Steve Bjorck is the Head of Innovation (a.k.a our answer to MacGyver) here at Immersive. As well as 3D modelling, film editing and CGI work, he also devises and comes up with custom-built solutions to filming conundrums – which, with 360 rigs, can be pretty challenging. Here he talks about some of his inventions.
What’s the most recent thing you’ve built?
Most recently I put together an underwater rig so we could film some water zorbing from the bottom of a swimming pool last week – that was pretty cool. Originally we’d planned to use a consumer underwater rig but, as it turned out, it won’t be released until later this year, so I had to come up with something quick. It was quite straightforward in the end – I bought two acrylic spheres from eBay (I think they’re made for portholes for submarines or something like that) and bolted them together in such a way that it’s watertight, then glued a standard camera mount inside. We used a Samsung Gear 360 camera and the overlap of the lenses means the seam of the sphere essentially disappears. So all in all, it was a success.
What other inventions can you tell us about?
My first foray for Immersive was Frank – short for ‘Frankensteve’. He’s a remote-controlled dolly for a 360 rig, which I built for a shoot for Swansea University. They wanted us to film a walkthrough of their campus and we needed to be able to move the camera as smoothly as possible. Frank’s made out of an old electric wheelchair base. I stripped it of pretty much everything apart from the wheels and the motor, then added a radio-control nabbed from a radio controlled car so I could control it remotely. Then it was just a case of fixing the 360 rig to it and learning to drive it! Easier said than done...
So what challenges did you encounter with Frank?
Well, because he’s built from a wheelchair, he works off two motors – so he basically drives like a tank. While he turns really easily on the spot and you can get smooth shots if you drive gently, he can also be quite jerky, which isn’t ideal. With 360 filming you have to get as smooth a shot as possible to negate any chance of nausea in the headset so this means we have to be careful when using Frank. Also, he tends to get aggressive and go a bit mental when he’s out of battery! He tried to run over James twice.
Have you made any other dollies? What kind of systems are there for 360?
I’ve made a few dollies now. I put together a fairly standard tracking dolly for the Nokia OZO but attached a motor to it and made it radio-controlled so we can trigger it remotely. But the main difficulty with 360 filming is that nothing is hidden! So even if we hide out of sight of the camera and control the dolly remotely, the tracks will still be in shot. We’ve come up with ways of getting around this both when filming and in post-production, but it’s an ongoing challenge. There aren’t many 360 dolly rigs out there (and the ones that exist are pretty pricey) and I imagine this is because they are so tricky to get right. For example, I’d say the biggest difficulty with 360 filming is that you need to have the camera at head height, which means there will be a lot of movement and vibrations from the dolly rig – so the camera needs a lot of stabilisation to compensate and minimise the risk of unusable jerky footage. So on the whole, I’d say there’s still a long way to go in terms of dollies for 360.
What will you be working on next?
At the moment I’m working on a bespoke camera rig. It’s early stages but it’s going to be something a bit different… And then in terms of dolly rigs, I guess the next stages are enhancing their capabilities – so being able to control the speed manually or set a speed. And after that, maybe automated height adjustments for the camera.
How did you get into building things in the first place?
Out of curiosity – I’ve always been one to pull things apart and put them back together again, starting with model kits and lego. Since then I’ve always made stuff – from guitars and effect pedals to furniture. In fact my first job was building furniture, and then I moved into making things in 3D. I find it relaxing – it’s just figuring out a problem and trying to fix it. For example when we made a rig to fix the Nokia OZO to the back of a Harley Davidson at the Eurofest in St Tropez – that was a case of taking half an hour to look at what equipment we had to hand, the bike available and solving the problem there and then. We ended up with some lovely footage from the perspective of a pillion rider.
What are you most proud of?
Keeping my cool when everyone kept shouting ‘robot wars!’ while I was testing Frank.