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For most of the company’s existence, the mounts were not gyroscopically stabilized. "There was no need," Tyler says. "I relied on counterbalances that inertially stabilized everything in five axes. About seven or eight years ago, we added gyrostabilization to make our products easier to use for less experienced aerial camera operators. The military first started adding gyros to our mounts when they did hovering shots at high altitudes with long lenses looking down on nuclear detonations. That provided a very solid image, so we started offering gyros as an option. But back in the early years, there were no gyros. One of the first things I did that most people remember was the aerial shot of Barbra Streisand singing on the tugboat in Funny Girl; I did that with a Panavision anamorphic 50-500mm zoom lens."

After his first year of operation, Tyler built a second mount. One day he let another cameraman rent it and soon realized that he was onto something. "When I got a check for a job I hadn’t shot myself, I thought, ’Ah, wait a minute!’" Tyler Camera Systems was suddenly in the rental business. "We now have mounts at close to 40 camera-equipment rental houses, and we split the rental fee with them. That gives lots of local people the option of doing a helicopter shot without waiting for a mount to be shipped to them."

Tyler’s bread-and-butter items are the Middle Mount and Major Mount (used extensively for the aerial scenes in Apocalypse Now). These have been joined by the Nose Mount, which attaches to the underside of a helicopter and is remotely operated from inside the aircraft. "We have larger Super Nose Mounts that can hold several cameras," Tyler says. "We had three VistaVision cameras on our biggest Nose Mount for M:I-2, and a similar arrangement for two Imax cameras operating side by side for large-format 3-D cinematography. The record might have been a custom-built camera mount that held nine Arriflex 435 cameras slung on a cable beneath a helicopter and specially stabilized with gyros."

Tyler said his company offers about 150 Middle Mounts, 10 Major Mounts, 20 Super Nose Mounts and 80 regular Nose Mounts, as well as a newer product, the remotely operated FSI Gimbal. "It’s a broadcast video camera inside an actively gyrostabilized ball mount on the outside of a helicopter," he details. "Another new product is our remotely operated gyrostabilized Gyromount, which can go onto cranes, helicopters, camera cars or boats. For U-571, it was used right down on the water to film submarines on the surface. But the vast majority of our business is and always has been filming from full-size helicopters."

Wescam, which has locations in Van Nuys, New York, Florida and Canada, has been in business for more than 25 years and was the first company to dedicate itself entirely to gyrostabilized, remotely-operated, full-size-helicopter camera systems. The Wescam unit is a large ball with a camera inside, attached to the front or side of a helicopter. It was invented by Noxon Leavitt, who won an Academy Award for his creation in 1990.

"Because most of our technology is based on military specifications, our standards for reliability and performance are very high," says Susan Hodgkins, director of marketing for Wescam’s entertainment group. "We still have military and government customers, as well as news-gathering organizations and, of course, our entertainment division, which handles broadcast sports, feature films, music videos, documentaries and commercials.

"In addition to helicopters, we can mount Wescams onto almost anything that moves," she continues. "Recently, we shot the closing scenes for a feature called Pay It Forward. A Wescam film system was attached to our Long-Line Mount, a battery-operated anti-torque device. This assembly hung off a cable attached to a telescoping construction crane. The camera was panned and rolled while the crane lifted it from four feet to 200 feet, a sort of Hitchcock-type spinning shot. The wind was blowing, but the image was completely stable.

"Our newest product for feature work is the Wescam XR [Extreme Revolution], which is a stabilized, three-axis, wireless remote head. It rotates 360 degrees on all three axes, and most film or video cameras [weighing] up to 150 pounds can be installed. Wescam also provides HD, digital and analog video systems, which are mostly used for broadcast sports."

Hodgkins says that sports producers have been very happy with another new Wescam product, the Stealth. "The Stealth is the first fixed-wing camera system we have developed for the broadcast market. It was created to provide aerial video of any event, especially where noise is a concern; the Stealth is virtually silent as it passes over sports venues, even at low altitude. It’s perfect for golf or equestrian competitions, because those events can’t have helicopter noise."

Wescam worked with Diamond Aircraft to integrate a complete aerial video system into a single-engine, fixed-wing composite aircraft. "It can stay up for a maximum of six hours without re-fueling, and you can trailer it around," Hodgkins says. The package comes with the aircraft, the pilot, the Wescam operator, the Wescam Model 16 video system mounted on the wing, a live microwave downlink and a digital recorder.

Hodgkins notes that the Stealth is also ideal for ski events. "During the last Goodwill Games, there were about 20 microphones set up along the downhill course that were able to capture the sounds of skis cutting through the snow because of the silent operation of the Stealth. With a helicopter, that wouldn’t have been possible."

A modified version of the Wescam came on the scene in 1989. Designed by aerial cinematographer Ron Goodman, SpaceCam is a remotely operated gyrostabilized camera system that can mount onto full-size helicopters and a variety of cable rigs, cranes, camera cars and boats. According to Goodman, whose design for the system was recognized in 1995 with an AMPAS plaque for scientific and engineering achievement, it is the versatility of the SpaceCam that provides the greatest advantages for filmmakers.

"Directors today want more than just conventional aerial photography they want something unique on the screen," says Goodman, who has been shooting aerials for more than 30 years. "With helicopter shooting, our ability to mount the camera on the nose, the tail, the side or any combination at the same time provides many creative options. The Nose Mount is especially effective, as it allows for faster flight speeds in aerial filming. Con Air and Twister are prime examples of directors using aerials in an exciting way. On Rules of Engagement, the director’s use of aerial shots of the military helicopters in the embassy scenes was very effective, and in The Thomas Crown Affair, the aerial sequences of the gliders and catamarans with Pierce Brosnan helped make that story exciting."

For M:I-2, SpaceCam pilot Peter McKernan, Sr., aerial cinematographer Phil Pastuhov and visual effects supervisor Richard Yuricich, ASC traveled to Lone Pine, California, to shoot plates of Mt. Whitney that were used in the film’s opening airplane-crash sequence. The SpaceCam was also used extensively to capture many other spectacular scenes set in locations that included Azusa, California; Moab, Utah; Sydney, Australia; and the Australian Outback. "The production kept the aerial unit on location for the majority of the shoot, which allowed us to contribute our viewpoint at any time," Pastuhov recalls.

SpaceCam’s other applications, such as a descender cable rig system, have been used recently with visual effects to create some unique shots. On Inspector Gadget, the camera system was dropped straight down from a 600’ building for a sequence involving a falling Matthew Broderick.

A variety of camera options are offered by the company. In addition to a 35mm 4-perf camera, there is the in-house 35mm 8-perf VistaVision unit and a 65mm 5-perf camera; the system is also compatible with HDTV camcorders and the 65mm 15-perf Imax format. "We’ve developed a strong position in the Imax world," notes Goodman. "Stability is extra-critical when projecting onto that big screen, and we’ve been able to consistently provide that stability."

Among SpaceCam’s large-format credits are Everest, Africa’s Elephant Kingdom, Fantasia 2000, Dolphins, Wild California and The Endurance. For The Endurance, which tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic voyage, Goodman and the SpaceCam spent six weeks traveling and shooting in Antarctica. "Those conditions provided the ultimate test for our system, and the results were very good," he says.

To give SpaceCam HD video capabilities, Goodman approached Plus-8 Video of Burbank, California, a camera-rental house. Before Sony came out with an HDTV camcorder, the HD camera and its bulky recorder were separate pieces of equipment, making it very difficult to use in an enclosed, remotely operated ball-style mount. Now, HD camcorders can fit into many mounts like the SpaceCam. HD video is an attractive option when film is too expensive, and it is often used for industrial projects and documentaries.

"Ron Goodman approached us about two years ago," says Christian Nightingale, Plus-8 Video’s vice president of marketing. "He wanted to put an HD camcorder into the SpaceCam and offer the HD option to customers. Because we rent lots of HD equipment, it sounded like a good match. At that time, we were working with the Sony HDW-700A, the first real HD video camera and recorder combined into a single unit. When KCTS in Seattle did its series of HD Above aerial profiles of states, they had to stuff the recorder into the helicopter cockpit. Things had changed."

SpaceCam sat down with Plus-8’s chief engineer and went through several days of discussions, working to develop a way to marry the HDW-700A with Goodman’s SpaceCam mount. "There was a lot of testing," Nightingale says. "We helped them with the specs of the camcorder and the ergonomics, and answered any questions. The work took about a month; ideas were tried out and then modifications would be made. One of the hardest things was dealing with the data-transfer to control the camera movements, the irising and things like that. When it was all finished, the HD SpaceCam was mounted onto the nose of an A Star helicopter and tested on a flight over Los Angeles. It looked great."

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