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Motion Control & Time Lapse Equipment Review

Motion Control and Time-Lapse Round Up

At izmostudio, we produce high resolution stop frame animations to create automotive media. Most of the time, we move the subject in front of a locked down camera to make the final animations. Now that time-lapse is such a fast growing market, I thought it would be cool to do a blog on new equipment that is making production easier, more creative, and affordable.

Up until recently, fully motion controlled camera rigs, which give the photographer the ability to control three or more axis of movement, have been very expensive. Even big automotive budgets only afforded rental of fully motion controlled equipment. Whilethe Milo is still the king of  MoCo  for the studio, and probably always will be, there are other viable options now available.

Thanks to all the new DSLR’s shipping with HD video capability and the increased interest in time-lapse photography, there are now several innovative and affordable options for motion control. Depending on the needs of the project, this equipment round up looks at the equipment options available for both quick smooth video pans and long programmable stepped motion for time-lapse sequences.

We will start out with the lower cost options and move towards the higher price tags. While one can certainly achieve the same visual effects with the lower cost, and do it yourself (DIY) options, it’s worth understanding, from my perspective anyway, the less money spent on the equipment, the more complex the setup time. Consider every axis of movement adds some complexity to the setup, so its worth thinking about that and planning all this before light, people, weather, start moving and your exposure is drifting while your batteries are running low. Aggghh!

FIXED POSITION – Intervalometer
The easiest and most obvious way to record a time lapse movie is to lock your camera down on a good heavy tripod. Take a sequence of pictures over a period of time and, wow, you have a movie recording of scene motion. What you need to accomplish this is an intervalometer. This is a cable release that communicates to the camera your instructions for exposure, how long to wait between exposures (interval), and how many exposures total. iPhone time lapse calculator
There is much to think about with this first step, so make it easy, and try this free iPhone application by Dan Thompson.
Depending on the scene brightness range or your creative intent, it is also common to bracket at each step for High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) time-lapse. An intervalometer I like to use is the Promote Control, because it is so simple and quick to setup. Some cameras have time-lapse exposure control built in, and most offer one as an accessory. Of course if you are not moving around much, a laptop with camera control software works great too. Here are intrevelometers at each end of the budget spectrum:

  • Promote Control
  • Digisnap 2000
  • DIY

Once you get a few nice fixed position movies accomplished, it’s time to add a new layer of calculation to your planning and pizazz to your movies. The goal of dolly’s and sliders is to achieve linear axis motion during your captures. Think of a 3D space and the movement like this:

X = left/right, or lateral
Y = up/down, or vertical
z = push/pull, or in and out

Depending on how the dolly is supported and the orientation of your camera, all three of these can be achieved easily. The catch is achieving the slow incremental movement and programming how much movement over a specified period of time. There are many DIY dolly sliders being made today. No doubt many more than I’ve found, so if you know of one you want to share please post a link here.

One more thing to know before the equipment round up. Motors. There are three common types:

  • DC motors
  • Stepper motors
  • Servo motors

The motor choice is a balance of cost, speed, repeatability and what you require.

Under $1000
At the heart of most DIY dolly rigs, is the Arduino controller, and the best resource I know of is the OpenMoCo forum, where you will find a great community of time-lapser’s and innovative dolly builds.

If you are like me, and just want to get to making great images, then here we go. Next step up is the Jay Burlage’s (aka MiLapse) Dynamic Perception Timelapse Dolly and the MX2 Dolly Engine, which is based on the OpenMoCo mentioned above. You can definitely burst out the creativity and experiment with this lower cost entry at around $900 dollars, which also includes the intervalometer to control the camera.

Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly

Dynamic Perception MX2 Dolly

One nice aspect of this dolly is that the rail is standard #1030 aluminum, so you can make any size you want. What you should know about this dolly is that it’s made with DC motors, so demanding uses like composite, video, and special effects are limited.

For the mid-range budget, there is Ditogear’s Omnislider. This is super clean slider with a joystick for controlling movement, dampening to ramp up to speed, and record/playback of motion. To me, a system that records the motion is a key component, because it is one less calculation you have to make. For example, if you’re doing a night to day pan and you miss calculate the lateral distance too short, your move could stop before the sun rises, or even worse during.

Ditogear OmniSlider Dolly

DitoGear Motion controled dolly slider

Then you have to start over some other day. It’s a big time investment. So having the a system that records a distance from point A to point B, and then plays back over a specified time, is super nice to have. DitoGear Omnislider

As a bonus for outdoor users, their controller has some nice weather proofing features. Ditogear is also addressing common problems like lens condensation with their new DryEye Lite system, which prevents dew and condensation buildup on the lens in humid, long term, and changing temperatures. Nice!

The Kessler CineSlider with the Oracle Controller and elektra drive is an amazing price point for the build quality and amount of control. The CineSlider comes in a couple different lengths, and for the $3000 I priced it, with the five foot slider. Might as well, right? Cars are big and reflective so we need lots of movement.

There are also lower cost dolly’s like the Pocket Dolly, which not only costs less, and it works with the same motors and Oracle Controller. The thing to note about Kessler systems is the motors come in different speeds and average about $200 each. So whether you are doing a time lapse or video, you will have to plan this into the budget. On the plus side though, all the sliders have a hand crank and tension control for nice smooth manual slides.

Kessler CineSlider and Oracle Controler

Kessler CineSlider & Oracle Controler

The real pièce de résistance here is the Oracle Controller. It’s super easy to use, very precise, and has what Kessler calls, SmartLapse, for recording moves in real time and time-lapse playback. While it’s not based on open source, it does sport CAT5 / CAT6 cable with RJ45 connectors and standard 12v battery power. So, if your outdoors or a traveler, this is really nice common connectivity.

Have a look at this equipment with Tom Guilmette. You can see some excellent tutorials and the Kessler setup here:

Being kind of a gadget geek, I drool when I see the Camblock Motion Control. This rig is also a great topic transition into the next topic of pan/tilt heads,

camblock motion control system

camBLOCK multi-axis motion control

because with the Camblock motion control system, you get full multi axis motion control from a PocketPC and every thing fits in one case. Yes, it’s the most portable, configurable (think tinker-toys), and functional. CamBlock and the Camblock Vimeo group.

The next layer of motion to add is what is known as panning and tilting the head. This gives you motion control output of two more axes of movement, and of course, more planning. Both the Dynamic Perception and Ditogear dolly/slider time-lapser’s have been creative, and use astronomy star tracking heads.

The MX2 controller will work with these low cost motorized telescope heads, where the MX2 takes over for the hand controller by connecting with a special cable.

photo of acuter merlin mount

Acuter Merlin Star Tracking Mount

* Acuter Merlin
* Merlin SynScan AZ GoTo
* Orion Teletrack
* Skywatcher Multifunction
* Celestron Skywatcher

The DitoGear OmniSlider seems to work well with the Mead DS2000 series#494 and #497 heads. I haven’t seen this in action and I’ve been told Mead locked out any ability to place custom firmware on their controller in 2010. If you plan on going this route, check in with Patryk Kizny at DitoGear, as he has done some really nice movies with the Mead head, like on the Chaple video.


kessler crane revolution pan/tilt head

Kessler Revolution Pan/Tilt Motion Control Head

Kessler’s Revolution Pan and tilt system is once again really nice build quality and quite affordable considering. Controlled by the same joystick mentioned previously, Oracle Controller, this would be a good buy if you are considering a rig that will do both video and time-lapse. At the time of this post the controller will only record either a linear dolly move or the pan/tilt. There is a Smartlapse controller upgrade coming in a few weeks that will record two axes of simultaneous movement. So, the only way to have a three axis Kessler rig is to buy two Oracle Controllers. Added to the cost o the Cineslider, this would make the total cost so close to that of the CamBlock, that its a better option for a portable three axis motion control rig.

Compared to just a few years ago, motion control is expanding really fast. As you can see from this post, there are many affordable points to jump in for exploring your creative motion genius. Stay tuned to izmostudio as we develop new creative visuals for automotive media. And for some amazing visual inspiration, and MoCo networking, jump over to Tom Lowe’s

Steven Poe

Renault New Master Trucks | Nouveau Master

Renault France recently posted photography produced by izmoStudio last year. April 2010 seems like a long time ago now, but I remember having a ton a fun on this photo shoot with photographers Andreas Lunde, David Marlé, and assistent Stephan Sturges.

Naturally being a car photographer the super fast eye candy cars are the ones that get us going, but these trucks were a refreshing change. Everything is bigger! And higher, if you look closely you’ll notice that many of these are taken from high camera angles of 10-20 feet up. To really show the capacity and illustrate functionality of these magnificent trucks, with stop frame animations of moving parts, we found that the high POV was the best place shoot from. As an added bonus, this high POV provided some laughs watching Andreas climb down from the cherry picker after getting the camera set.

Thank you Benoit Chimenes, for your supreme art direction and working with izmoEurope on this project.

Steven Poe

Hadise Music Video Studio Rental

Occasionally at izmoStudio we rent one of our cyclorama stages. Most of the time its a treat for us because, well, its a production thats not of cars. Of course we love cars and studio work, but its a real treat to see and work with different talent and productions.

Recently we rented one of our cyclorama stages to 11H09 for a Hadise music video called Kahraman by director Senol Korkmaz. See the video below. Hadise is a Belgian singer with Turkish roots who was a semi-finalist at The Eurovision Song Festival 2009.

Our 225 square meter cyclorama, with a six meter top return, was perfect for this music video production. The lighting director utilized the cyclo for an eloquent play of light (1:28) and motion on the six meter high walls. The izmoStudio team was quick to notice and drool just thinking about owning several Arri 10K lights like the ones used on this music video set.

The production crew was vast and man did they move fast. They shot this video in just a couple days. A bonus they say is our six meter diameter motion controlled turn table. Check out the Rolls Royce Phantom in the video (2:07, 2:19) Both the motion of the singer Hadise and the Phantom were done with the turntable.

Thank you Senol and everyone at 11h09 for the rental business, and a fun break from our automotive media.

Steven Poe

Imagine Whirled Prints

Here at izmostock I’m fortunate to deal with many different kinds of vendors in different parts of our wonderful whirling blue ball in space. Often there are vendors who go far above and beyond the customary level of service and quality that it creates a total jaw dropping pattern interrupt. Enough to make my little busy busy pedal to the metal production whirled of car photography stop and take notice.

This time around its a printer. Not just any printer mind you. Canterbury Media Services in Berkeley, California is in the vortex of stellar prints. FTP uploads, spot on profiles, amazing print quality, and so extremely flexible with scheduling.

Many print shops use the Epson 9900 with UltraChrome HDR ink sets. How many can make a print sing with the first pass?

Having been a custom printing production manager in the past and now a creative with a perfectionism handicap I’m admittedly not the ideal customer. This didn’t phase Art Kotoulas and the team at Canterbury at all. I’ve been printing our izmostudio advertising portfolio with Art at Canterbury for the past few months.

The process can be gruesome. As many of you know, lighting a car in the studio for that visceral feel of every sheet metal shape and form to seemingly touch the textures, is no easy task. Then in post everything looks awesome on the gazillion dollar meticulously profiled monitor. It’s beautiful! All the pixels are harmoniously spinning congruently in blissful expressionism. Ahhh, but then comes the odd conformity of cramming all those pixels into a smaller color space, different profile, and reproducing them on a flat two dimensional piece of paper.

I have done a ton of color printing myself and I’ll admit it really does take a master craftsman that can balance the art and technology of digital printing like Art and the guys at Canterbury. Thank you! And while I’m giving out the major props in this post…I might not have never found Canterbury if it were’t for the referral from Mark Spandorf at the Bay Area’s major player in the digital printing and processing industry, Image Tech. Thank’s Mark.

Steven Poe

izmoStudio ignites an international Spark for Chevrolet!

And as promised, the latest happenings at our izmoEurope Studio in Brussels Belgium!

GM Europe recently engaged our izmoStudio Team to launch their spiffy little ‘Spark’, the latest in their trendy mini or subcompact car segment. Only a little off-beat, the Chevrolet Spark boasts close to 47 miles per gallon and is just 1 point away from receiving a 5 star safety rating. The dapperly junior seemed to be the perfect fit for the hip city dweller and we thought it would be fun to take this car of little consequence to a sizable scale.

On a referral from a Belgium Photographer David Noels, our talented izmoStudio team went to work. {Thanks David!}

So just what is involved and goes into photographing a vehicle of such minuscule proportions?

Creative efforts of artists, designers, directors and photographers from across 5 Countries ignited the Spark project and together production began.

First, the car was shipped from Geneva, Switzerland to our Studio in Brussels, where an automotive decal specialist applied the Wrap Sticker, designed by Portuguese Artist, José Rocha, who is the winner of the Young Creative Chevrolet (YCC) .

Then our studio team – Photographer Andreas Lunde from Seattle, WA and Creative Director Steven Poe of San Francisco, Studio Photography Specialist Stephan Sturges of Brussels, Belgium, and Producer David Marlé from France – spent a full day producing the photography.

The 2011 Chevrolet Spark was then shipped to the UK for the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) races at Brands Hatch, U.K., while our professional in house Digital Artists in Bangalore, India retouched the digital elements to fully capture the essence of the Spark and to authenticate the final press photos.

Now that is flat world economies of scale.

The entire project took just over a week and with the cooperation of everyone involved, the mega mini project was a success. As the Italian Poet Dante Alighieri said, “A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark”.

We would love to hear from you and invite your questions! Please feel free to call us or comment and stay tuned for what’s happening at izmoStudios!

Juli Andra Fuentes | Strategic Accounts for izmocars


Maserati Time-Lapse at Circuit Zolder Belgium

There’s nothing that could stop a couple studio photographers from going outside, with media passes and a invitation to join the Maserati racing activities. A few months ago the izmostudio Brussels team went out to the Zolder track to make a little timelapse movie and some still images.

izmoStudio photographers Andreas Lunde and Stephan Sturges rigged up a Nikon D3 and a couple magic arms to hold the camera in place, as the Maserati zipped around the track.

During the timelape track runs the photographers were also making some really nice panoramas at the pits and some stills of the day. Thanks for the fun day at the track Maserati Europe!

Maserati race car stock photo

Maserati race car at Zolder in Belgium

Welcome, to our new and and improved blog

The website is completely re-done. We did this to make searching and finding car stock photos much easier and to help expand our stock photography library online. Sometimes there are some really interesting things happening at the studios, so we are adding a new blog too.

Most of the time we are all really busy sourcing the latest cars, which means figuring out how to get the newest cars to the studios. Then we photograph the cars inside and out. After the studio photography, our teams of digital artists retouch reflections, build HDR composites, and assemble animations. Well, this is our stock library production workflow, and its efficient enough to publish up to 700 new cars and trucks per year. As we come upon new features, or interesting happenings at the studios we’ll post them here.

We also photograph custom photography and interactive projects for agencies and OEM’s. These projects range from the exciting pre-launch cars, to the normal marketing and advertising materials, and the bizarre. We’ll blog about all these too.

Thank you for reading the new blog.

Steven Poe