Sunday, 21 February 2010

Designing a Filming Device

Design brief
  • Film possesses the controlled ability to consciously move the viewer through a determined arrangement of space which is not visibly possible from the average day to day movements our eyes capture.
  • The aim of this stage of my project is to construct a filming device which moves and records a process of moving through space and acts as a tool to design space.
  • The device is a tool, and the film is just a part of the device as opposed to it being the outcome. What results from the device has a spatial quality which works as a spatial tool to then go on to design space.
  • The device will need to be used in a series of differing spaces, and therefore must be adaptive towards the space it is within, i.e. the nature of the space will determine how the device records that space.
  • Try to incorporate a connection between content, form and media, to enable the combination of constructing and filming to continue and strengthen the project.
Series of Sites
I see the device as something which can be constructed and used in a series of spaces. At this stage I have decided to locate this series of spaces within the Chelsea College grounds to enable initial experimentation. The device needs to adapt to the space it is positioned within and therefore initial thoughts are to deal with the height of a space being the varying factor. Using height also enables me to consider voids - empty spaces which can be seen but not physically walked through and therefore creating less tangible films.

The following are images of possible sites to use the device:

3 Storey void by library

Void by reception

Fire Exit Stairwell


+ Triangle space

Each of these possible sites have varying heights, light conditions, textures, materiality and activity at different levels to produce varying results through the use of one device.

I see the activity within the spaces as something which could animate and narrate the films as the device moves through the space (like the bicycle movement in Sacrifice and Joe King's Seascape which triggers the flow of the shot). I also recently saw a clip of Louise and Jane Wilson's 1999 Turner Prize entry Gamma, in which there is a clip of a trap door opening, revealing a corridor below, which is then animated by someone walking along it. This activity encourages the viewer to then want to visualise this corridor below.

Continuing with the spiralling qualities inherent throughout my project, I visualise a spiralling track which can be fixed within a space which a camera will then spiral down, recording the surrounding space as it descends.

The spiral should be flexible, essentially like a huge spring, so that it can be stretched and expanded into spaces of great height and reduced into low height spaces. Therefore adapting the tracking path for the camera depending on the height of the space and producing altering results where gravity becomes involved.

As well as the device recording the space it descends through, it would be good to integrate into the design a way of recording the device in action, since the shape of the device has been judged by the height of the space. The following sketch shows the integration of two cameras and the possibility of two spiralling paths.
The problem this design faces is finding a material for the track which will act as both an expandable spring, yet hold the weight of a camera. The following sketch illustrates a camera moving down a central pole, this camera is fixed, with a rigid frame, to the camera winding its way down the spiral. The central pole takes the weight of the camera on the spiral track, reducing the need for the spiral to hold the camera's weight. There is then the issue of constructing an extendable rigid pole which a camera can slide down?

The following is a rough sketch illustrating the idea of using activity on floors to animate spaces and give the film a narrative as the camera descends.

The proposed device considers a camera which spirals down a track, perhaps at times it is travelling at a fairly rapid speed. The camera also follows a route alien to that of a handheld camera and therefore I am considering the use of an action camera. The following action camera 'Allows us to experience death deifying feats that most of us are too scared to experience for ourselves.'
Rush, Martin Ruegg
Image from Gagettastic website

These cameras are small and lightweight, and pretty expensive! The lower the price, the worse the quality of the film footage. Perhaps however, a lesser quality of footage for the spiralling camera device would be fitting?

The following sketches illustrate the possibility of lowering the central camera with wire rope, the central camera is then attached to the spiralling camera with a rigid connection. The descent of the wire rope could be controlled, hence controlling the descent of both cameras. This would mean that there would need to be a way of attaching the top of the spiral and an eye pulley for the wire rope to the ceiling or a banister rail.
Copper tube spiral (8mm) - expandable into a long spiral, retractable into a low spiral and holds its shape. However fairly malleable meaning that their is the worry of the spiral being permanently deformed.

Coil PEX/PVC pipe (10mm) - expandable into a long spiral, retractable into a low spiral but does not hold its shape. (Used for dolly tracks in low budget film production)

Poly tubing (12.5mm) - expandable into a long spiral, retractable into a low spiral but does not hold its shape.

This is an experimental model I made in the workshop. The spiral track is manufactured from a rolled piece of steel rod. I experimented with rolling the rod into a natural spiral and also controlling it into a coil and then stretching it out from there. The steel rod has minimal flexibility and therefore such a track could only be designed for a single height space.

I made a small trolley for the camera to sit on which hangs from an acetal resin sheave (used as wheels on dolly tracks) which ensures smooth movement down the spiral. The aluminium trolley is bolted to the sheave, initially the trolley was falling off the track so I added some weight to it which helped it keep balance. Problems: ensuring it stays on the track and I need to slow it down! Treacle?!?

This is my next subsequent design for the camera trolley, involving two sheaves which sit either side of the spiral track, ensuring it cannot fall off the track. Also if I create a tight fit between the sheaves and the spiral tube, maybe this will cause some friction and slow the trolley. I must also bare in mind the central camera which can be used to control the descent speed.
Insert: I have been thinking about the cameras and film/photographic footage for the device and following my research into the work of Simon Starling and Zilvinas Kempinas, I think it could be interesting to try to incorporate 35mm film into the project as a recording method to then be incorporated into the subsequent next stage of the project.

I headed over to Flints Theatrical Chandlers to source some 8mm sheaves for the device and also had a discussion with them about the logistics of my proposal. They were extremely helpful and commented that in order to incorporate the spiral into the device I should definitely ensure that a central pole/ wire rope takes the weight of the spiralling camera. They also suggested another way of creating a similar effect without a spiral.
The idea uses a lazy susan which causes the spiralling motion and threading which allows a controlled descent of the cameras. The problem with this however is that the gradient of the spiralling motion is always constant and not dependant upon the room that the device sits within.

This is the following experimental device I manufactured and set up in the studio for testing:

The device consists of a copper spiral which is attached to the services trays on the ceiling of the studio, and descends to the ground. The spiral track is copper, with the idea that it can be expanded and retracted to fit into different height spaces. A pulley is attached to the services trays in the centre of the spiral, and a rope runs through the pulley. Attached to the end of the rope is a camera , affixed to this is a Steel L-shape which then attaches to the trolley element which sits on the spiral track and holds the other camera. The idea being that as the spiralling camera descends through gravity, the central camera (attached to the rope) will gradually drop. The pulley should allow for a smooth decent of the central camera and allow for control over the descent if necessary (sketches above).

Putting it into pretty much failed!...but testing has informed me and I can draw from the's got a long way to go!...
Device in situ

Film generated by device

  • The flexible attributes of the copper tube meant that as the weight of the camera descended down the spiral, it took the copper spiral with it, meaning that the spiral track swung all over the place.
  • The rope kept getting stuck in the pulley and therefore bringing the device to a stop.
  • The addition of the central descending camera had no control over the camera spiralling down the copper pipe, it only encouraged the weight to be thrown all over the place.
  • The central camera did not descend in a uniform vertical straight line.
  • The device descended pretty swiftly down the track.
  • The film generated by the device puts the space upside-down, due to the manufacture of the device.
  • The film generated is fairly jolty, as the weight of the camera seems to swing a bit in its descent.
  • The film is pretty fast and therefore the space is a bit of a blur.
  • The spiral track needs to be a rigid structure to avoid the swing of the track as the filming device descends, this will make the camera footage smoother and more consistent. Therefore the idea of a expanding and retractable track for different spaces is unlikely. I need to get it working in one space first, and it would be good if the device was tailored to its site.
  • The rope needs scrapping and replacing with a rigid pole to produce more control. Perhaps try testing without the central element.
  • I like the fact the produced footage is upturned.
  • The distribution of the weight of the camera on the spiral as it descends needs to be considered, to avoid it swinging.
  • Reduce the speed of the descending camera, although I still would like gravity to play a part in its descent.
Subsequently I decided to test the device without the central camera and thus removed the steel L-shape and central rope, so that the camera could descend freely down the spiral.

Device in situ

Film generated by device

Many of the results and conclusions from the previous experiment apply to this test experiment, however in addition and on a positive note, the elimination of the central camera meant that the camera device spiralled the entire way down the track and was not restricted by the pulley. It is clear however that the flexible copper tube track is totally inappropriate for the device and therefore I shall test this camera trolley with the sturdy rolled steel rod spiral I used in the initial test.

Device in situ

Film generated by device

The film footage which resulted from this experiment is short due to the length of the spiral, however it clearly shows that there is still a great deal of swinging movement of the camera as it descends the spiral track, due to the weight of the camera.

The following detailed drawings show possible solutions to restrict and control the movement of the camera to the shape of the spiral track, through implementation of a central pole.
Spiral slit down central pole guides and controls camera down spiral rod

Rigid elements slide and rotate down central pole guiding and controlling camera down spiral rod

Camera dolly

This series of experiments has proven to me that I am overcomplicating the process of creating this spiralling camera footage, and the prospective of actually being able to implement this device into an extensive height space is fairly minimal. I therefore need to rethink the device, draw positives from the experiments and see the past experiments as tests and knowledge I can refer back to throughout the project.

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