.

If you couldn’t guess, this was not a process that was terribly accessible to the average filmmaker.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Computers have grown more powerful, and cameras have grown smaller. But not only have they grown smaller, they have grown more affordable, sparking what has been dubbed the “DSLR Revolution” and kicking off a wave of ambitious independent filmmakers who display an intense demand for all of the professional tools. Companies like Kessler have stepped in to meet that need, and rental houses like us have happily taken these innovations to the public.

Kessler started off with simple sliders, cranes, and dollies, but have quickly moved into motorizing and automating them. Our Second Shooter package allows any user – regardless of experience or skill – to quickly automate a repeating movement for a 10lb camera. If that user wants control over their focus in the same system, they can have it with the Kessler FIZ unit. The whole system is incredibly expandable and modular.

But for the really large jobs, we carry Kessler’s Shuttle Dolly. Picture a Dana Dolly in your head – speed rail, large mounting platform, etc. But now picture it motorized, with dozens of mounting points on the platform and a 2-axis motorized head. How much did George Lucas pay for a setup like that? Thousands. How much will you pay for it? Call us and prepare to be amazed.