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The weight of the VistaVision camera was still a worry. I had learned that the prototype of the newest model of the Steadicam, the so-called Universal III, would be available in time for the shoot. This would be its first use on a feature, which was timely, since the III is lighter than previous models and much more flexible as to monitor positions and the distribution of its components. In addition, it provides for the display of level and adjustable frame-lines directly on the monitor screen. I hoped that the electronic level indicator would help with our critical roll axis, since it is more sensitive than bubble levels and easier to see. However Cinema Products was unable to finish this gadget in time for the shoot, and I was forced to rely on the old bubble throughout. Gene Whiteman, ILM's talented master of the machine shop, was given our careful estimate of the maximum weight allowable for the butterfly camera, (with about eight pounds of gyro and video gear already subtracted from the figure). We had found during the test that the gyro made enough of a difference to be worth carrying along. In fact, we ordered a second unit from Kenyon, so that when they were mounted at a 90 degree angle from each other, we would have double the effect in the critical pan axis and single in tilt and roll. If we ever do this again, we'll probably get a third unit and festoon the thing with gyros. (With any more than three, I might even be able to drop out of the harness and sneak away unnoticed. By the way, they take about five minutes to come up to speed, and at least ten minutes to stop, so don't try to drive away from the location right after the wrap. Your car won't be able to turn left or right for the first couple of miles!)
During the next two months, I kept in touch with Michael Owens regarding the weight problem, and his progress with a new wrinkle which had come up in the meantime. Dennis had decided that we must also have a remote-controlled "roll cage" on the camera, so that he could follow along and dial in smooth banking moves as I made the turns, to be used for certain POVs required in the chase. This however meant more weight and the need for the camera to stay exactly balanced as it pivoted around the lens axis. Whiteman and company did a fantastic job, since, as of the first shooting day, the camera/gyro/electronics/roll-cage/video-finder/motors/film/lens etc. totaled no more than our maximum limit of 26 pounds!
On June 14th, I flew to San Francisco, stopping at ILM to check the last minute arrangements, and on to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, to commence shooting in the "Avenue of the Giants." The crew had come prepared with lightweight aluminum ramps which could be placed over the odd ravine and disguised with tons of potted plants, rubber leaf-mats, ferns, etc., which they also brought, along with tools for clearing a navigable route, reels of green thread, green wands to suspend same, and squirt cans of chalk to indicate the True Path. Dennis had previously selected the courses he wanted to use, and the crew had them roughed-in by the morning of our first shot.
For the next three days, we made about five or six "official" shots per day. Michael Owens and I winged a number of other shots, just walking through the trees, burning all of 45 frames of raw stock per minute, but I must say that most of that stuff was merely exciting rubbish. With perhaps one exception, only the prepared shots ended up in the sequence. Even with Michael holding back and boresighting a line for the camera, and shouting instructions to me to raise it, lower it, move right, etc.,; these attempts lacked the last few percent of precision necessary to be usable. We made several refinements in the technique for the regular shots. It turns out that you can't just stroll along squirting the chalk line for the path without the risk of it wandering from side to side, even if it looks true to the eye. We actually had to stretch a string along the ground, to get a straight path, and then go over it with the chalk. In two visits to the big trees, we used up many pounds of chalk and a mile of thread and string. I admit that as statistics go in the movie business, these are less impressive than say, the quantity of cement in the chariot race set on Ben Hur, but they're all we've got. Obviously we won't impress anyone with the amount of raw stock expended.
I gradually acquired the knack of shooting curves as well as straight-ahead shots. It's hard to make thread stretch in a curve, so I had to get used to less help from that quarter. In addition, as soon as I started a turn (ever so slowly), I had to give up my video target, and let the lens drift across the terrain until a suitable new target swam into telephoto view along the next straight leg of the course. We even tried a scheme in which I would ease the target onto the trailing frame edge of the video camera, and then zoom slowly out, keeping the target thereon, and then zooming quickly in when a new target arrived at center screen, and so carrying on, I must report however, for purists still following the technicalities, that as I got fully wide, the angular resolution diminished to the point that my shooting was no longer as precise. We made a number of these long curved shots, and the best ones were done by just letting the landscape drift at a constant rate, until the straight bits came along.
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