At the February 19 meeting...

Motion Control Camera Work

A Night at the Frame Shop

By John Gates

The February 19th meeting answered the question: "What do PBS, The American Experience, Nova, Ken Burns, the Fox Cable Channel, Bank of Boston, Olive Jar Animation, Cap'n Crunch Cereals, Warner Brothers, the Discovery Channel and a lot of other successful networks, businesses, production companies & producers all have in common?"

The answer: The Frame Shop; a self-proclaimed "camera service company" tucked away on little Los Angeles St. in Newton, MA, a suburb just outside Boston.

Our hosts Ed Joyce and Ed Searles took is into their highly-specialized world of motion-control camera work. They conducted tours of their facility, demonstrated the individual capabilities of their unique camera rigs and screened examples of the work they create for a wide range of production companies, networks, artists, and documentary & industrial film makers. This meeting was a unique opportunity to see this "behind the scenes" view, as they have never before opened their dorrs for an event quite like this.

The two Eds made the distinction that they are a "camera service company", not a production company. They do not initiate or produce projects and productions. Rather, they provide their clients with technical and creative expertise in the use of their equipment, skills and talents.

For animation and/or photomation of 2-dimensional objects, they work with a video animation stand and a double-column Oxberry (film) animation stand (both computer-controlled). Their acclaimed work on projects like Ken Burns' The Civil War and Baseball series used this technique to move the camera across pictures, letters and maps. (They have worked with Ken Burns on well over half-a-dozen productions and continue to do so.) They also create many title and credit sequences with these two rigs.

They use a multi-axis (pitch, roll, yaw, track, focus, etc.) motion-control rig for shooting 3-dimensional objects. If you watched Destination Mars on the Discovery Channel (produced by Boston's Chedd-Angier Productions), you saw their zero-G simulation for the space station sequence; shot with this rig. The bouncing FX logo seen on the Fax Cable Channel was also shot with this rig.

This particular "robotic" camera has its own dedicated studio that has allowed them to shoot everything from the inside of a very small piece of equipment, to an 80' long set of a street scene. The very precise computer control and memory allow them to exactly repeat multiple passes of the identical camera move. This allows them to shot (light, expose, etc.) specific elements within the "frame" for optimal appearance in the finished piece. The Bose Wave Radio spot is a good example of this.

The finished Bose spot shows one seamless, continuous camera move with the "Wave Radio" remaining unchanged as the camera arcs thorugh a kitchen set that dissolves into the living room set that dissolves into the office set, etc. Multiple passes were required for each of the different sets, for the proper exposure for the LCD readout on the face of the radio, for the lighting effects, etc.

Ed & Ed screened a promotional piece prouced by Olive Jar Productions (a frequent Frame Shop client) that used this robotic rig to create a wild piece that showcased their approach to motion control, stop action, traditional cel animation and all the related animation processes.

The Frame Shop also provides a range of time-lapse photography, both in-studio and on-location. Ed & Ed showed two examples: a 1-1/2 year assembly of a dinosaur skeleton exhibit inside a museum and a few minutes of a solar eclipse from atop a remote Hawaiian mountain. (Additional cameras captured the solar eclipse at a more conventional 24fps.)

Ed & Ed have been responsible for literally hundreds of motion-control projects for films, documentaries, television series and commercials. Well before the end of the meeting, it was obvious that their success was due not just to their special abilities and skills in operating the camera equipment, but largely due to their creative abilities and talent, sharpened by years of developing solutions to a wide range of visual "problems". It is probably their ability to see and understand these visual challenges, then find the unique visual and technical solution that sets them apart from other companies in the motion-control field.

You can learn a bit more about the Frame Shop at their web site.

Favorite Story of the Night: The producer from a well-known, multi-award-winning, "left coast" commercial production company phoned the Frame Shop because they wanted to produce an infomercial spoofing the documentary style of Ken Burns.

Producer: "Some people said to call you. Do you guys do stuff like The Civil War and Baseball?"

Ed/Ed: "Yes."

Producer: "Like what?"

Ed/Ed: (pause) "Like... The Civil War and Baseball!"

Producer: "Great. (No pause) Do you have a reel?"

John Gates is a former 3-term SMPTE Governor, who, when not working on SMPTE projects, occasionally finds work as an award-winning lighting director for film and television production. He also considers himself lucky to have worked with Ed & Ed on some very interesting projects at the Frame Shop. E-mail John at liteguy@bu.edu or view his web page at www.afilm.com/4/08/63/.


Posted: 24 April, 1997
Robert Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
lamm@cync.com