If you, like me have recently gotten into video production thanks to the awesome new generation of Digital SLRs – the Canon 5D mkII, the 550D and the Nikon D700 to name a few – then you’ll likely have faced some of the challenges in getting them to play nice with existing filming conventions. One source of inspiration for such things has been Philip Bloom’s awesome blog – check that out for sure. Now I’ve pimped Bloom, let’s get to the point!
I was doing a video shoot for my job (I work for Unity Technologies, developer of Unity Game Engine) and I needed to get some nice slider shots in addition to standard piece to camera static tripod shots. So I looked into my options and discovered rather few… Many folks online are ‘rolling their own solution and it struck me that there is the high end of the market – Kessler Crane’s Pocket Dolly series, and the more affordable Scottish developed ‘Glidetrack’ – RRP around £200 btw. In a rush I nearly bought a Glidetrack – but after calling, tweeting and emailing asking to buy one direct, with no response, I resolved to simply rent one from a local hire company in London. This cost around £50 for the day plus insurance, and the results were, in short, very disappointing. Having little experience in operating a slider or dolly was likely a hindrance, but the main this that struck me about the Glidetrack was the inability to control or dampen movement.. maybe its my arthritis ridden hands from a youth spent gaming, but I found it tough to operate.
So, with Kessler’s products starting at around £600 with shipping, despite their perfection – I resolved to find my own solution. I’ve seen many folks using various means of building their own slider, but I don’t have much of an engineering background, or access to a friend or place that has the right kind of parts.
Then, whilst visiting my dad I noticed an old rowing machine (A York Fitness R510) I knew for a fact he’d neglected to set sail on for many a year, and he said I could happily butcher it to save him ‘a trip to the tip’. Cheers Dad! So armed with a hacksaw, some bolts and a set of allen keys, I set about turning a rowing machine, and an old tripod I never used anymore, into a slider! Here’s what I did!
Step 1 – Fitness be gone!
First off the end of the rowing machine that has the pulley and handles needed removing, along with the piston underneath. This reassuringly got rid of a good amount of the weight too, and the seat itself was simply to remove as its just two bolts that sit it onto the sliding plate.
You can see in the image above that the plate is neatly made of some skate-like wheels that run inside the metal housing of the runner of the machine, so it makes it very fit for purpose.
Step 2 – Ditch the stands
The last steps to creating this slider will be to add mounts for a tripod to fit at each end of the slider, so we have no use for the stands at each end that previously raised the rowing machine a foot off the floor, so time to unbolt and use force where necessary!
This leaves you with something like this -
Step 3 – Tripod Hacking
Then came the problem of mounting a camera onto this otherwise flat panel. Having a few cheap old tripods around, I remembered one was in the garage and decided to use the two bolt holes that formerly held the seat in place to hold the tripod on top.
I removed one tripod leg and flattened the other two, as well as sawing off the main shaft of the tripod that raises it up and down. The remaining two legs were cut down to size, and a pedestal drill was used to cut through, and I then bolted this onto the plate -
Step 4 – Final tweaks
As for taking apart the rower.. that’s done and i’ve now got this -
So I’ve still yet to weld some metal plates on the bottom and mill a hole for a tripod bolt – I think this is a 1/4 inch whitworth hole – tested with another bolt and should be fine. Aside from that I can still use it at present and have made this quick test with my Canon 550D -
So current issues are:
- Needs dampening as any imperfection of the rollers is transferred straight to camera
- Still needs metal plates welding for tripod attach
- The slider main part is slightly bowed, and needs twisting slightly to true it
More updates soon!