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Hello, Dolly


I need a camera dolly.
Okay?

It's not just a want, it's a need. A desperate, surging, clawing need. A crackwhore-junkie need.

It's also a bloody expensive piece of equipment. Fer instance:

This one is just about perfect. But $24000 is a little out of the budget range.

So why not design one? Hey, I'm a design-y/invent-y type guy.

Some basic design goals:

  • Should run on standard 24.5" track, convertible for trackless operation.

  • Needs to fit in the back of the truck

  • Needs to be lightweight but sturdy. Needs to hold a camera, crane, camera operator and accessories. Figure around a 750-1000 lb. load maximum. Should be light and uncumbersome enough to be lifted by one person.

  • Needs to be durable enough to withstand the rigors of field production.



There are four phases:

Dolly Bed:
This is the part that moves on the track-- the flatbed part if you will-- combined with the wheels and suspension. A well-designed dolly bed is useful with an existing tripod, bit I would eventually like to add features like the ones below.

Pedestal:
This is the part that actually moves the camera up and down. It is different than a crane in that it usually has a relatively short range lift (up to about 3 feet), and it's usually some sort of mechanized lift, either electrical or hydraulic.
I've worked on productions with top-level dollies with complex compressed-nitrogen/hydraulic multistage pedestals that were unbelievably silent. I understand why they need to be quiet, but I'm willing to bet that my system is gonna make some noise. Minimizing it is good.

Crane:
The crane is a device that will allow the camera to follow some complex motion paths while still being tethered. Best design I've seen so far is at here, though I'm still looking at options.

Mostly here.

Motion Control:
Okay, I've been thinking about this. The ability to shoot repeatable camera motion means a whole lot of versatility for special effects shots. And I really don't see the call for special effects shots going down or anything. It does mean designing elements to accommodate those features.

Some core design choices:
Because of the budget constraints, we're down to commonly available materials. A metal frame is pretty much a given, though something like carbon-fiber would be extremely cool to investigate. Currently, aluminum is the metal of choice for the frame for it's strength/weight and availability-- I can get aluminum stock at the scrapyard. On the big minus side-- welding aluminum is a serious bitch. There is this stuff, which looks promising. I'm hoping to keep the welding-type attachments to a minimum.

Wheels are another choice. I want to have a hybrid system that uses one set of wheels for running on dolly track, and another set for floor use. I already have the pneumatic set for the floor wheels. The track wheels are different. The most common design that I've seen on homemade and now a lot of professional dollies are skateboard wheels. And this company sells premade ones. I don't know if I can make them much cheaper.

More later.

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