Monday, February 13, 2012

Epic X Motion Control Timelapse (Kessler & Dynamic Perception)

 For the last month since taking delivery of my Titanium Canon mount for the Epic X I have been shooting timelapse in and around the LA area using 2 motion control systems. The Kessler Shuttle Pod and the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero. So the focus of this post will be more on using the two systems and using the Epic as a timelapse camera only. Primarily I have been using the Kessler Shuttle Pod system as it was the one I wanted to test out.

 Epic X #126 that I was running on these two rigs was usually built with the side handle powering the camera, which provided more than enough power to setup and get a shot. Epic can remain powered for up to 30 minutes using the Redvolt batteries that RED sells. So using this setup the camera was kept pretty small and light. The only time where it was stripped down a little further was when I was using it with the pan/tilt head being controlled by the Dynamic Perception MX2 controller.

 The Kessler Shuttle Pod equipped with the Oracle controller using the sectional track that Kessler makes provided a super stable platform for the Epic X to sit on. It also gave me the option to shoot on a 12' track or scale it down to a 4' track. Some of the locations didn't give me much room so it was nice to have a track that could be scaled up or down. Not to mention it made getting the track in and around some of these LA locations much easier.

 The Kessler motion control system along with the Dynamic Perception system offer some very good advantages to urban shooters. Each system has its pluses and minuses for shooting in an urban environment. What I found what works for me is to have the systems built up enough to where I can carry them from my vehicle and set them up where I've scouted my shot. I've tried building them at the location I want to shoot at and it can sometimes become cluttered with things you really don't need out there while shooting. Since shooting in an urban environment can be a little dicy for a couple reasons its usually better to have less than more sitting out. So what I'm trying to say is only bring what you need. But after building the Kessler system a couple times now I have kept my trips bringing gear to a location down to 2 and as few as 1 if its with the Cineslider.

 The benefit of a system like the Kessler Shuttler Pod is that the rig can support a decent amount of weight, which is great when shooting with a camera like the RED Epic. The typical weight of the Epic I was using was around 8-12lbs. Plus the interface on the Oracle controller is really easy to understand. Most of the time I was using the "cruse control" feature built into the beta 3 software as I found it much faster to get shots rolling. The other method is using "Smartlapse" which I think is going to make things much easier for me in the future. But for right now I'm sticking with the cruise control function to get my shots. The minuses of the Kessler system was mainly the weight of the track and the shuttle pod its self. But its something to be expected if you want a system to hold a decent amount of weight and be rock solid.

 The Cineslider was something that was recently sent out to me to use for this timelapse piece and it was something that worked great for shooting urban timelapse on the Epic. Its a system that has a really good travel distance of 5' and comes in a case that makes it easy to sling around your shoulder and take it out with you to a location. It does weight a little bit but I find it to be on the same level as bringing the shuttle pod track out but with no shuttle pod. For some of the shots I needed to get in and out of there or parking was a nightmare. So the portability of the Cineslider worked great. I would usually walk out to the location carrying the Cineslider in its case, another soft case with some carbon fiber tripods, backpack with the Epic and everything I needed to get it running and a battery with the Oracle controller hanging from that. Setup with the Cineslider is a little faster but that comes from not having to build the track.

 The Dynamic Perception system is one that I have been using the longest so I'm pretty comfortable with it. I find it to be better suited for shooting timelapse on a 5D2 instead of a Epic camera. But it can be done. What I like about the DP rig is that it is very small and light weight even with two sets of sticks attached to the rig. I've hiked it out to all kinds of locations using a 10' rail that I bought. But that's also the problem, the 10' rail. It would be nice if the rail was collapsable as it would be far easier to transport around. Having a truck or someway you can mount a 10' rail to the roof can be helpful for sure. Of course what's nice about the DP rig using this track system is that it can be bought almost anywhere in the word that sells 80/20 materials. The length of track that Dynamic Perception sells with their kits is 6'.

 The Kessler and Dynamic Perception systems are very different in some ways and of course very similar in what they can deliver. But I would want to say the biggest difference between the two systems is the user interface. That and the build of the systems is what I believe you are paying the difference in. The Dynamic Perception can take some getting use to for shooting timelapse and I've had other shooters get a little irritated using it because of the user interface. But if you familiarize yourself with it then its not so bad and you can navigate the system much better. The Kessler systems offer a much greater amount of control and is robust enough to handle much larger camera systems.

 The downside of the Merlin pan/tilt head that Dynamic Perception currently supports is that with an Epic on it built almost completely stripped down the head is on the edge of not working. As long as you are operating within certain parameters on that pan/tilt head it will work fine. But I found that you can't have it start off looking down past 45 degrees or the weight of the camera with start to move the camera down even further.

 As of right now I'm waiting on the new version of the Revolution head that Kessler is coming out with that is lower profile and perfect for doing timelapse on. I got to see this new pan/tilt head in action up at Timefest over last summer and I was impressed. So hopefully I will see that land soon.

 Just a little bit about shooting timelapse or regular motion footage using the really big Canon lenses on Epic. Make sure you have a good lens support that can be adjusted to make sure there isn't a ton of stress on either of the mounts. I made a lens support using a old hybrid bridge plate rod support attachment from Element Technica. Which is way cheaper than most of the options that are out there. Did it offer all of the support that some of those other $500 lens support systems But did it work enough for me and my uses...of course. It worked so well that I have no plans to ever get another lens support. I just might modify the one I have for future big lens use. The super telephoto lens I was using was the Canon 800mm 5.6L and sometimes I was throwing on the Canon 2x TC III to give myself a 1600mm lens.

 Shooting timelapse on Epic as of right now isn't the easiest thing as you are very limited on your exposures, which I'm sure RED will fix in future builds of the firmware for the camera. Shooting timelapse on Epic requires you have two different black shade calibrations saved in the camera. To do this you have your long exposures set under the user setting in the black shade calibration of the camera and then have the factory one setup for regular 24fps shooting. Whats cool is that the camera can be switched back and forth between these two settings without having to re-black shade. For now I think Epic, or Scarlet for that matter, is best suited for urban environments as far as timelapse goes. Once RED gets the shutter speeds longer then Epic might be able to shoot some astro timelapse. Plus having the addition of an interval setting would be nice and save space on the SSD cards.

 So here's the final video shot on Epic X using the Kessler Shuttle Pod and Cineslider. One of the shots is using the Dynamic Perception system. All of the pan/tilt moves were using the MX2 controller and the Merlin telescope head.

 Very big thanks to Eric Kessler for getting everything dialed in and getting the gear to me fast. Also a big thanks to Jay Burlage for all the support with the Dynamic Perception system.