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Campus Trip-Hop & the Kessler Second Shooter

Campus Trip-Hop:

This past summer I was approached by Princeton Theological Seminary to create a film library featuring the architecture of their campus. They had seen, A Magical Sense of Space, the film I had created for Princeton University, and they were excited to have a similarly styled collection of clips.

If you look at the production involved in creating A Magical Sense of Space you’ll see that the use of a motorized slider was integral to showing the dimensionality of the buildings. In a nutshell, to show physical space in a video it’s helpful to have the camera move through the space. For A Magical Sense of Space I was limited to a motor moving the camera along one axis, the path of the slider. I could add two more axes by using a fluid head on top of a high-hat and manually panning and/or tilting the camera as it traveled. The problem though was that it left something to be desired in terms of control. Both the motor and the camera were being moved manually and by two different operators.

3' Kessler Cineslider, Elektra Drive one-axis motor, Canon C300 on a fluid head & high-hat, all with a double tripod support. Princeton, NJ. July, 2014.
BTS from A Magical Sense of Space: 3′ Kessler Cineslider, elektraDRIVE BASIC Controller, Canon C300 on a fluid head & high-hat, all with a double tripod support. Princeton, NJ. July, 2014.

The change for the Seminary project was in adding a Kessler Second Shooter. The Second Shooter hit the market just after A Magical Sense of Space wrapped. It allows for motorized control along three axes – slider, pan, and tilt; and it comes at a price point which brings motion control to the masses. The starting point is $800 for one-axis and $1500 for three-axis control.

The ideal speed of the camera along the slider on a project of this type varies with each setup. Camera to subject distance, proximity of objects in the foreground, and the type of movement all play a part. So, having the repetition and control that comes with digital computerized motion is extremely helpful.

Kessler Second Shooter, Canon C300, 3' Cineslider. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Kessler Second Shooter, Pan & Tilt Head, Canon C300, and 3′ Cineslider. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Kessler Second Shooter Motion Control unit. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Kessler Second Shooter Controller. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.

When filming in this mode I tend to create clips in threes, moving the camera along the slider at three different speeds, e.g. 8 seconds, 10 seconds, and 12 seconds for push-ins. I then decide in post which speed worked best. What I found in using the Second Shooter was that the number of takes needed per setup was easily cut by two-thirds.

With the Second Shooter I could do as little one take per speed, three total for the setup. With the old method, using two operators, each speed needed as many as three or four takes. That’s 9 – 12 takes in total.

The Second Shooter is extremely easy to use, its menus are intuitive, and Kessler has been aggressive in updating the firmware and in adding features. Overall it worked great. Options include keyframed two and three-point moves, as well as single run-throughs or placing the Second Shooter in a looping mode.

Going beyond the software, the Second Shooter has a well thought out physical design. The processor unit can be attached via a built-in magnet to the motor or to the pan/tilt head via an adapter. A small, rugged, long-life battery, the MagPak, can do the same. It creates a compact efficient setup when on set.

Kessler Second Shooter motor - battery - controller sandwich. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Kessler Second Shooter motor – battery – controller sandwich. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.

I did have a few hiccups during the three-day shoot, whether they were due to the controller or the weight of my Canon C300 I can’t say. I suspect the latter because of the C300’s higher center of gravity. The issues though were limited to needing to reprogram a three-point movie which had just been set.

I should say, too, that while this project used the Second Shooter for real-time footage, the Second Shooter excels at creating time-lapses. It has the ability to operate the camera, setting the intervals between exposures and activating the shutter, in addition to moving the camera. It’s also sophisticated enough to stop the camera for each exposure.

Kessler Second Shooter set to move forward while rotating the camera. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Kessler Second Shooter set to move forward while rotating the camera. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.

Here’s the Second Shooter doing the forward rotate pictured above. The clip produced ends the Campus Trip-Hop montage below.

Campus Trip-Hop is a montage of clips from the project. All shot with the Second Shooter, a 3′ Cineslider, 17mm TSE and 24mm TSE II lenses, and a Canon C300 set to: Wide DR Custom Picture Profile, 30p, and a 180 deg. shutter. The movie is up top at the beginning of the blog post.

A bit more BTS:

The Second Shooter running in Looping Mode.

Second Shooter, Cineslider, Canon C300. The camera doing a push-in and tilt down. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Second Shooter, Cineslider, Canon C300. Camera is set to do a push-in and tilt down. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Second Shooter in one-axis mode; Canon C300 on a high hat and set for a push-in. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.
Second Shooter in one-axis mode; Canon C300 on a high hat and set for a push-in. Princeton, NJ. June, 2015.

For information on how best to mount a slider to do the work seen here please see my blog post, Making – A Magical Sense of Space.

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