A home-built camera motion rig has features found in complex and expensive commercial systems, but was built at home for under $400.
If you visit Ryan Grayston's house, you'll find a fairly impressive piece of camera equipment previously only held by high-end video production facilities. Ryan has made a motion-controlled camera rig that allows him to use a 3D animation software to program movements for later playback.
Using Blender 3D, an open-source and free 3d modeling and animation software, Ryan can manipulate his rig, tweak angles, speed, zoom, and focus, then play back this motion on the actual physical rig. This allows for complex shots that would have been quite difficult to reproduce by hand, especially when doing timelapse videos.
The "chaise" or physical base was milled with the help of his local community workshop, Saskatoon Techworks. It also has a healthy dose of lego in the mix, thanks largely to the help of Ryan's son. The chaise houses the electronics, allows for a dolly movement in one direction, and has a pan-and-tilt head installed on it. Stepper motors control the dolly, pan, tilt, and zoom/ focus. These steppers are driving belts, so it would be possible to swap out their pulley and belt for different torque if necessary. Ryan says the rig is quite fast as is though, so he doesn’t anticipate needing to do this in the near future.
On the software side, he has recreated the entire rig in Blender 3D as you can see below. He can then take his time animating the different aspects and fine tuning their movement. He can play back the movement within blender to see in real-time what needs tweaked. Once he’s ready, some python scripts translate that keyframe data from blender out to an Arduino pro mini within the chaise.
Of course playing back animations isn’t going to be optimal for every scenario, so you can also manually control the rig with keyboard commands. Ryan says that he prefers to use a bluetooth keyboard so he doesn’t have to be right there by the machine.
Ryan is still improving on the design, with plans of implementing real-time motion tracking, lighting controls, and a better interface with blender. He’s even selling basic kits and says you can reproduce the entire rig, minus camera, for under $400!
This is a great prototype for a stablization system for animation! I'm sure it could be productized and made into a profitable enterprise, perhaps using materials (metal or plastic) that would be a bit less clunky. There are a lot of options to stabilize video and most cameras have some basic stablization built in; there are also good harnesses that strap onto the camera person, but I hadn't seen a system like this for animation before. Surely, Lucas Arts has something like this in its shop.
Thanks for the insights Cab. I guess what I was really thinking about was now that he is going into version 2, there's likely to be feature additions and optimization of the existing design. It's always interesting to me to look at a design unfold over several iterations and get an understanding of the engineer's thought process throughout.
That $400 is the rough cost of the wood, motors, and control board. The software is free, and he's giving away his files for free right now.
You could estimate the additional cost for new features. Lets say you knew you wanted an arm with 2 axis control and a pan/tilt head on the end of it. You know you'll need 4 stepper motors and a wood frame. It isn't like a commercial system where you would also have an additional software module that would cost a small fortune.
While this is awesome, it isn't a business model. He's not making kits as a job. I think he's just offering to help people continue his hobby. if 5,000 people wanted them from him, he'd have to rethink some things in order to be able to support them all.
Very cool project. I'd love to see you publish details on his next generation device and some of hte trade-offs and decisions he's making, particularly if he plans to keep the price point at around $400.