Film gear is wildly expensive — there, someone said it. It’s no secret that traditional equipment used for filming is often costly, bulky and requires careful manoeuvring. It may capture unbelievably gorgeous visuals, but still needs to be handled with care. This is where rigs come in, making the cinematographer’s job just a little bit easier. Usually providing support and reach in areas where shooting handheld is rather difficult, rigs are a way of ensuring that the filmmaker can get the kind of shots they’ve envisioned, even in tight spaces and improbable camera angles. The main function of a rig, then, is to manoeuvre the camera as and when required, in a safe way. Let’s take a look at the different types of camera rigs and their uses. We shall be looking at some of their uses, benefits and what kind of model to use in a number of different circumstances.
What is a Camera Rig?
Think of camera rig setups as scaffolding for your camera. They are supporting structures that provide stability to the equipment. They can also be used to capture footage in situations where mobility is greatly reduced. Think of your favourite action sequences or car chase sequences, where the visuals seem too outlandish to have ever been captured in a regular manner. Or think of some of the most iconic aerial scenes in recent cinema. All of these could only be achieved by using camera rigs.
Here are a few of the main benefits of using a camera rig:
Stabilisation: The camera rig helps to stabilise your camera, which is important when shooting hand-held videos. This prevents shaky footage and ensures smooth video quality.
Control: With a camera rig, you have more control over your camera. This gives you greater flexibility when filming, and allows for smoother shots and transitions.
Balance: A good camera rig will provide better balance than holding the camera by yourself. This makes it easier to keep the camera steady and reduces fatigue while shooting.
Let’s take a look at the commonly used types of rigs.
Quite simply put, a handheld camera rig is an arrangement in which the filmmaker holds the camera themselves and can use a shoulder rig or an Easy rig to rest the camera upon their shoulders. The idea of a shaky, intimate handheld shot is to communicate a sense of intensity and immediacy to the viewer. It can also be used to convey intimacy and draw the viewer into an immersive experience. It can often help the artist imitate a documentary-like feel in their footage.
Where the handheld shot creates shakiness, a tripod espouses stability. The tripod, also called sticks, are a three-legged arrangement upon which the camera can be rested. While tripods are generally used to create static shots, they can also be moved if the need arises. Using a tripod to capture a scene gives the viewer a sense of its depth and scope, which can help produce a deadpan effect, or suggest humour. By allowing for swift and smooth whip pans, this quality is best utilised in scenes that feature a rapid repartee or some tension between characters. The stable and meticulously arranged frames of Wes Anderson’s films, for example, are usually achieved by using this rig. Take a look below.
This type of rig allows a camera to move vertically up and down upon the y-axis. This kind of smooth movement allows the filmmaker to gradually reveal information in a scene, and control how it is presented to the audience. It can also be used to create an effect of realism when it comes to tracing the small up and down movements of a subject in the scene. This is best used when building suspense, and can be a great way to utilise the “show, don’t tell” adage that is so often quoted in filmmaking and storytelling.
This scene from Inglorious Basterds is a great example.
If your project has a sprawling and magnificent set design, the crane rig will show it off in all the right ways. Used to capture big, overhead, often vertical moments, a crane rig can create smooth, precise movement and framing of shots. The crane camera rig consists of a camera mounted on an arm or jib that can be raised, lowered, and moved horizontally. With this rig, the operator has much more control over the camera movements than if the camera were hand-held. This allows for very specific, controlled shots that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with a hand-held camera. It allows for shots such as high or low angle that would be otherwise impossible, making it one of the best camera rigs around.
One of the main advantages of using an Overhead camera rig is that it provides a stable shooting platform. This is especially beneficial when filming action sequences or shots with a lot of movement. The stability offered by an Overhead camera rig helps to ensure smooth and accurate footage. Another advantage of using an Overhead camera rig is that it allows you to capture more image area than a traditional handheld camera setup. This makes it ideal for capturing wide shots or shots that require a large field of view. This type of camera rig is also very versatile and can be used in a variety of different shooting situations. Whether you’re filming a small intimate scene or a large-scale action sequence, the Overhead camera rig can provide the stability and image area you need to get the perfect shot.
Martin Scorsese is known to use this shot to create a sense of omnipresent narration with its god’s eye view.
6. Dolly/Sliders/Cable Cam
The Dolly camera rig is a type of camera mount that allows for smooth tracking shots. It consists of a dolly, which is a wheeled platform that the camera is mounted on, and a track, which the dolly runs along. They can be used to follow a subject or to give the viewer a sense of movement through a space. Dolly camera rigs can also be used for static shots, such as when the camera is mounted on a crane or jib arm. A Dolly camera rig allows for very smooth and fluid camera movements. This can be used to either push in or push out from a subject in the frame, while showing the audience what is going on. This is extremely helpful in creating shots that display a stylish and uninterrupted sense of motion.
This scene from Vertigo is one of the earliest and best known examples of the same.
The stabiliser camera rig is used to create smooth, stable shots and eliminates the need for a tripod or Steadicam. This type of camera rig uses counterweights and gimbals to achieve stability.
It allows you to shoot in low light conditions without compromising image quality. Secondly, it enables you to capture footage that would otherwise be impossible to get due to camera shake or movement. Thus, it also has the effect of not distracting audiences from what’s happening on the screen. The camera rig stabiliser gives you greater control over the camera and more space to play around. It captures cinematic looking shots that are composed of both foreground and background elements in perfect balance.
The Snorricam camera rig has been around since the early days of cinema and filmmaking. It is a type of rig that is designed to provide stability and flexibility for the camera while filming. The rig attaches to the camera using a harness system, which distributes the weight evenly when it is rigged to the actor/subject’s body. This allows for greater freedom of movement, making it ideal for use in action sequences or scenes where mobility is key. The Snorricam rig can also be used to achieve unique camera angles that would not be possible with traditional camera rigs.
By positioning the camera at chest level, filmmakers can capture more intimate and personal shots that add realism and depth to their films. Additionally, by tilting the camera up or down, they can create interesting visual effects that can add to the overall impact of the scene. This can be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream’s elevator scene.
9. Vehicle Mounts
The Vehicle Mount camera rig is designed to be mounted on top of a vehicle, usually a car or truck or even helicopters. This type of camera rig is often used in filmmaking and cinema, as it allows for the camera to be positioned in a variety of different ways, making it possible to get different kinds of shots.
One of the benefits of using a Vehicle Mount camera rig is that it allows for the camera to be moved around easily. This means that the filmmaker can position the camera in any number of different ways, making it possible to get a wide variety of shots. Additionally, this type of camera rig is often much less expensive than other types of rigs, making it a good option for those who are on a budget.
While there are many benefits to using a Vehicle Mount camera rig, there are some drawbacks as well. One of the main downsides is that it can be difficult to set up and use. Additionally, it can be challenging to keep the camera stable while it is moving, which can lead to shaky footage.
The drone camera has been rather ubiquitous and around for quite some time now. It was first used in the military to film warzones and has since then evolved into a popular filmmaking tool. In this arrangement, the camera is attached to a drone and can be controlled remotely. This allows the filmmaker to get shots from angles that would otherwise be impossible or very difficult to get.
Not only is it perfect for getting sweeping shots of landscapes or large crowds, but you can fly the camera into tight spaces or over obstacles without having to worry about getting the camera damaged.
11. Motion Control
The Motion Control is a specialized camera rig that allows for precise control of camera movement. This rig is often used for special effects shots, time-lapse photography, and other types of shots where precise camera movement is required. Motion Control rigs can be very expensive, but they offer a lot of benefits to filmmakers and cinematographers.
The main benefit of using a Motion Control rig is that you have precise control over what remains in the frame and what is to be excluded, which is essential for special effects shots and time-lapse photography.
A Motion Control rig can give your project a more professional look and feel, and hence a better production value. With this, you have more creative control over your shots.
12. Underwater Housing
Camera housing systems, like camera cages, have been utilised in filmmaking and video production since the early days of cinema. The first camera housings were very simple, typically consisting of little more than a waterproof box with a lens mounted on the front. However, modern camera housings are much more sophisticated and offer a number of advantages over their older counterparts. One of the most popular camera rigs in use today is the Underwater Housing Rig. It allows for very stable shots. This is due to the fact that the camera is mounted on a fixed platform, which eliminates any possibility of camera shake.
Another benefit of the Underwater Housing Rig is that it can be used in a variety of different environments. This includes both underwater and above-water shots. This flexibility makes it an ideal choice for many different types of productions.
Finally, the Underwater Housing Rig, with a camera rig cage, also offers a high degree of protection for the camera. This is important in any situation where there is a possibility of the camera being damaged, such as in an accident or during a stunt.
Director Barry Jenkins uses this to great effect in Moonlight.
It is not always possible to shoot handheld, or manipulate the camera into tight spots to get the kind of footage that you are hoping for. So, this is where contraptions like camera supports and rigs are extremely useful. Not only do they allow smooth operation of the shooting equipment, but also protect delicate equipment. Due to this, they are a practically indispensable part of shooting. However, a filmmaker should not use different kinds of rigs to make a point about style and aestheticism, nor should they fall prey to newfangled hype about tech. It’s all about adapting the equipment to the story, one should remember, and not the other way around.
An avid reader and a life-long lover of blue skies, I like to spend my time with obscure poetry and dissecting films. Currently besotted with Maupassant, art history and all things Nolan, you can find me spacing out to Queen while I look for new things to obsess with.