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One consideration which might have ruled out the Steadicam from the beginning, was the weight of the VistaVision cameras. However, the possibility of lightening one of the small "butterfly" versions sufficiently was discussed, and finally Dennis suggested to George Lucas that since it is "easy" to walk through the woods, the possibility of using extremely undercranked Steadicam footage should be investigated. George said, "maybe, why not" etc. and I was called soon after and consulted as to whether I thought it was possible to produce results steady enough for matting. My initial, private reaction was the usual fear-of-failure etc., but honor and greed dictated a cautiously optimistic response to Warren Franklin, sequence producer, and the suggestion arouse that perhaps we could test the concept inexpensively by shooting spherical 35mm with my IIc Arri running at 3/4 frame per second.
Dennis Muren pointed out that he wasn't necessarily after the usual perfectly smooth tracking shots, as seen in the space sequences for Empire. He had been half looking for a new, less rigid, more realistic style; and he indicated that a small amount of roughness would perhaps be desirable in a chase near the ground, which might then feel as though it was shot from a pursuing aircraft. This was encouraging. I had once before, on the ill-fated Heretic, produced a 38-frame hold of sufficient stillness for an effect matted over the open mouth of James Earle Jones even after a violent 100 yard running shot. I began to think that it could be done. One of the early Steadicam prototypes actually incorporated a Kenyon gyro stabilizer, which is an amazing device, but which was ultimately dropped from my plans due to noise and power problems and because it tended to resist rapid panning moves. In this case, however, it could be used to artificially increase the inertia of the system in at least two axis, and would perhaps make the difference between success and failure. I suggested that we acquire at least one Kenyon gyro and attach it to the spar of the Steadicam.
April 12, 1982 found us chugging along the corridors of ILM, gyro humming, with my camera being run by a little outside motor at roughly 3/4 fps, and with 100 feet aboard of a test stock that could be processed and viewed immediately right in the building. The results were instantly encouraging, and by the end of the following day, we were testing large-scale shots within a local redwood forest, having worked out nearly all of the curious requirements for producing acceptable plates with the Steadicam.
All that is necessary for perfectly smooth results on this or any other Steadicam assignment, is the elimination of all of the six kinds of motion that plague say, the hand-held camera. We must avoid any angular deviations in pan, tilt and roll; and any unwarranted moves in the spatial planes of up-and-down, side-to-side and back-and-forth (here meaning variations in walking speed). Nothing to it!Of course, this would be the all time mother of a Steadicam shot and virtually no errors would be tolerable. I am happy to say that the three of usG.B., Dennis and Michael Owens, managed to blast through the problem and come up with schemes for each of these worries which eventually produced the usable footage in the final sequence.
To deal with the angular deviations, we mounted a side-finder video camera with a long lens, figuring that if I could acquire a distant target, such as a sunlit leaf or a piece of hand-kerchief tied to a branch, and hold a telephoto image of it on the cross hairs for the entire walk, then pan and tilt accuracy would be good enough for the VistaVision negative, especially considering that the big camera was carrying a wide-angle lens which would forgive small errors visible on the telephoto video. the problem of "roll," which is equally troublesome no matter what the focal length of the lens, was to be dealt with by continuously checking a very precise bubble level mounted next to the monitor.
To handle the spatial motions, we came up with what we modestly agree was the brilliant expedient of stretching a taut thread through the woods beside the chosen course, and making a straight dotted line of chalk directly along the ground, both of which would be invisible to the camera at speed, and which would positively guide us to the correct camera height and the straight and true path. Bear in mind that even a slow deviation in any of these directions occurring over the course of many yards, would produce a violent bump in the shot when seen at projection speed. I suppose we planned to have someone count cadence to keep my speed constant, but this turned out to be no problem and in the heat of the moment, we gave the cadence-counter the elbow.
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