Monday, November 23, 2009

Side Project #2: Stop Motion Camera Dolly!


I spent this week designing and building a camera dolly for stop-motion camera moves. I have a stop motion music video idea a-brewin', and I knew I was going to need something for dolly shots. It seems that the demand isn't high enough for any one company to make premade stop motion dollies. But I had seen a design that I liked by one Brady Whitcomb that a google search turned up and knew I could fashion something like it myself. His was controlled by a long threaded rod that was spun at one end to scoot along his dolly platform. However, I had no idea how to cut all the aluminum that he had used. So I sat down and thought about how I could achieve the same control with wood and PVC pipe because I knew how to cut and screw those substances.

After a lot of head scratching and procrastinating I drew this last tuesday:

I then hitched a ride with E.T. Hazzard to Home Depot in Oakland to stock up on some hardwares. I bounced my ideas off of him over the almost two hours we spent walking around and grabbing random things. He took my one-pully idea and proposed using two to avoid the wire catching on itself. He also cut the angles and the metal for the handle. He's really a handygod among handymen.

Without a car, it took me the rest of the week to buy some skateboard wheels--Thank you, 510 on Telegraph--and to take a few more trips to hardware stores--thank you AC transit--as I figured out I had not gotten everything that I needed the first time. It's really a miracle that I yesterday I was able to drill, screw, and sand my way into making this little doozy (all for under $80):

It's controlled by a crank in the center of the board that when spun, slides the dolly along a steel wire down the track. The spitfire sticker came with the wheels. Hella custom rig, yo.

I put a protracter on the bottom so that I can turn the handle by a standard degree each shot and plan out speed ramps to and from a stop.

I have E.T. to thank for this pully design. I was originally thinking one pully with the steel wire making a full rotation around it, but this works a lot smoother and the wire doesn't have to touch itself. Plus it looks really classy.

And here is my very first dolly shot ever. Made with the help of my screen writing buddy Austin Zumbro. Keep in mind this is shot with an old point and shoot still digital and I had yet to put the protracter in and was just eyeballin' it for the rotation. Expect more (smoother) test shots in the coming week.

But although I am very proud of my dolly, that shot is kinda boring. So instead of leaving you with that, I'll leave you with an old bit of stop motion that me and Austin made a couple summers ago. It's silly:

And a couple doodles from the week:

Until next monday...


  1. Fucking sweet, but I want to hear more about this stop motion music video! What's the idea? Are you claymating? Using puppets? Tell me more.


  2. Cass, check out this week's post. There's a little sample thingy of the video. It's going to be crazy amounts of work. But will be awesome.

  3. This is creative, i like this dolly

  4. Have you thought about using the dolly as a crane by placing it vertically?

  5. I hadn't thought of that, Rick! But it could totally be used like that if I bolted a tripod head to it.

    Come to think of it, if I bolted a tripod head to the underside of it, I could also use it as a track that goes over the top of a set and do a nice helicopter-looking shot over, say, a tiny clay city...