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Jess Haas SOC

Gearhead tips and technique

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I am reasonably comfortable using wheels but currently on a show where I have an arrihead and looking to up my game. Any tips or techniques anyone can share? When do you like to use it vs a fluid head? Anyone like using one on big slider moves? what about hand positioning and posts vs the wheel itself? Gear selection? I know how I do it but always looking for tips on how to get better.

 

-Jess

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I was just at the SOA workshop and I had the opportunity to use Jerry Holway's gear head, which was the first time I'd ever tried one. I got proficient at it by the end of the week, but no where near confident enough to take a job using one. One of the other ops told me rental houses will often let you go in and practice with theirs if you have a good reputation with them, other than that get really good at drawing with an etch-e-sketch

that program looks awesome though, I'd definitely make the investment in that, if it gets me to a point where I can use a gear head professionally.

Edited by Sam Law
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I prefer the wheels for most operating, especially fast dolly moves, it's easier to control the camera on the starts and stops.

Fluid head for crazy tilts or jammed in a place where I can't comfortably get to the wheels

I've only used wheels on a slider once, worked ok, for me a bit odd pulling/pushing on the wheel to move.

Gear selection, you'll start to know after watching the rehearsal what's going to work.

For moves that require perfect stops set your end frame, shift to neutral and then put the pins in a position you know you will stop at, example, tilt pin at 12 o'clock then count the turns back to your start frame then you know it's 3.5 turns and stop etc.

Most of the time on the pins, but if it's really long lens and very subtle moves I'll splay my fingers and place them on the face of the wheel, more precise for me but it limits the range.

My preference is for Arrihead 1 wheels on an Arrihead 2, I like the larger diameter.

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Sadly, I don't pull them out anymore...tv shows today have just plain gone bat siht crazy (especially the one I am on now). I am nearly always rolling on the rehearsal in low mode on the wrong side of the dolly or doing some crazy move with a top to bottom boom with little more than a 2nd team walk through and disjointed description of what should happen to me, the poor dolly grip and focus puller from the director inbetween tweets.

 

Like Nick said they are so much better for many things, especially fast dolly moves, but hd has ushered in a whole new cluster fcuk mentality of Go! Go! Go! and rarely cutting the cameras -- god forbid that the technicians have time to come on set to do their jobs (it must be soooo annoying to the writers and directors just shat out of AFI when the lowly focus pullers pull a tape, or the operator checks his sides, or the wardrobe guy comes in to fix something on the actor).

 

I feel old...missing the good old days and all!

 

Maybe someday I will grow up and do some features...pull out the geared head and enjoy a rehearsal or two. I might get those computer wheels to play with for the occasional day when the techno shows up or we are using the ultimate arm

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I prefer the gear head for most shots. It's much more precise and is the best for holding frames and headroom during long takes.( i just lock it off when I nap in mid 14 minute take) It is absolutely the right tool as Nick said for fast push-ins and pull-outs on a dolly, especially with a heavy lens or long camera package; prevents the momentum from tilting the camera as you stop abruptly. Also I prefer them for quick actor stand ups and the dreaded boom, up stand up or boom down, sit down. And nothing can express your frustration after a blown take better than a quick spin of the wheels.

 

One thing that is hard on a gear head is grabbing the focus knob to help out the focus puller. But it seems that everyone is on the Preston these days so they are on their own.

 

I like using them on a slider (why can't I say that word in anything but an Australian accent?) but you need to add a small riser to keep the pan wheel from hitting the slider, mate. But unless you are on a stout dolly arm or tripod, the extra weight of the gear head tends to accentuate the off balance weight and level shift and the ends of the slider must be supported.

 

As far as technique, that is really a matter of time spent using the wheels. Knobs or wheels is a matter of what the shot requires. Super slow or very tiny moves just lay your fingers around the wheel. Speed gear depends on the shot. The slower the better. I've done shots where I couldn't turn the pan wheel fast enough and just pulled on the tilt wheel to move the head and then layer my hand on top of the pan wheel as a gentle brake. The only way to get better is to use them. It doesn't take long and soon becomes second nature. You can get the basics by attaching a laser to the top and writing your name in cursive (they've stopped teaching that in schools) on the wall.

 

Another good reason to use them is to keep directors and DP's who like to operate off the camera ;-)

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One thing Buzz Moyer pointed out in a recent workshop - he was showing folks how to really use the wheels well - was that with the wheels, the tilt point is closer to the center of the camera/lens axis, while with a fluid head, the tilt pivot is way below the lens. This gives you radically different looks/feel/opportunities or problems when working close.

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When it's been awhile since I've been on the wheels, I rent an arriflex gear head from CSC and practice over the weekend.

Remember our steadicam insurance covers rentals.

 

I practice by having someone "my wife,kids, nephews" fly a micro helicopter around the living room.

I put a camcorder on the gear head and practice with different focal lengths. It's fun and challenging.

The worse the pilot the harder the shot :D

If I can find a clip, I'll post it.

 

I also practice by having someone sit at the kitchen table, say a couple of lines of dialog and stand up.

Put the focal length at 75mm and up and it gets fun.

 

On a side note:

It's pretty amazing how fast an 8 and 12 year old picked it up.

 

Okay I'm done.

Happy Holidays!

-James

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I've been convincing jobs I cam op on to get a gear head. Kind of hit or miss. I love them. I picked it up like that. My eye hand coordination is really good. And so is my anticipation. My only flaw is actually stopping to locking off smooth, and my tilts. It's difficult for me to quickly move the wheels without turning my arms and instead using my wrists. I always want to make the full motion.

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I am definitely in the world of rolling on the rehearsal. Using the wheels almost all the time at the moment and liking it, although with no rehearsals I am finding that staying in a higher gear than may actually be necessary and getting comfortable with operating them from odd positions seems mandatory. Haven't tried to the gearhead on the slider mainly because the arrihead 1 that we have seems like a bit too much weight on our POS slider without extra support.

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I bought a Mitchell Mini last year because I didn't have a lot of chances to practice here, being a new member of IA, and therefore not getting a lot of calls (yet!) I absolutely love the wheels since I learned how to use them back in the early 2000's, and I practice from my balcony with a russian 500mm lens. I have a small airport on the Toronto Islands facing my building, so I follow the planes coming in, landing, or taking off. I follow the boats, jetsskis, and people on the sidewalk, cars on the highway, etc...

I'd like to find, or maybe put together, some kind of list of the classic gear head shots, like back panning for example, to maybe create an exercise guide for people who want to practice.

So... if you guys have ideas and want to participate... Shoot ! :D

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