Creating a custom camera rig: Q&A with DP Jeff Noble

5 minute read

Jeff Noble serves as one of North by Northwest’s longest running employees, and a Director/Director of Photography in our Boise production office. In 2011, our client GreenRubino came to us with a concept for Muckleshoot Casino, with whom we had worked on several television campaigns. The concept this time, however, needed something a little different. Jeff tells us what was needed, and what solution he created. But first, a look at the finished product:


What did the client’s concept call for?
JN: The client wanted to do a matching cut on a talent from one location to another. After we made the cut, they wanted to move full circle and travel around them in a frenetic motion. We had no problem with thinking on how to do the match cut, but a number of red flags went up for how to do the full 360 move and have it look decent. Obviously the first thing we thought about was a 360-degree dolly move.

What were the challenges with developing a design for a rig that would execute what the client wanted in the environment you had to shoot in?
JN: When we were thinking about implementing a 360-degree dolly move, a number of factors came up that proved it was not a good solution. Challenges were: we would see everywhere, we would see our tracks, we would see our lighting rigs, plus we could not move through obstacles or fixed items that were part of the location. The other drawback with going full circle was at some point the lighting would not have much production value. We proposed that we could do a 180-degree move that would move back and forth but the client was adamant that it had to be 360. I had been thinking about ways that we could fly the lights on location and that is when I started thinking about why can’t we fly everything, camera and lights. That’s when I got a picture in my head of something like a helicopter blade or giant mobile. Everything spins on one hub.

Creating a custom camera rig: Q&A with DP Jeff Noble I North by Northwest Boise

How many designs were tinkered with before you settled on the final version?
JN: We did not go through that many design changes. It was more of a design adaptation as we moved along with the process. I had a picture in my head of what I wanted to build, but it was a matter of coming up with the materials that would execute it. The goal was always to be able to fly a pipe that would rotate like a helicopter blade. We would drop down off that pipe a camera on one end and lights on the other. These production tools would rotate to go around talent who was placed in the exact center. It became a balancing act so that the bar would spin true and smooth.
I made a couple of trips to Home Depot and to Harbor Freight to just walk the aisles and look at stuff. I would look at a power drill and think mounting hub, or at steel fence rail and think armature. The design was a matter of trying to build it with industrial items that at some point would be compatible with our standard grip and lighting gear. In the end the center piece or hub was a wheelbarrow wheel, with a piece of 10’ speed rail mounted to it.

Creating a custom camera rig: Q&A with DP Jeff Noble I North by Northwest Boise

How long did it take you to develop the design?
JN: I believe it took a couple of weeks to complete the design. Like I mentioned before it was a design in progress as we continued to move forward. I think in the first week we built a mock design with cheaper materials just to see if the theory of flying and rotating the camera and lights off of one hub had any merit. It proved doable so we started to purchase better materials. I think the rig built in a day, but then spent days figuring out better ways to balance it and make it spin smooth and level. Now it was a matter of figuring out a better way that the final image would have a more frenetic cool motion. In the beginning the movement was really good, but it looked too normal. We experimented a bit with messing with the shutter angle on the camera, plus adding a pulsing light as a light source. We also determined it was cooler to have all talent act in slow motion while the camera rotated around them slowly. We would make about 3 revolutions, then speed up all the motion in post. The result was something that was a little bit weird, but really fun.


Once the rig was in the location, what modifications, if any, needed to be made?
JN: We experimented a lot in our studio on how the rig would work and how it was built. We documented the build really well knowing we would need to build it and take it down multiple times on location. It needed to work without too much futzing on location because we would have a schedule to keep and we always need to make our day. I can’t think of a single modification on location, it was more of implementing what we had already learned in studio. I think as we were shooting our project, the first set ups we internally called it the Contraption. As we progressed through multiple set ups and the rig proved that it was doing what it needed to do, the name gradually started to change to where we started calling it the Device.

Creating a custom camera rig: Q&A with DP Jeff Noble I North by Northwest Boise

Did the rig execute to your satisfaction and was the desired effect produced to yours and your client’s satisfaction?
JN: I was very pleased with results of the camera rig and the effect it allowed us to generate. The client was super pleased as well. It was fun utilizing the tools that we always use, but use them in a different way. In the beginning it seemed perplexing, but in the end the science of it was fairly simple.


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About the Author
Stephanie Norell is the Marketing Director for North by Northwest’s Boise office. She loves horror movies and Pinterest, adores the classic film Xanadu, and “enjoys” disseminating her thoughts for trolls to discuss online.


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